Smart Carts: A good idea in need of a home

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Damien a long-time client of Tony's Trailers tries out his new Flying Futon.

Over the Malahat in Mill Bay, Tony Hoar has lately learned more about shopping cart engineering than most would ever think necessary. While Hoar's main business is building custom bike trailers for people's work and travels he has clients all over the world his involvement in Victoria's grassroots Committee to End Homelessness has him re-engineering shopping carts, adding trailer hitches and large, maneuverable (and quiet!) wheels, so they can be linked up to bicycles and used by folks who collect bottles and cans to transport their load. Hoar, an advocate for a pedal-powered world, has created 35 of these retrofitted carts for binners around the South Island. He has even posted the instructions on his website so people can modify their own shopping carts (ideally, says Hoar, it could be done at a cooperatively-run downtown community bike shop). It was in the process of retrofitting the shopping carts that Hoar stumbled on a nifty feature of cart design, which is that when the chassis is removed from the base of the basket, it makes a pretty sweet downhill racing vehicle with a few modifications. Thus, Hoar's brainwave: enlist high school metal shops to assemble utility carts for the homeless, with the byproduct of the re-engineering process being a downhill racer, and then go head-to-head in competition with other schools.

It stops the theft probably 90 percent, gives security to the homeless because they don't have to be looking over their shoulders to see if the police or municipal crews are going to confiscate their carts, says Hoar. It's not noisy anymore and in fact, when people see them with my shopping carts, they're obviously not stolen, I put my decals on them as well, and their perception changes. We get a shift in attitude toward the homeless. When people know they're not stolen it immediately changes their attitude. Because it really pisses people off when they think that the homeless can just steal and get away with it. So the perception changes and the shopping carts are made available. Despite Hoar's best effort to get a high school on board to ramp up his project, he so far hasn't had any takers. And so 35 more carts, donated to him by the Chemainus Grocery and Cowichan Valley's mental health services, sit in his backyard awaiting their rebirth as binner mobiles. Hoar, busy with his paying job and other side-of-the-desk projects like his flying futon for the homeless needs a hand.

I've had the solution for a while, but I can't do it all on my own. If we just got one high school involved, it would start it. So basically, I've proved we can do this. We have solved the problem. Now it's just a matter of expanding the quantity so that anyone that wants one can have one.

by Jason Youmans, Monday Magazine, 28th July 2010.