Durbin Introduces the Bicycles for Rural African Transport Act

Durbin has been a strong advocate for investing in sustainable bicycles, which helps empower women and girls and improves access to health care, education, and more

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced the Bicycles for Rural African Transport Act, legislation that would establish within the Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) a rural mobility program, using affordable, sustainable bicycles to support access and key development objectives.   

In a speech on the Senate floor, Durbin highlighted the legislation and Chicago-based World Bicycle Relief, an organization among the various USAID-grantees that have provided bicycles specifically designed for local conditions to individuals in need around the world, helping them access education, health care, and economic opportunities.  

Durbin said, “In May 2020, as the world was reeling from the spread of the deadly, new strain of the coronavirus, the Kenya Red Cross Society received 500 bicycles from a Chicago-based NGO called World Bicycle Relief. Community health workers used these bicycles to make house visits across southern Kenya, providing health services to remote communities who would otherwise not have been reached because of the restrictions on movement due to COVID-19.” 

Founded in 2005, World Bicycle Relief partners with communities across nearly two dozen countries to establish and manage a sustainable transportation ecosystem that has supported more than 3.5 million people, from helping displaced survivors after a natural disaster in Sri Lanka, to allowing farmers to move crops in Zambia, to getting girls to school in Malawi, and beyond.

Durbin continued, “In Malawi, young girls used these bicycles to get safely to and from school and when COVID-19 closed these schools down, girls like 17-year-old Elizabeth were able to shift focus in order to help her parents, who are farmers, weather the economic effects of the pandemic – she used her bicycle to take their produce to market. Stories like these are common around the world – showing the value of a simple, relatively inexpensive, ‘green,’ and easy-to-repair means of mobility—a bicycle—to help meet important development objectives.”

This Bicycles for Rural African Transport Act builds on the work Durbin has done through the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) in the annual appropriations package in recent years, to provide modest funding and a comprehensive USAID assessment for a pilot program related to bicycles that has been successful at helping get girls to school, providing health services, allowing farmers to take their crops to market, and more.  This bill would effectively codify those efforts, and requires USAID to report on such projects from which the agency can continue to build. In 2021, Durbin discussed the need for bicycles in developing countries with Samantha Power, USAID Administrator, during a Senate Appropriations SFOPS Subcommittee hearing. In the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) appropriations package, Durbin secured first-time appropriations language on mobility and bicycles, and since then Congress has appropriated a total of $7.5 million for these efforts through FY22.  The FY23 Senate SFOPS draft legislation provides an additional $3 million in funding.  Companion legislation was introduced by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) in the House. 

“Part of this funding included an in-depth assessment to see what was most useful and how to make the programs locally sustainable.  USAID has used these lessons and opportunities with increasing success, thanks to the work of so many groups, including World Bicycle Relief… COVID has taught us that a global health crisis can easily also turn into an economic crisis, a food crisis, a mobility crisis, and more.  Sometimes, the simplest of tools, like a bicycle, can help make incredible progress,” Durbin concluded.

Video of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s opening statement is available here. 

Footage of Durbin’s opening statement is available here for TV Stations.