CHENNAI: A group of cyclists in the city is risking themselves to heat and Covid by developing a community to help people in buying groceries and other essentials.
With the cases in Chennai going up, the cyclists known as 'Relief Riders' started the initiative on May 3 to reach out to the elderly and other vulnerable groups such as the physically challenged and others who can't go out due to Covid-19.
Speaking to The New Indian Express, Bicycle Mayor of Chennai Felix John, a pioneer in the movement in Chennai, and director of Street matrix Kawin Kumaran, a member of Relief Riders, said that they started this to help those affected by the pandemic and promote cycling in the city.
"This is being done on a voluntary basis and we don't charge anything except the money to pay for groceries or essentials," says Felix, who has been named as Bicycle Mayor of Chennai by BYCS, an Amsterdam-based social enterprise driven by the belief that bicycles transform cities and cities transform the world.
Acknowledging that the heat is unbearable, Felix says that the delivery of essentials happens before 11 am and after 4 pm. Kawin, who is the director of Street Matrix and has worked with the state government in projects pertaining to transportation, says initially the orders are coming from social media. "With the cases rising, we are also planning to launch an app soon," says Kawin, an architect from Anna University.
Interestingly, the idea of helping people during disasters started when the city was battling floods. Helping people during the Covid-19 pandemic is not new as Relief Riders in Bengaluru were active during the first lockdown. "But in Chennai, it was activated now," says Felix.
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Venugopal AV, one of the relief riders, who also works for ITDP India, said: "I feel that each individual's actions count in making a difference in someone's life and this pandemic has seen plenty of such stories. Each time I step out for a relief ride delivery, I count my blessings and ensure I take all the precautions required to keep myself, my family, and the people I interact with during the delivery safe. Sometimes the cycle rides are short, sometimes it's long and we need to search for the items in different shops... but you realise it's all worth it when you see the smile of gratitude on the face of the receiver."
He says till now 80 plus people have signed off as active riders. "We have a network from Gudavancherry to Thiruvottiyur and Maduravoyal," says Venugopal. "We have asked our volunteers to stick to neighbourhoods and not go beyond the city limits," he says.
"We have till now got 50 plus requests," says Venugopal adding that sometimes they get requests for Remedesivir. "we can't comply with these requests as it is beyond our reach," says Felix. Interestingly, the idea behind is to promote bicycling in Chennai. Cycling in Chennai has declined from six percent in 2008 to 2.9 percent in 2018 as per the figure available from the Comprehensive Mobility plan (CMP) for Chennai Metropolitan Area. But Felix is positive. He says cycling is catching up. "In OMR you could see hundreds of cyclists on any given day prior to lockdown," Venugopal says, adding that it has become the fitness mantra.
The move by relief riders has won many hearts including that of Sivasubramaniam Jayaraman, manage-Transport system, ITDP -India. "During Covid crises, it is great to see citizen volunteers coming forward to support the government and help the emergency needs of the infected and unable, who are home quarantined. Volunteers such as the Relief Riders and other similar social initiatives around the city where citizen volunteers are doing a tremendous job in helping their needs with utmost safety and care," Venugopal says.
He says cycling has become an active mode during the pandemic and also encouraged a lot of new cyclists on the street. "Very soon this will become a culture for citizens to use bicycles actively for Neighbourhood level trips." These cyclists, known as 'Relief Riders', deliver essentials to the elderly and other vulnerable groups. By special arrangement.