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LocalBodies: Transport Poverty, Bicycles Needed.

Written By: - Date published: 4:51 pm, April 1st, 2014 - 20 comments
Categories: transport - Tags:

The original of this post is here.

I spent last Saturday helping out with a cycling promotion in an Invercargill community market. The market occurs monthly and has been largely driven by a community minded, and recently elected city councillor, Rebecca Amundsen to revitalize a less affluent part of the city and generate a sense of community. Through her leadership the market has become an established event and the car park where the market is held has received extra funding for landscaping and public toilets have been built.

The idea of the cycling promotion was that children could bring their bikes, grab a ‘bike licence’ and collect stickers for completing a quiz, an obstacle course, a skill test and have their bike checked for safety. If all were completed satisfactorily then they got a bag of bike related goodies (bike bell, puncture repair kit etc). I was managing the skill test or ‘Turtle Race’ which involved taking the longest possible time to get between two points in a straight line without feet touching the ground. It was a lot of fun.

Sadly there were a number of children who wanted to take part, and could ride a bike, but they didn’t own one. The fact that quite a number of children didn’t have bikes shook my middle class perception that all New Zealand kids must have access to a bike. A quick phone call to my wife enabled the delivery of my folding bike that I could adjust for a range of ages and bikeless children could use.

The ‘Bike Doctor’ (who was doing the safety checks) bases himself at the nearby Invercargill Environment Centre and, for a donation, repairs bikes and fixes up donated bikes to be given away. I was told that he can’t get enough bikes to meet the demand. Apparently there are even people approaching him for transport to get to work as they no longer have a car or can’t afford to repair one. I have also noticed a growing number of people cycling in Invercargill on older bikes and whose appearance suggests they are struggling financially. While cycling is obviously a healthy and practical choice of transport many are obviously doing it because they have no choice.

This Government’s obsession with roads and cars, and their lack of investment in safe cycling and reliable public transport, ignores the fact that while high income families may own several cars, at the other end of the spectrum there are a growing number of families that not only can’t afford a house or a car, but struggle to own bicycles as well.

20 comments on “LocalBodies: Transport Poverty, Bicycles Needed.”

  1. Ad 1

    Excellent regional regional reality.
    Transport in cities can get to $150 a week with parking factored in.
    In Auckland it’s calculated as 15% of weekly spend as a household average.

    You are the first here to describe transport as a marker of class. Transport poverty is not only about daily stress, and ones defined spatial and mental realm, it’s also a threshold of personal freedom. Very real. Well cashed black economy workers in Kaitaia roll their v8 hemis through town as a grand signifier. Year 8s say it with a freestyle dirtbike with trick accessories.

    You ain’t moving into upper working or lower middle class without wheels – without them on many levels you are stuck.

    By the way, even Gerry gets this. Watch this space when his next govt policy statement comes out.

    • weka 1.1

      “Excellent regional regional reality.”

      Yep, very good post.

      Is there a recyle centre in Invers? What’s happening to the bikes no-one wants?

      • Dave kennedy 1.1.1

        Yes there is, but the bikes at the recycle centre are generally in poor condition and would need attention to get properly roadworthy again. Our Environment Centre bike doctor has bikes donated and he ensures that they are functional and safe before passing them on.

  2. In Wellington, check out the Mechanical Tempest (Abel Smith St) and the Aro Valley Wunderbike programme:


    In Christchurch, get in touch with Icecycles:


  3. karol 3

    Here out in West Auckland, I also see young people using other modes of transportation: scooters (of the engineless type where you paddle along with one foot), skateboards.

    Sometimes I see youngest getting up a bit of speed with wheels on the bottom of their shoes.

  4. Overcache 4

    While well meaning, there are couple of logical flaws in the way this article is structured.

    Firstly, why build bike lanes if the poorest of the poor cannot afford bikes? I think you are inferring that the government should subsidise bikes, as a means of granting greater access to the poor. If so, doesn’t that prejudice people like young mothers and the elderly, for whom a bike is not a viable option? How should this be balanced out? Consider is a country like New Zealand, particularly down South, weather is a huge determinant of cycle use.

    Secondly, you make the assumption that the poor cannot afford bikes. A quick scan on Trade Me shows you can buy functioning bikes for as little as $30 (buy now) on the South Island. This may be out of reach for some of the most disaffected, but these people are at the extreme margin (best served by targeted solutions not blanket subsidies). I would suggest that a targeted (as opposed to blanket) approach is needed, which is where organisations like the Bike Doctor come in. As for funding, the government is by far the biggest contributor to charities in this country, and I would suggest this is the route to go, or perhaps a wider community appeal.

    If you want an example of people living in extreme poverty, please check out this documentary (http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/dont-panic-truth-about-population/), and fast forward to the 38 minute mark. Here is a family of 10 living on less than US$10 a day, for whom a bike represents a transformative investment, which they have made at great personal sacrifice. We in New Zealand do not suffer from nearly the same deprivation.

    • Overcache, we need to follow Europe in their approach to providing real choice in transport options, we are lagging behind in this regard. Weather shouldn’t be a limiting factor, our climate is actually a moderate one and many more people in Invercargill used bicycles in the past. In cities with much more challenging Winters (like Zurich) bicycles are common.

      When motorways are constructed the volume of traffic increases and it generally doesn’t reduce congestion. If safe cycle lanes are provided, people will use them and the cost benefit ratio of cycle lanes are hugely positive. People will use cars less, there will be a reduction in road congestion and there are savings in health costs.

      I definitely didn’t infer that the Government should subsidise bikes, if anything I was pointing out how inadequate many incomes are. I would rather see the adoption of a living wage. I am sure that for many of the children who didn’t have bikes it was priorities not price that was the determining factor. If children couldn’t use their bikes as transport to get to and from school safely then they would become purely recreational in their use and therefore a luxury. If children could cycle to their school safely it would free up parents and save on the petrol used to drop them off each day.

  5. shorts 5

    new bikes seem very expensive – so many aimed at the very well heeled and a growing number of bike shops seem to focus on only these customers

    It seems there is very little in NZ these days that isn’t slowly but surely being denied those with less

    Where we are out west (akld) its very hilly and our youngsters would rather walk than bike as they spend a lot of time when biking pushing them up hills

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1

      new bikes seem very expensive – so many aimed at the very well heeled and a growing number of bike shops seem to focus on only these customers

      That’s the NZ market. It’s very small and so the stores have to go for the things that they can make a large profit on as they’re not going to get the turnover necessary to support a low profit per item model.

      Where we are out west (akld) its very hilly and our youngsters would rather walk than bike as they spend a lot of time when biking pushing them up hills

      I’m pretty much the same.

    • Saccharomyces 5.2

      Bikes have never been cheaper. Yes there are some extreme high-end models out there at specialist stores for many thousands, but there are really cheap options out there too. Under $100 at the likes of The Warehouse and KMart.

      Contrast that to the early ’80s when even the most basic Healing Cruiser would set you back $216! Inflation adjusted that’s near $600!

      I think one thing that has happened is our disposable culture has people chucking older bikes out when they could probably be repaired and on-sold. I hate to think how many bikes with perfectly serviceable frames, rims and hubs get sent for scrap just because the brakes are work/our of alignment or the gears need servicing.

      • shorts 5.2.1

        no disrespect to the warehouse and cheaper retail focused outlets but I have little faith their bikes would last long which is something I want in a childs bike – I got a new bike when I was 13… and was still riding it daily when I was in my early 30s

        • weka

          Yes, but we can’t have it both ways. It costs to build product that will last. We could demand cheaper, better bikes, but I’d hazzard a guess that the people making the bikes are facing their own set of poverty problems so how is that fair or reasonable? I like Draco’s and Sacc’s ideas – let’s make things here again, pay the real costs for them, and then instead of throwing things out, focus on building a re-use culture. There is plenty to go around, we are just pretty shit at doing it.

          I noticed this recently with clothing opshops that are packed with far too many clothes. When I commented on this, I was told that they get more than they can sell. FFS, set up a system where the people with no money get given clothes. And educate the rest of NZ that their clothing that is so cheap they can throw it away faster than it can be reused, is being made with slave labour.

          • shorts

            “let’s make things here again, pay the real costs for them, and then instead of throwing things out, focus on building a re-use culture. There is plenty to go around, we are just pretty shit at doing it.”

            In total agreement with this, I just wish kiwi wages were such that the real costs didn’t make things unaffordable to so many of us

            • Draco T Bastard

              I just wish kiwi wages were such that the real costs didn’t make things unaffordable to so many of us

              That’s not actually the problem. The main problem is that most of the money is going to the bludging shareholders while wages are kept down. Then there’s the rather expensive idea of competition which is aggravated by the large foreign factories that use cheap manual labour where economies of scale apply (an automated factory removes economies of scale but happen to be expensive).

              What I’d like is for the government to build such an automated factory that could produce any design from any material. Such a factory could be built to provide solely for the NZ market with the resources used by it also supplied directly from NZ.

              • Saccharomyces

                “for the government to build such an automated factory that could produce any design from any material”

                Do you mean specifically for bikes, or literally ANYTHING? Because if it’s the latter, there’s no way that I can see that would be possible.

                • Draco T Bastard

                  ATM I’d say specifically anything that had similar construction to bikes. So, anything made out of metal tubes.

                  Actually, it’d be a complex I suppose with each main component being specialised for a part and then brought together in an automated assembly line.

  6. Tracey 6

    children dont vote.

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