Belfast city bikes scheme barely a day old but already one station has been destroyed
Belfast's new public bike share scheme got off to a bumpy start yesterday with one station put out of action by vandals and customers struggling with the scheme's online registration.
Belfast Bikes, which officially opened to the public yesterday morning, has put 300 bicycles at 30 docking stations throughout the city with 1,500 people already signed up.
However, on the scheme's first day, the docking station on Stewart Street, beside Central Station, was rendered useless by vandals.
The glass on the docking station's computer screen was smashed over Easter and has yet to be repaired, leaving it without bicycles yesterday.
Some of the scheme's first members reported difficulties such as being unable to remove bikes from the docking station.
One customer, Bernard McClure, told the BBC he had hoped to cycle to work but couldn't release the bike from the Cromac Street docking station.
"I had the bike share scheme application on my phone and whenever I went to the station it sends a code to your phone, but there's no instructions as to actually where you enter the code and the bike just remained locked," he said.
At one stage the chief executive of Belfast City Council, Suzanne Wylie, approached him to ask how he was getting on.
Ms Wylie said there should be assistance at each station and advised him to ring the scheme's helpline. But after trying for 15-20 minutes to get through he gave up and walked to work.
However, one early adopter, IT professional Paul McKernon (39), sang the scheme's praises after riding one of the bikes across town.
"I picked it up at Clarendon Dock. I was going to the barbers which is just across the road from the Ulster University so I thought I would try the bikes out," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"It seems very sturdy, there's plenty of storage and it rides fine so I can't really fault it too much."
NSL Ltd, the company that operates the scheme for Belfast City Council, estimated that the Stewart Street station will be out of action for three weeks.
Belfast City Council said it was still awaiting the arrival of a replacement screen for the bike dock.
"As with all public utilities, there is always a threat of vandalism, but we are working closely with the local communities and the police neighbourhood officers to minimise the risk of anti-social behaviour and damage at the terminals," a spokesperson said.
"We would like to emphasise that the station kiosks do not contain any cash or valuables inside the structure."
Councillor Jim Rodgers condemned the damage but said it would take all of the city's citizens to play their part for the scheme to succeed.
"This is just appalling but not unexpected because we have people in our city, like every other city, who are just hell bent on wasting money," he said.
"It's up to every citizen to play their part and to contact the police if they see anyone vandalising the machines."
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Membership of Belfast Bikes costs £20 annually or £5 for a three-day membership. The first 30 minutes of each rental are free and the next 30 minutes costs 50p. There are small incremental charges per half-hour thereafter. To use the scheme, users must register a debit or credit card, to which hire charges will be registered. Failure to return a bike after 72 hours will result in a £120 fine.