Flipkart’s Mahadevapura Hub in Bangalore is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. Nestled away near railway tracks in a quiet residential pocket, it’s easy to mistake it for an ordinary bungalow. A closer look reveals a vibrant center of activity, where enthusiastic Wishmasters (Flipster-speak for delivery executives) bustle around, packing up their shipments, planning routes and parking their motorcycles (and eBikes), only stopping for the occasional chai break.
The basement of the building is the parking area, where the delivery vehicles stand in neat rows. The fleet consists mostly of motorbikes and trucks, but in the corner of the parking lot, near the gate, stands about five or six shiny new electric bicycles, the latest eco-friendly additions to Flipkart’s delivery fleet.
Electrically operated and devoid of noisy engines or exhaust pipes, these sleek machines work wonders for the environment, but that’s not the only thing that makes them an attractive option for Wishmasters. Since the eBike is not a motorized vehicle, you don’t need a driving license to be able to drive one on the road. This opens up opportunities for youngsters who often cannot afford a motorbike to join the workforce.
This is partly the reason Madan P joined Flipkart, along with his friends Umesh M and Vijaykumar R. Having grown up in the same village (Bangarpet in the Karnataka’s Kolar district), the trio have been friends since their college days. Barely in their 20s (Madan and Umesh being 19 years old and Vijay 20), they credit this ease of access to their decision to join Flipkart. “I knew someone who worked at HR in Flipkart and they told me about Flipkart’s eBike initiative,” says Madan.
Fluent in English, Madan says he used to run a mobile shop before taking up the job at Flipkart. The camaraderie among the trio is obvious,as they indulge in some light-hearted ribbing to diffuse the awkwardness of a photoshoot.
For youngsters like Umesh, Madan and Vijay, the eBikes represent an opportunity to join the workforce at an early age, and a chance to earn a steady income as they sort out the tools they need for life in the city. “I don’t have a driving license yet, but I’m applying for one soon,” says Umesh. Vijay, despite having a license, preferred an eBike over a motorcycle because of affordability.
The affordability and the ease of access is something that Mothilal Sivasubramaniam, head of emerging business at Spero, the manufacturer of the eBike, emphasises as well. “With these models, we can empower people without a bike and a license to join the workforce.”
Affordability aside, the Wishmasters are also very happy with the eBike experience. With a battery pickup that powers it up to 40kmph, a self-charging feature that powers up the battery as the Wishmasters pedal, and a modified design that helps them carry more load as compared to a regular eBike, the Spero eBikes are matching up very well with regular motorcycles in terms of volume of delivery. “With the eBikes, we can deliver upto 70 orders a day. Everyone is asking me how much it costs, so that they can buy one as well,” says Umesh.
However, the integration of eBikes into the fleet has come with its own set of challenges. In rainy weather, it becomes difficult to deliver orders, and the battery life, although impressive, sometimes falls short of requirements on busy days.
Ramesh Gottimukkala, Hub In Charge at Bellandur, hopes to rectify some of these challenges, with some clever planning. “I don’t see the eBikes and motorcycles as different vehicles. We provide the same incentives to both eBike users and motorcycle users.” he says. He hopes that given the lower fuel cost and maintenance cost, more Wishmasters will prefer the eBike over the motorcycle. The eBikes project is still in its early stages, and Spero and Flipkart executives are constantly in touch, exchanging notes about how the design can be improved further.
Rohit Pitale, Senior Manager of Supply Chain Design at Flipkart, says that the eBikes project was initially envisioned as a solution to the traffic problem in big cities. “In large metros like Mumbai, where there are many small gullies, regular motorbikes sometimes can’t deliver the order. The eBike can go into these gullies with ease.”
Having initially started out as a three-month pilot project in Mumbai, the success of Flipkart’s eBike experiment has also brought to light one of their biggest plus points: ecological impact. Powered entirely by clean energy, the eBikes cause absolutely no air pollution or noise pollution. As more and more eBikes enter the fleet, Flipkart’s carbon footprint is also steadily reducing.
Mothilal puts it best: “In a way, people who are ordering from Flipkart are indirectly playing a part in saving the environment.”
Additional reporting and photographs by Arjun Paul