Local solutions boost sustainable micro-mobility in Cuba

Residents of the Cuban capital’s Fontanar neighborhood are pleased with the incorporation of three-wheeled electric vehicles to shorten distances between sectors in Boyeros, one of the municipalities that make up Havana. Photo: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Luis Brizuela (IPS)

HAVANA TIMES – The incorporation of small electric vehicles in public transport, as well as initiatives that encourage the use of bicycles, represent opportunities and challenges for Cuba to fight in a sustainable and inclusive way against the chronic problems of urban mobility.

“Connecting nearby places with electric means of transport has been very timely and a relief,” said Dania Martínez, referring to the famous Ecotaxis, six-seater vehicles that since June have provided transport between neighborhoods in the city. municipality of Boyeros, one of the 15 that make up Havana.

“Neomovilidad aims to strengthen the regulatory framework for an efficient transition to a low-carbon urban transport system in Havana, with a positive environmental impact.” —Reynier Campos

The teacher and her son were waiting for one of these vehicles at the Fontanar shopping center to take them to Wajay, their neighborhood on the outskirts of Havana, when IPS asked them what they thought of the service.

“Public transport is not good in this area, far from the city center, and private taxis charge you high fees. Getting to anywhere else five kilometers away can be tricky. Hopefully three-wheelers will spread to other places,” Martinez said.

She was referring to light motorized vehicles that resemble certain types of Asian autorickshaws, also known locally as motocarro or mototaxi, with a capacity for six people in the back.

With a range of 120 kilometres, these three-wheeled electric vehicles cover three trips of two to four kilometers for a price of four pesos, or 17 cents at the official exchange rate in a country whose average monthly salary is equivalent to around 160 dollars. . .

The fleet of 25 vehicles is part of the Neomovilidad project, implemented by the General Directorate of Transportation of Havana (DGTH) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) office in Cuba.

For its implementation until 2023, it has a budget of 1.9 million dollars offered by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

“Since its launch in 2019, Neomovilidad has aimed to strengthen the regulatory framework for an efficient transition to a low-carbon urban transport system in Havana, with a positive environmental impact,” Reynier Campos, told IPS. project director.

During the first three months of operation, more than 135,000 people were transported, with a monthly emission reduction potential estimated at 6.12 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

By contrast, Ecotaxis can only recharge at night by connecting to the national electricity grid, 95% of which depends on burning fossil fuels to generate electricity. Charging takes place at the three-wheeled vehicle parking lot and takes place at night as it takes about six hours.

However, there are plans to subcontract the electricity from the solar parks to the public electricity company. Electrical Union of Cubato offset consumption, executives said.

Other Ecotaxis fleets provide service in the municipalities of La Habana Vieja, Centro Habana and Guanabacoa, also with UNDP support, and contribute to the national commitment to climate change mitigation actions.

Campos explained that Neomovilidad is a pilot project in Boyeros that could be extended to other Havana municipalities and cities of this Caribbean island nation of 11.1 million inhabitants, where public transport is one of the problems. most pressing in the long run.

Reynier Campos, head of the Neomovilidad project, pointed out that the initiative proposes to strengthen the legislative framework and promote public policies based on four lines that contribute to sustainable urban mobility and help reduce carbon emissions in Cuba. Photo: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

long standing problem

With its 2.2 million inhabitants and tens of thousands of people living there in the short term, Havana has 1.4 million people using transport daily, of which one million use the public bus company Empresa de Ómnibus Urbanos , according to the ministry. transports.

But the most recent official reports acknowledge that less than 50% of the public bus fleet currently operates in the capital.

The Cuban government accuses the US embargo of being the main obstacle to the purchase of spare parts, as well as the lack of access to credit to repair and renovate buses, the main means of public transport.

The problems of fuel availability and the number of drivers who find work in sectors with greater economic benefits also weaken an irregular service whose most visible face is the congestion of stops at peak times.

Figures indicate that 26% of the estimated total passengers in Havana use private taxis, which charge higher fares that not everyone can afford.

There are also non-agricultural transport cooperatives with taxis and minibuses, as well as buses from the state company Transmetro, which provide services with fixed timetables.

Around 80% of people in Latin America live in towns and cities, and urban public transport remains essential in regional mobility plans.

Cuba is quietly taking steps to encourage the use of alternative vehicles and increase electricity production from renewable sources, which plans to increase from the current 5% to 37% by 2030.

Thanks to flexible customs regulations for their importation, as well as for their assembly, it is estimated that half a million bicycles, motorcycles and electric three-wheelers circulate on the island, helping families to move around.

However, high prices and sales only in foreign currencies hinder their dissemination. Some of the most economical cost over $1,000, while others range from $2,000 to $5,000 in government stores.

Mirelis Cordovés, driver of one of the electrocycles, makes 11 trips a day on the Fontanar-Wajay road, in the municipality of Boyeros in the Cuban capital. She is happy to have a job and a higher income to support her nine-year-old son, who she is raising alone. Photo: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Focus on gender to reduce gaps

Neomovilidad stands out for encouraging the incorporation of women as drivers and promoting the employment of women.

“Besides giving me a job, my income is higher, which helps me support my nine-year-old son,” Mirelis Cordovés, a single mother who is one of 13 women who are now part of the the project’s team of drivers, told IPS.

Latin American countries such as Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Panama have adopted national policies related to the development of electric mobility.

In the case of Cuba, the proposal is “a vision for the development of electromobility from the Ministries of Transport, Energy and Mines and Industry, with guidelines and priority lines in public transport, including vehicle conversion,” Campos said.

He said that Neomovilidad proposes to promote public policies that contribute to sustainable urban mobility.

The project urges to take into account the specific mobility needs of each social group and to integrate variables such as gender, age and accessibility, in order to reduce the gaps.

The national survey on equality between women and men, conducted in 2016 but the results of which were published in February 2019, showed that women mainly bear the burden of care work.

They are the ones who spend the most time taking children, family members or other people in their care to school, hospital or to buy food, the survey found. .

Transportation has been identified as one of the top three problems for Cuban women, right after low income and housing shortages.

The study drew attention to the correlation between time use and income inequality, as cheaper transport options (public buses) increase travel delays.

The experts consulted by IPS consider that in the case of Cuba, a developing country shaken by a three-decade-long economic crisis and pressing financial problems, it is not necessary to wait for solutions that require great resources, if small and accessible alternatives can be designed to organize and facilitate mobility.

The Neomovilidad stand during the 2022 International Transport Fair at the Pabexpo exhibition center in Havana. The project includes a pilot system of public bicycles, with six bicycle stations and 300 bicycles, which should begin offering its services before the end of 2022. Photo: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Integrate bikes

As part of Neomovilidad, a pilot system of public bicycles should be inaugurated before the end of 2022, with six stations and 300 bicycles, also in the municipality of Boyeros.

Autonomous company Inteliforja will operate the bicycle mobility system as a local development project, together with the DGTH, after winning a tender.

“The main activity will be renting bicycles at affordable prices. It will include other services such as parking, mechanical workshops, as well as complementary activities such as cycle tourism, parcel delivery and community activities to encourage the use of this means of transport”, explained Luis Alberto Sarmiento , one of the managers of Inteliforja.

Sarmiento told IPS that the central workshop will be located at José Antonio Echeverría Technological University of Havanawhere there are several engineering and architecture courses.

“We plan to install a terminal powered by solar panels there to recharge the students’ motorcycles and electric bicycles,” explains the young entrepreneur.

“Further in the future, when we have more resources, we plan to introduce bicycles or three-wheelers for transporting the elderly and disabled,” Sarmiento added.

Although electric mobility and the use of bicycles are considered to promote more open, safer, cleaner and healthier cities, Cuba faces multiple challenges in this regard, starting with the need to lower the price of vehicles and to ensure the stable availability of parts and components.

Other outstanding issues are the lack of charging points for refueling outside the home, the lack of cycle paths or greenways, in addition to the urgent need to repair a road network, 75% of which is classified. in average or poor condition.

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