Bike hire scheme a runaway success after almost 250,000 rentals in space of six months
Belfast City Council's bike share project has become a phenomenal success, with almost a quarter of a million rentals in just six months.
Data obtained by the Belfast Telegraph showed year-on-year rentals rose by 27% between May 2015 and this year.
While rentals fluctuate with the seasons, in June there were often more than 1,000 bikes hired out each day,
The figures for Belfast dwarfed those in Glasgow, where just 49,600 bikes were rented out between January and May this year, according to the council.
The news came after Translink posted pre-tax losses of £10.5m and reported a fall in the number of passengers using its buses and trains.
Belfast High Sheriff Jim Rodgers suggested the increasing popularity of cycling could be one of the reasons behind the company's struggles.
"If, as these figures suggest, more people are using bikes, then it is likely that there will be fewer folk taking the bus or train," he said.
Mr Rodgers, who welcomed the figures as "great news" for the city, also said the scheme had benefited from a recent £20,000 investment by the council.
"Last November, the council was asked to invest in promotion and advertising because of the projected income being down," he explained.
"Personally, I'm surprised that rentals are so high because people have been pointing out a vast number of unhired bikes just sitting at docking stations.
"The feedback that I'm getting is that some of the docking stations are in the wrong place, and it's perhaps time to rethink this at this stage.
"I'm also being told there would be a demand for bikes outside the city centre, so that people who live in the outskirts could have an opportunity to cycle into work."
Data provided by the council at this newspaper's request showed rentals fell slightly last month compared to last year, from a record-breaking 20,828 in June 2015 to 20,404 in June 2016.
By contrast, May this year was the second busiest month for the scheme to date, with 20,490 rentals, which was up a considerable 27% on May 2015, when there were 16,151 recorded.
A Belfast City Council spokesman said there were now more than 4,000 annual subscribers and more than 3,000 casual three-day memberships.
"Following the highly successful launch of the scheme last April, the council agreed to invest in some additional marketing and promotional activity to drive forward its development and expansion," he added.
"This has involved the council working with key partners, including major employers, across the city to identify appropriate additional locations.
"This has resulted in the installation of the additional docking stations at Queen's University and the Titanic Quarter, as well as at the City and Royal Hospitals, and the Mater Hospital, on which work will start soon.
"A further 10 sites have been identified, and these will be operational in due course.
"All of this work has resulted in a considerable expansion of the scheme in a relatively short period of time since the scheme was launched."
There are 300 bikes at 33 stations in the city, with the three most popular at Titanic, the Odyssey and Central Station.