In the latest episode of Smart Regions, new electric tricycles that resemble Roman chariots have begun appearing in France. They are calling the vehicle, the Benur and the project is backed by the EU's Cohesion Policy. The vehicles can be pedalled with the rider's hands and are already a hit with people with impaired mobility.
Benur user Nézha -El-Rafiqui tested out a prototype on the ViaRhôna bicycle path in Lyon and thinks the vehicles empowering:
"There is a feeling of freedom. It is a feeling of being like other people, actually. To be able [like them] to travel on bicycle paths, to go for a walk to the Tête d'Or park, to be able to go into town with the Benur, without taking the metro or the bus."
The ViaRhôna cycling route between Lake Leman and the Mediterranean is offering 8 self-service Benurs near Lyon. The innovative project cost €273,767.90, of which 60% was financed by the EU Cohesion Policy's ERDF Fund.
To begin with, the vehicles will be located, on two sections of Viarhona: Miribel-Jonage and Tain-Tournon. The Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Region wants to be the 'flagship' territory for this mobility project. ViaRhôna project manager Yves Ronot is excited by the potential of the inclusive vehicle.
"ViaRhôna is a bike path that is over 800 kilometres long, most of it in France; with some sections in Switzerland, which leads up to the glacier that is the source of the Rhône. Benur is a vehicle that allows access and accessibility to all on this route and means people can discover the heritage in all the territories, not only along the Rhône."
The project is the brainchild of Joseph Mignozzi who temporarily lost his own mobility in a motorcycle accident in 2012. He spent 3 years in his garage building a prototype. His co-partner and designer, Cyril Mezière, says cinema provided an unlikely inspiration.
"The first prototype made by Joseph, it looked a lot like the chariots in the film Ben-Hur. And I think that's what gave him the idea of that name, and Ben-Hur, was a fighter and we trying to be as resilient as possible."
Sharing and connectivity are the keywords in this project. An app will allow users to locate Benur and share routes between people with reduced mobility and receive information about the surrounding environment.
"The Benur makes you feel less fragile," says Virginie Béjot
Virginie is a fan of backpack weekends and she recently discovered the ViaRhôna through the Benur at Tain l'Hermitage. The off-road tricycle will allow her to go off the beaten track.
"What I really like about the Benur is that when we are higher up, we can see much better what happens than when we are in a wheelchair and are quite low. And we, also, feel safer. It makes you feel less fragile. People are curious when they see us on the Benur. I think they take a little while to realize that we are in a wheelchair. So that's the nice part."