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Belfast Bikes scheme under threat as thieves and vandals put a third of them out of action

By Linda Stewart

Cycling campaigners are warning that Belfast could face the death of its successful bike hire system due to widespread vandalism.

It comes after Belfast City Council revealed that more than a third of Belfast Bikes are out of action. Ten were found in the River Lagan at low tide last week, and another was discovered sawn in half.

The council said the bike hire scheme had been a success, with more than 405,000 journeys since its launch in April 2015, but the recent thefts and vandalism was jeopardising its future.

As of yesterday, 210 of the 576 bikes in the fleet had been stolen or had to be taken out of service due to malicious damage - costing the scheme £1,800 a month.

Some 19 bikes were stolen over the Easter weekend, of which just six were recovered, and a further eight vandalised.

The council said some of the bikes were stolen for personal use but much of the damage inflicted was simply mindless vandalism, including the sawing in half of one.

The council and the PSNI are now calling for the public to report theft and vandalism to the scheme operators, or bring it to the attention of police.

Sergeant Pete Cunningham said: "We would appeal to anyone who witnesses any instances of theft or vandalism to the bikes to report this to police immediately so that we can address the issue and deal with those who are responsible."

Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston said: "We have to address the problem of anti-social behaviour and put measures in place to safeguard the scheme."

Jonathan Hobbs, editor of the Bikefast.org campaign website, said: "Last week's Lagan low tide uncovered around 10 Belfast Bikes, which had been chucked in the river.

"The numbers of bikes being stolen and destroyed is shameful and unsustainable.

"Make no mistake, we're watching the death of the system unless the local community comes together to stop this pointless destruction.

"Belfast Bikes is a cheap, socially-inclusive transport form for everyone in the city, and it's about to be squandered."

The council said many of the stolen bikes had not been properly secured when returned to their docking station.

"If you're a scheme user, a quick pull of the bike to make sure it's properly locked will also help to keep the bikes as safe as possible," it added.

The PSNI revealed in January that there was an increasing issue with bike theft and said it was "almost like the new car theft".

Gordon Clarke, national director at Sustrans Northern Ireland, said: "This news is disappointing and we would urge Belfast Bike users to ensure the bikes are secured on their return and we ask the general public to be vigilant and report any theft or vandalism to the police."

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