Promoting cycling where gas is dirt cheap

Marcela Scarpellini, Caracas Community Manager
Caracas, 31 December, 2015

Climate change has taken its toll on Venezuela, even if not as strongly as it has in surrounding countries. Venezuela holds the highest record on CO2 emissions in Latin America – a record that could be linked to the fact that oil is subsidized by the government, making it available to consumers at just $0.02 per liter. The country also has the cheapest gas anywhere in the world. This, combined with the fact that government policies for combatting climate change are non-existent and the few that have been implemented are insufficient, if not blatantly contradictory, has left citizens feeling a need to take action on the ground.

Luckily, there is currently an important group of people rethinking the way in which they participate in social dynamics. They are creating alternative ways for doing so through understanding the problems infringing upon the country and its urban areas in a holistic manner. And they are coming up with solutions and proposals in different areas of urban life that have the potential to raise real awareness on the issue of climate change and provide possibilities for individual citizens to contribute through specific measures.

One important project in Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas, is part of a larger trend and movement to use non-motorized transport not just for commuting purposes but for service delivery, as well. Ecodelivery, started by a young architect Cesar Bastidas, is working to change the car-focused trend in the city by a business model focused around bicycles. Ecodelivery champions non-motorized transport and carries out city deliveries, from packages to restaurants to business transactions, using a small army of cyclists. Although the initiative is fairly new, it has already gained momentum in a city where citizens are looking for more green-focused initiatives. Ecodelivery has cycle-delivered over 6,000 packages, saving nearly 7,000 Kg/Co2 and more than 5,000 liters of gas. As importantly, Ecodelivery is encouraging other businesses and local residents to reconsider their movements in the city.

While there is a growing grassroots movement, the local government has also begun implementing policies to support alternative means of transport, even cycling. Like many cities around the world, Caracas now has a car-free Sunday on a major stretch of highway. It’s a policy supported by Urban Bike Guerillas, a group of Caracas cyclists that hits the streets in large numbers – between 80 to 100 riders at a time to take back the choking streets from endless congestion. Spin-off groups now focus on women-only rides, all efforts at influencing a movement in a country where driving is too cheap to turn down.

If both the government and citizens can continue to promote cycling in a meaningful and action-oriented way and, at the same time, implement a public transport system that provides commuters with solid alternatives, Caracas would be a very different city to get around in.

As the former mayor said in an interview, "Caracas is different if you travel it by bicycle, walking in the city is wonderful."

Photo credit: Luke Seeman

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