London, ON’s Big Bike Giveaway and the Squeaky Wheel Bike Co-Op are working together to provide free bikes to low-income essential workers.
Essential workers are sacrificing their health and safety, and the health and safety of their families, to provide necessary services and resources for their communities. And low-income essential workers such as grocery store workers, delivery drivers, cleaners, food industry workers, pharmacy and social service providers are risking their health for little monetary reward. Many are working longer hours with fewer breaks. They’re having to work extra shifts to cover those who fall ill while dealing with angry and impatient customers. They’re enforcing rules that seem to change every few days and worrying about the lack of preventative measures put in place by their employers.
On top of all that, many low-income essential workers are facing another challenge – getting to work safely and efficiently. Though the LTC is currently free, there are fewer buses on the road with reduced schedules. Add in concerns over the inability to maintain social distancing on public transit and changes to their work schedules, and low-income workers are looking for alternatives.
The temporary addition of $2/hour that some low-income workers are receiving isn’t enough to afford a car. Paying for a taxi or Uber to and from work every day is just as unfeasible. Even with $2/hour more with hazard pay, many still aren’t making a living wage, which as of 2019 is $16.20 for the London, ON area.
A lack of options means low-income essential workers are unable to get to work without walking long distances. As a result, more time is spent away from their families and being exposed to more significant risks.
It started with Christopher – a grocery store clerk whose shifts were scheduled 2-3 hours earlier due to the increased demand for groceries during the pandemic. Public transportation wasn’t an option at 4 AM, requiring him to get up early to walk to work. He was also nervous about taking the bus when it was available for fear of being exposed to the virus.
He reached out to Big Bike Giveaway for help. His outreach confirmed what Big Bike Giveaway had heard from London’s cycling community, said co-founder Monica Hodgson.
“We have a lot of cycling advocates in the city. They were calling and emailing, saying, hey guys, do you have any bikes right now that we can release and help essential workers?” Hodgson recalls, “We helped him and then we thought, you know what, people are right – these people need help.”
Big Bike Giveaway hosts a day-long event each year in the fall, matching low-income individuals with free rides. However, with the demand, they have worked quickly to get as many bikes as possible ready this spring, almost six months earlier than usual.
A team effort, Big Bike Giveaway is gathering and providing the bikes, while Squeaky Wheel Bike Co-Op is handling applications and distribution.
The partnership between Big Bike Giveaway and Squeaky Wheel Bike Co-Op is a natural fit. Both organizations are community-focused, with a lens on equity and accessibility. In addition to their annual giveaway, Big Bike Giveaway participates in Goodwill Industries, Ontario Great Lakes’ Bridges Out of Poverty program. They provide reliable and free transportation to those transitioning out of poverty to sustainable employment.
Meanwhile, Squeaky Wheel Bike Co-Op prides itself on providing an accessible and welcoming environment for those looking for active transportation. Their Bikes for Newcomers program provides refurbished bikes to offer more transportation options. And their Women, Trans, Femme Workshops create a safe space for those often underrepresented in bike shops, with a focus on those who identify as Black, Indigenous, or a Person of Colour.
Grateful New Bike Owners
Hodgson says the feedback from recipients has been astounding and admits it can be quite emotional. “It’s pretty incredible, like from something as silly and simple as, ‘Oh my gosh, I love this bike. Purple’s my favourite colour!’ to people literally crying and, and feeling like, thank you, you’re really helping me save my health.”
In a Facebook comment on the Big Bike Giveaway’s page, free bike recipient Mariana shared her thanks. “My bike saved me on Sunday. There were no buses to go to work, and if it wasn’t for you I would have missed my shift. Thank you so much.”
Approved applicants can pick up their bikes at the Co-Op at 809 Dundas Street in Old East Village. The initiative is following public health protocols to ensure everyone stays safe when collecting their new ride. They are sanitizing each bike, staggering pick-ups to limit contact, and practicing physical distancing during pick-ups.
Community Support Needed
As of mid-April, the program had already approved 100 free bikes. But applications are still rolling in. Organizers have been blown away with the demand for the bikes and are seeking community support.
“The number one way help is to bring your donated bicycles – your used working bicycles – to the City of London Depots for us to service and get out to people in need,” says Hodgson.
With the loss of corporate sponsorships due to COVID-19, every dollar helps. “You know, someone’s $5 donation, another $20 here or there — you can fix quite a few bikes with that,” Hodgson says. “It’s hard because we usually have an entire year to prepare to give bikes away. But we want to help.”
Essential workers with a lower income can apply online for a free bike to help them travel safely to work.
Feature Photo Courtesy of Big Bike Giveaway