Evaluation of Free Bicycle Schemes and Their Impact: A Focus on Pune's Initiatives

 The concept of free bicycle schemes often evokes images of eco-friendly and sustainable transportation initiatives. However, these schemes go beyond merely promoting low-carbon mobility; they are powerful tools aimed at enhancing education and mobility freedom for the nation's youth. At the heart of these initiatives lies the crucial combination of fundamental education and improved mobility options.

The distribution of free bicycles is strategically designed to tackle a pressing issue plaguing the educational landscape - the significant dropout rates observed after primary education, particularly among girls in rural areas. These schemes work  to incentivize students, especially young girls, to pursue secondary school education with renewed enthusiasm and determination.

Many of these free bicycle distribution schemes have a specific focus on promoting girl education. By providing free bicycles after reaching a certain grade, these initiatives aim to ensure school enrollment and retention among school-going girls, empowering them to embrace education as a pathway to a brighter future. Initially targeted exclusively at girls, these schemes have evolved over time to encompass school-going boys as well, promoting inclusivity in education and mobility opportunities.

This report delves into the various free bicycle distribution schemes implemented across India, with a special emphasis on the implementation of the scheme in Pune. Exploring the challenges it faces, its impact on education and mobility, and the efforts to address the apparent stagnation of the scheme.

Pune’s Free Cycle scheme

Pune was known as the cycling city of India and had  earned its reputation by proactively planning for cycling infrastructure soon after Independence. As early as 1966, well ahead of other Indian cities, Pune's 'City Development Plan' proposed infrastructure development to promote cycling. Subsequently, in 1987, 'The Development Plan' further bolstered this vision by advocating for a network of cycle tracks and cycle-only bridges throughout the city. In recent years, the Bicycle Plan of 2017 stands as the most comprehensive policy document produced by any Indian city, further affirming Pune's commitment to cycling.

The Pune Municipal Corporation's (PMC) free cycle distribution scheme was approved by the standing committee in 2012, with an allocation of INR 1 crore in the annual civic budget of 2013-2014.1 This budgetary provision aimed to procure and distribute 50,000 cycles to students.2 By the end of 2013, approximately 2,522 students (1,311 boys and 1,211 girls) from PMC schools had registered for the scheme. However, despite the intended distribution at the beginning of the academic year 2014-2015, the students received their bicycles only by the end of the academic year.3 PMC attributed this delay to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and a subsequent delay by the school management responsible for further distributing the bicycles provided by the administration. While around 6,000 bicycles were eventually distributed by PMC by 2015, the scheme encountered a budgetary hurdle in its second year, leading to its stagnation.4 Notably, the Pune Cycle Plan (2017), a comprehensive policy document, does not include any mention of this scheme, indicating its apparent loss of momentum and lack of further budgetary allocations.

"(PMC) free cycle distribution scheme was approved by the standing committee in 2012,  and it had aimed to procure and distribute 50,000 cycles to students. But only 6,000 bicycles were eventually distributed by PMC by 2015, the scheme encountered a budgetary hurdle in its second year, leading to its stagnation. Notably, the Pune Cycle Plan (2017), a comprehensive policy document, does not include any mention of this scheme, indicating its apparent loss of momentum and lack of further budgetary allocations."

Similarly, the PCMC (Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation) implemented the scheme in 2012-2013, a year before PMC, suggesting smooth administrative approval.5 However, its implementation has been marred by inefficiencies and uncertainties. A 2017 report by HT revealed that approximately 1,464 bicycles remained idle in the PCMC storage facility at Nehru Nagar. The PCMC had procured 3,641 bicycles under the 'Backward Classes Welfare Scheme' and 5,768 bicycles under the 'Women and Child Development Scheme' between 2012 and 2015. Unfortunately, 649 bicycles from the former and 815 bicycles from the latter scheme remained unused. The PCMC attributed this to the perceived lack of interest among students and their inclination towards motorised vehicles. Contrarily, school administrations expressed their disappointment, as they waited indefinitely despite completing all formalities.

Further investigations revealed that the Education Department had no data on schools benefiting from the scheme, as funds were directly allocated to the Social Welfare Department. The scheme might have been discontinued due to the additional burden on the department from the free bus pass scheme. A subsequent visit to the Social Welfare Department yielded little information, except for confirmation about specific criteria for distribution and the lack of budgetary allocations to the scheme since the pandemic outbreak.

Mukhyamantri Bicycle Yojna, Bihar

The Mukhyamantri Bicycle Yojna in Bihar, initiated in 2006, aimed to provide free bicycles to Class IX girl students. To expedite the process and prevent potential procedural delays and corruption, the students were given Rs 2,000 upon passing Class VIII and enrolling in Class IX, enabling them to purchase the bicycles directly. The scheme's impact was significant, as it resulted in a remarkable reduction of the girl student dropout rate from 25 lakh to 11 lakh within the initial three years of its implementation.6 Recognizing its success, the scheme was expanded in 2010-11 to include schoolboys as beneficiaries as well. As a direct outcome of the bicycle scheme's effectiveness, the number of girl students appearing for their Class X examinations soared from 1.8 lakh in 2005 to an impressive 8.22 lakh in 2019. This remarkable increase in participation showcases the scheme's positive influence on encouraging educational continuity among girl students and fostering a more inclusive and empowered society.

Saraswati Bicycle Supply Scheme, Chhattisgarh

The Saraswati Bicycle Supply Scheme, launched in 2004 in Chhattisgarh, focuses on distributing bicycles free of cost to SC/ST/BPL girl students who enrol in Class IX. The execution of this yojana falls under the responsibility of both the education and tribal welfare departments of the state.

This scheme has garnered widespread recognition for its effectiveness in significantly reducing dropout rates, particularly among girls. The media hailed it as a qualified success, and its impact has been both tangible and visible. The scheme's powerful image portrays young girls in their uniforms, cycling together to school daily against the backdrop of their village. This imagery goes beyond mere quantifiable increases in enrollment and attendance, suggesting deeper and more qualitative benefits. One of the most significant and evident qualitative impacts of the scheme is the conceptual change in students' understanding of attendance requirements. Prior to the introduction of the cycle scheme in Bihar, attending school for only three days a week was deemed satisfactory based on social conventions. However, the scheme has successfully altered this perception, motivating students to attend school more regularly and embrace the concept of consistent attendance as crucial for their education.

Through this scheme, not only has Chhattisgarh fostered a positive educational environment, but it has also empowered young girls to pursue their education without the hindrance of transportation challenges, contributing to a more inclusive and progressive society.

Free Bicycle Distribution Scheme, Karnataka

In 2006-07, the Government of Karnataka introduced a commendable free bicycle distribution scheme. Initially, the scheme aimed to provide bicycles to BPL girl students enrolling in Class VIII, offering them improved access to education. Later, recognizing the significance of inclusivity, the scheme was expanded to include boys as well.8  

Regrettably, as of February 2023, the scheme's implementation has come to a halt. The finance department rejected the proposal, which was duly submitted by the department of school education and literacy, resulting in the discontinuation of the scheme.9 This setback raises concerns about the future of this beneficial initiative and its impact on encouraging educational continuity among students in need.

Sabooj Sathi,West Bengal

The Sabooj Saathi Scheme, an initiative by the West Bengal government, was introduced in 2015 with the objective of distributing free bicycles to students in Class IX to XII enrolled in government-run or government-aided schools. The primary goal of this scheme is to curtail the dropout rates, especially among girls, and foster a culture of regular attendance. The scheme was officially launched by the Chief Minister, who allocated a substantial budget of Rs. 5 crore to ensure its successful implementation.The bicycles are provided to the students completely free of cost, eliminating any financial burden on their families. As a result, the Sabooj Saathi Scheme has proven to be highly effective in promoting education and significantly reducing absenteeism across the state.Since its inception in 2015, the scheme has benefited over 1.15 crore students in the state.10 

Tamil Nadu Cycle scheme

In order to increase consistent attendance among higher secondary and polytechnic college students enrolled in government and government-aided institutions, the state government has undertaken an annual bicycle distribution program. This commendable initiative falls under the purview of the Ministry of Backward Classes, Most Backward Classes, and Minorities Welfare.Apart from Bihar, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh,West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, states of Assam, Kerala, and other states have also adopted similar schemes.Across the country, these initiatives have received an overwhelmingly positive response and have played a pivotal role in reducing dropout rates in schools, particularly among girls. As a result, they have contributed to the significant narrowing of the gender divide.

Bicycles have emerged as potent catalysts for social change, elevating the status of girls and effectively bridging the gender gap in rural India. By empowering students with mobility and access to education, these schemes have fostered a transformational shift in societal attitudes and perceptions.

In summary, the widespread adoption of bicycle distribution schemes across various states has ushered in a new era of educational opportunity and gender equality, marking a significant stride towards building a more inclusive and progressive nation.

Performance of Bicycle distribution scheme with respect to scheme objectives and other outcome indicators11 

"Compared to similar conditional cash transfer programs in South Asia, the Cycle program exhibited a higher degree of cost-effectiveness in boosting female school enrollment because the transfers being specifically earmarked for the purchase of a bicycle ensured that the intended girl directly benefited, rather than merely supplementing the household income."

  1. Improvement of the school access and secondary school enrolment of children because of bicycles:

    In 2017, a comprehensive study12 was conducted to assess the effectiveness of the scheme implemented in Bihar, designed to bolster girls' enrolment in secondary education. The scheme centred on providing financial assistance to girls, enabling them to acquire bicycles, which in turn facilitated their continued pursuit of education. The results of the study unveiled remarkable outcomes, indicating a significant improvement in school access and secondary school enrolment among children due to the introduction of bicycles.

    Notably, the cohort of girls exposed to the bicycle program exhibited a noteworthy 30% increase in age-appropriate enrolment in secondary school. Furthermore, a remarkable 40% reduction in the gender gap in age-appropriate secondary school enrolment was observed, signifying a substantial step towards gender parity in education.

    The surge in enrolment was predominantly prominent in villages situated at a considerable distance from the nearest secondary school. This noteworthy observation indicated that the program's impact was particularly profound in mitigating travel time and enhancing the safety of school children, which played a crucial role in encouraging their participation in secondary education.In essence, the bicycle distribution scheme in Bihar exemplified its potential as a powerful catalyst for positive change, significantly enhancing school access and enrolment rates among children, especially girls. By breaking down barriers and providing essential support for education, this initiative has taken substantial strides towards fostering a more equitable and empowered educational landscape in the region.

  2. Cost effective than conditional cash transfers:

    Compared to similar conditional cash transfer programs in South Asia, the Cycle program exhibited a higher degree of cost-effectiveness in boosting female school enrollment. This can be attributed to several key factors. Firstly, the transfer being specifically earmarked for the purchase of a bicycle ensured that the intended girl directly benefited, rather than merely supplementing the household income. This direct impact enhanced the program's effectiveness. Secondly, the program was intelligently designed to address both demand and access constraints. Unlike conventional cash transfer initiatives, the Cycle program aimed to not only mitigate demand limitations but also tackle access challenges. By reducing the daily expenses associated with attending school, it offered a practical solution to increase enrollment rates. Lastly, the publicly coordinated provision of bicycles to all girls in secondary school generated positive externalities. These included heightened safety, a surge in the desire for schooling among girls who observed their peers with bicycles, and a noteworthy reduction in patriarchal norms that had previously restricted girls' mobility outside their villages. The free Cycle program's unique features, encompassing direct beneficiary impact, dual constraint alleviation, and positive externalities, set it apart from other conditional cash transfer schemes in the region, rendering it a highly effective and transformative initiative in promoting female school enrollment.

  3. Increase in Learning Outcomes:

    The program has demonstrated its effectiveness in enhancing learning outcomes among girls. Consistent attendance at school has been linked to better academic performance, and the provision of bicycles has notably facilitated regular school attendance for girls. Consequently, those who have received bicycles through the program have experienced a noticeable improvement in their learning outcomes.

  4. Increase in Non Cognitive Outcomes:

    The program has also yielded positive effects on non-cognitive aspects, particularly on girls' confidence. Those who have received bicycles through the program are more likely to exhibit a sense of assurance in attending school regularly and pursuing their education. This newfound confidence has resulted in a greater sense of empowerment among girls residing in rural areas, leading to favourable social and economic outcomes.

Enhancing the Cycle Scheme's Impact: Key Recommendations

  • Organise a complimentary service workshop at the school level, conducted by the supplier, within the first month after bicycle distribution. This workshop will address any initial issues and ensure the bicycles are in optimal condition for the students.
  • Promptly replace bicycles reported to be damaged upon receipt to ensure that students receive bicycles in proper working order.
  • Provide comprehensive training to children on regular bicycle care and maintenance to empower them with essential skills for keeping their bicycles in good condition.
  • Foster active student involvement in bicycle maintenance through engaging activities like forming bicycle clubs.
  • Increase community engagement by involving representatives such as parents, SHG members, and local leaders in bicycle monitoring and maintenance, relieving the burden on the school administration.
  • Establish time-bound procedures for addressing complaints and arranging replacement of bicycles to ensure efficient resolution of issues.
  • Ensure the implementation of effective and functional bicycle warranties, and create awareness among students about their coverage and benefits.
  • Plan and organise regular servicing camps every six months at each school level, or at least at the cluster level, following the initial camp held at the end of the first month after distribution. These camps will facilitate periodic maintenance and upkeep of the bicycles, ensuring their sustained functionality and safety for the students.

The free cycle distribution program has demonstrated its remarkable cost-effectiveness in elevating female school enrollment rates in South Asia, surpassing comparable conditional cash transfer programs. Through this initiative, notable improvements have been observed in school access, attendance rates, dropout rates, learning outcomes, and non-cognitive attributes, such as confidence. As a result, it stands as a highly effective and sustainable approach to promoting female education within the region.

"it is imperative that the free cycle schemes should be reinstated by state governments and municipal corporations that have suspended such initiatives."

In light of these compelling outcomes, it is imperative to reinstate the free cycle schemes by state governments and municipal corporations that have suspended such initiatives. Furthermore, conducting periodic monitoring of the beneficiaries after 3-5 years of the distribution scheme will yield valuable insights into its long-term impact. By consistently evaluating and refining these programs, we can ensure their enduring success in empowering women and fostering education across the region.

Authored by: Tanzeel Allapur (Project Associate, Parisar)


  1. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/pune/free-bicycles-distributed-among-civic-school-students/articleshow/35022315.cms
  2. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/pune/free-bicycles-distributed-among-civic-school-students/articleshow/35022315.cms
  3. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/pune/no-funds-allocated-fate-of-pune-municipal-corporations-free-cycle-scheme-hangs-in-balance/articleshow/46509091.cms?frmapp=yes&from=mdr
  4. Ibid.
  5. https://www.hindustantimes.com/pune-news/bicycle-scam-brewing-in-pcmc-godowns-allege-civic-activists/story-AZuue02e6zdtoJ0awRYSOL.html
  6. http://nitishspeaks.blogspot.in/2010/04/mukhyamantri-balika-bicycle-yojna.html
  7. Evaluation Study of Saraswati bicycle Supply Scheme (Free) in Chhattisgarh (2012–13) by Midstream Marketing & Research (MMR), New Delhi.
  8. http://www.schooleducation.kar.nic.in/Tenders/bibicycle_scheme_evaluation_tender_2011-12
  9. BJP govt puts brakes on “free bicycle” scheme for school kids in Karnataka Read more at: https://www.deccanherald.com/state/bjp-govt-puts-brakes-on-free-bicycle-scheme-for-schoolkids-in-karnataka-1192734.html. (n.d.). Deccan Herald. Retrieved from https://www.deccanherald.com
  10. https://wbsaboojsathi.gov.in/v2/about_scheme.php
  11. https://kmea.karnataka.gov.in/storage/pdf-files/Reports%20and%20other%20docs/Bicycle.pdf
  12. Muralidharan, K., & Prakash, N. (2017). Cycling to School: Increasing Secondary School Enrollment for Girls in India. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 9(3), 321–350. https://doi.org/10.1257/app.20160004

Add comment

Security code