Uber’s Indian rival Ola begins offering a bicycle-sharing service

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Ola, the company battling Uber in India, has turned to pedal power after it introduced a bike-sharing service.

China’s Didi Chuxing and Grab in Southeast Asia have invested in bike-sharing companies, which offered dock-less bikes that users can pick up across a city and leave anywhere they want when they’re done, and now Ola — which recently raised $1.1 billion in fresh capital — has jumped into the saddle.

Ola Pedal — as the service is called — is initially limited a number of university campuses in India, including IIT Kanpur, but the company is in discussions to expand availability “in the weeks ahead,” it said. The idea is to offer an option for trips that are too short for a taxi ride but too long to walk.

The bikes appear to work just like China’s Ofo and Mobike services, which pioneered the genre and have expanded to other parts of Asia, and into the U.S. and Europe, too. Users simply locate a bike, open the Ola app and input the bike’s unique code (located on the frame) to open the wheel lock. When done, they simply lock the bike.

Ola said the bikes themselves are manufactured in India.

“Bicycles are a sustainable and efficient alternative for covering first and last mile mobility needs in our cities,” Ola said in a statement to TechCrunch. “With superior technology and available to book on the same Ola app, used by millions of Indians on a daily basis, Ola Pedal will go a long way in solving larger issues like pollution and congestion in our cities, especially for short distance trips.”

Ofo and Mobike have become billion-dollar companies with rapidly expanding global footprints, but the once-large pool of rival companies has dwindled. China’s third-largest bike-sharing operator is in dire financial trouble and headed for closure, while bike ‘graveyards’ have popped up across the country as the sheer number of discarded bikes piles up in major Chinese cities.

India may not be at that stage yet, but there’s clearly plenty of caution to heed from the Chinese example. It looks like Ola will take a slow approach starting with student campuses, which is exactly how the Chinese firms began.

Aside from this new Pedal service, Ola also offers licensed taxis, private cars, car pooling, motorbike taxis, shuttles and autorickshaws options across more than 100 cities in India.