The Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN) South Africa was established in Cape Town in 2002. The main mission of BEN is to address poverty and mobility through the promotion of the bicycle in all its forms. BEN imports used bicycles from overseas and distributes them to low income areas, trains recipients of the bikes in safety and maintenance, establishes Bicycle Empowerment Centre's (BEC's) and encourages cities to implement bicycle planning and infrastructure. BEN also assists the planning of events to help promote the use of the bicycle as a form of mobility - also known as active transport.
At BEN, we believe in the bicycle as a large part of the solution to mobility and poverty alleviation. Through the creation of 17 Bicycling Empowerment Centre's and the distribution of over 12000 new and used bikes, we are beginning to address job creation and access. Our training programs are ensuring that bike recipients are safe and in control of their bikes, mechanically and otherwise. The work we do in collaboration with the cities of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Tshwane is beginning to see the start of environments that facilitate safe and secure bicycle travel. We trust this will continue long into the future, as we have not yet begun to make the difference required, and to tip the balance in favour of mass bicycle use, both in South Africa and beyond.
1. Import of bikes and establishment of Bicycle Empowerment Centres (BEC's)
The main aim of BEN is to address poverty alleviation and facilitate the accessing of opportunities through delivery of bicycles, imparting of skills and creation of employment. Low cost new and used bikes are imported from China and Europe respectively and Bicycle containerised workshops are set up in different areas where there is a great need for reliable but cost-effective transport. These are then stocked with these bikes, and tools, and the project commences with the training of the project team, preferably those from previously disadvantaged sectors. The team facilitates the operation of the project in its entirety, from setting up and running of the training courses, servicing of the bicycles and working together with schools, NGO's and health care groups to address the transport needs of both learners and teachers. The team members also visit other local projects such as community centres, sports facilities and places of employment where information about the program can be disseminated.
2. Lobbying and Advocacy for safe bike path networks
Working towards the implementation of bike lanes and paths and secure bike facilities is done in collaboration with the National Department of Transport (NDoT) through municipality substructures. This process is helped largely through the input of many BEN Board members. As a result of these efforts, various South African cities have indicated a commitment to re-examine the Bicycle Master Plans for bike paths in preparation for FIFA 2010, to be hosted by South Africa. The partnership with I-CE through their Bicycle Partnership Program assists this program.
3. Training and distribution in Schools, Corporate Organisations and NGO's
Training and distribution programs are conducted with many pilot schools and NGO's around the Cape and with a specific focus on the disadvantaged and their particular transport needs. A safe route's to school and work program is run in conjunction with the supply of new and second hand low cost bikes. The training ranges from one day to two-week programs. Survey forms are completed by the delegates to better determine their travel patterns and routes; the results of these surveys are fed back to the city authorities to help them better plan their traffic management and road planning. Included in this program is the project for healthcare workers in the townships and rural areas, whereby healthcare workers are mobilized with bicycles, training and back-up support to address their transportation needs.
4. Poverty Alleviation
The overall objective of poverty alleviation is built into each of the above projects. Low Cost Mobility for unemployed adults and youth targets groups of economically disadvantaged and is about facilitating availability of affordable means of transport to enable the groups access more opportunities for economic advancement and poverty alleviation. Training and job creation initiatives teach individuals to think creatively about jobs and entrepreneurial projects, linking the many uses of the bicycle to income generation activities. The project on bike lanes facilitates safe routes to schools/ work and also aims at facilitating safety of school children, pedestrians and commuters in general. The most affected by the lack of safety are the children of the poor who cannot afford own transport or public bus and have either to walk or cycle to school.