By Juan Cruz Gregorini, Institutional Affairs and Strategic Planning of VOY EN BICI Argentina
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, it is safe to say that for the most part, the most vulnerable groups in society have been the most affected. The travel restrictions, quarantines, and lockdowns put in place by different governments have significantly impacted the mobility of different social groups including children, disabled people, and older adults living below the poverty line.
One of the most significant mobility challenges facing Latin America is that hundreds of thousands of low-income workers have been unable to reach their jobs, restricted from using public transport because they belong to the informal economy and are therefore not considered as essential. All this, despite 2019 ILO data showing that the informal labor force represents more than half of the total number of people employed in over eight Latin American countries.
In addition, according to the Social Panorama of Latin America 2020 from ECLAC, the total number of poor people reached 209 million at the end of 2020, 22 million more than in 2019. In Latin America, 80% of the population lives in urban settings, and the expansion of these areas has brought about the growing use of private transport, contributing to an increase in traffic congestion, carbon emissions, and air pollution.
Is there a national strategy for low-income people in Argentina?
Argentina’s Government has set one of the longest quarantines in the world to stop the spread of the virus and to better prepare the national health system. Despite the fact that these governmental measures produced mixed results, the mobility of the most vulnerable people was seriously impacted. Children have had difficulty in accessing education because they lack a secure and independent means of transportation, older citizens suffered a loss of active and recreational activities, and food banks no longer had a means of transportation to deliver supplies to those most in need.
Moreover, according to the Mobility and Road Safety Observatory of the City of Buenos Aires, two hundred stations of the public bicycle system (50% percent) were closed due to the pandemic in 2020. This had a significant impact on the number of daily trips, which went from 6,400,000 annual bicycle trips to 2,400,000. The closure of these stations had a direct impact on vulnerable populations, since access to a travel alternative that ensures social distancing was restricted.
Although the City of Buenos Aires was right to significantly expand bicycle lanes, nevertheless, this measure was not supported with other initiatives to ensure that deprived communities were benefitting from such changes.
Towards sustainable mobility in Argentina
Under these challenging circumstances, VOY EN BICI Argentina (Go By Bike Argentina) emerged as a sustainable, community-based urban mobility solution for low-income urbanites. The main initiative we are developing is the Bicycle Banks (Bancos de Bicicletas), which provide a meeting place to serve free meals, repair bicycles, and manage the operations of our bicycle lending service.
How do the Bicycle Banks work? The bicycles are donated by individuals who have no further need for them, and through our network of contacts and NGOs, we receive used and brand-new bikes on a weekly basis. We’ve made it easy for people to get in touch to donate through our website (www.voyenbici.org) or Instagram (@voyenbici_argentina) by sending us a photo of the bike and its location. The photo gives us a general idea of how much money we must invest in the renovation of the bike (usually between 35 and 50 dollars). Once we are able to collect the bike and bring in back to the bank, volunteers and bicycle enthusiasts start the repairs. Afterwards, the bikes are then distributed to vulnerable groups and deprived neighborhoods in the surrounding areas, under the following guidelines:
- Kids bikes and mountain bikes for children are given to rural and public schools. One of our objectives is to tackle school absenteeism by reducing the travel time of children from rural communities and providing them with a reliable way to get to school every day.
- Adult bikes are provided to anyone who is in need of a way to get to work or to perform their job efficiently (delivery, for example)
- Tricycles, tandems, and wheelchair bikes for disabled people are distributed for recreational activity and as an alternative means of transport.
- Cargo bikes are reserved for food banks and donation centers to distribute food and clothes to the families of the community
The main idea of the Bicycle Banks is that those in need may use a free bicycle for a limited period of time and, when they finish using it, they must return it to the bike bank for another person’s use. We are strengthening ties with slums and poor villages by bringing citizens the possibility of empowering themselves through a versatile and sustainable mobility solution. As of today, more than 200 bikes have been repaired and given to low-income people. We are working at the community level to create an increase in social and economic inclusion, circular economy practices, sustainable and shared mobility, decarbonization, better health through exercise, and access to free and/or affordable food and supplies. We have created the first Bicycle Banks in Argentina and Latin America, but our aim is to expand it to other regions and countries.
Why do we do it?
We firmly believe that job opportunities, community engagement, and the dignity of those living below the poverty line depends on the way in which people move from one place to another. In an analysis of our mission and activities, we meet more than 9 SDG objectives: no poverty, zero hunger, health care, gender equality, decent work, reduced inequalities, quality education, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption, and climate action. At VOY EN BICI Argentina, we believe that we can only move forward without leaving anyone behind, which is what the SDGs are all about.
The pandemic has rendered many social/socioeconomic situations more precarious and has already impoverished millions of people. At this point, the use of bicycles as a reliable and sustainable mode of transport cannot be denied, so we must continue to imagine and implement projects that empower the use of active mobility worldwide.
To find out more about VOY EN BICI, please visit their website at http://voyenbici.org/