This article by Pedro Miguel César Ribeiro, mayor of Almeirim (Portugal), has originally been published in the Progressive Post magazine of the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS).
Progressive leaders believe in their capacity to instigate positive change in people’s lives. They understand that taking the initial steps and pioneering new paths is often met with initial resistance but, ultimately, garners recognition and appreciation from the community.
Embracing sustainable mobility, with a particular focus on promoting bicycle use, stands as a progressive endeavour that must span multiple domains to reach its full potential. Portugal, driven by various social factors, where car ownership is still associated with status, is gradually transforming its mobility landscape. Local authorities have been pivotal drivers of this change. In Almeirim, about 60 kilometres north-east of Lisbon, our approach is holistic, encompassing infrastructure development, community bicycle-sharing initiatives, financial support for bicycle purchases, and educational programs aimed at fostering a cycling culture. Furthermore, we are actively exploring alternative modes of transportation, such as on-demand services, and championing equitable access by providing free public transportation passes to students.
The ‘Almeirim.on.bike’ initiative, championed by our municipal council, is dedicated to promoting bicycle usage within our town. Over the years, we have incentivised this by offering bicycles at reduced prices. However, in 2022 and 2023, we adopted a more direct approach by providing incentives directly. Local businesses can now join us as partners, while citizens can choose where to purchase bicycles through a straightforward application process. We support up to 200 bicycles annually, offering a 50 per cent subsidy capped at 175 euros in 2023, ensuring accessibility and affordability. This forward-looking initiative represents a 35,000-euro investment in 2023, underscoring our unwavering commitment to environmentally sustainable mobility, which is vital for our collective future.
In addition to this, we have introduced a bike-sharing system called ‘AlGira’. Designed to promote bicycle use, this public bike-sharing service not only reduces CO2 emissions but also supports public health, both physically and mentally. Regular cycling has proven benefits for health, including reducing the risk of coronary diseases, cholesterol issues, diabetes, obesity, and more. This project, initiated in 2005 and updated with the latest technologies, offers an affordable annual usage cost of 20 euros and provides the first hour of use free of charge, further promoting sustainable mobility.
Yet, none of these efforts would be sustainable without ensuring that the younger generation is proficient in bicycle riding. Regrettably, this skill is diminishing within families, with many parents not teaching their children how to ride bicycles. Our ‘bicycles go to kindergarten’ initiative, conducted in partnership with the Portuguese Cycling Federation, aims to rectify this situation. Launched in the 2019/20 school year, it ensures that our children learn to ride bicycles using balance bikes, promoting motor coordination and, significantly, sustainable mobility. This scheme has been integrated into every public kindergarten in the Almeirim municipality. The bicycle lessons are provided free of charge and benefit approximately 450 children. Currently, the municipality provides 80 bicycles distributed among various schools.
Furthermore, this September, we have introduced an on-demand transportation system to enhance collective transportation offerings, primarily in taxi services, in three locations within the town. These areas often lack access to traditional public transportation and, in many cases, rely solely on this mode of mobility. This initiative is coordinated by the Leziria do Tejo Intermunicipal Community (CIMLT). As part of our collective commitment to promoting public transportation, and also coordinated by CIMLT, we have partnered with the Central Government in a project offering a 50 per cent reduction in road transportation passes and a 30 per cent reduction in rail passes. This encourages citizens to use public transportation. Additionally, students in compulsory public education receive free passes through this program (PART – Tariff Reduction Incentive Program). Lastly, we extend public transportation services to local parishes. The city benefits from TUA – Almeirim Urban Transport, which, despite having only one route, plays a vital role for various segments of the population, particularly the elderly.
In conclusion, these initiatives span various areas but share a single, unified goal: improving people’s lives and, in doing so, better our societal well-being, while safeguarding our planet.
© Photo credits of the header: Nuno Ricardo /unsplash
Other images: City of Almeirim