A Belfast Bikes equality screening process called for by Sinn Fein has said the service “potentially” discriminates against women, old people, disabled people and different racial groups.
At a City Hall council committee this week, elected members received an update on expansion of the Belfast Bikes scheme, including an equality screening that Sinn Fein had called for.
Without going into detail, the update report stated the location of bike stations potentially treat four groups unfairly.
At the City Growth and Regeneration Committee meeting on Wednesday, councillors were presented with an update on the screening, and given recommendations by council officers on new bike stations across the four quarters of the city.
In June an “east versus west” row broke out at the City Growth and Regeneration Committee over the designation of bike stations.
Sinn Fein called for an equality screening on the bike strategy, while the DUP and Alliance accused them of politicking the issue, while the Greens accused Sinn Fein of “joining the journey later than expected”.
Sinn Fein Councillor Ciaran Beattie said then that while the scheme was “good for the city” he added the people of west Belfast were “second class citizens” when it came to the Belfast Bikes.
The call for a screening was seen to have merit, and is still ongoing. The update report on Wednesday does not go into detail or make suggestions to take forward, but does point towards the possibility of endemic disfavouring in the bike scheme.
It states: “Work to date on the draft equality screening indicates the potential differential impacts on women, those with disabilities, those with dependents and those who are older.
“Given the diversity of issues experienced, it also notes the need to further investigate the potential impact on those from different racial groups in Belfast, as well as those with disabilities in order to better understand the potential impacts.
“This information and health data will be considered to inform future development of the scheme subject to feasibility. Further analysis is also being undertaken into the incorporation of the additional location assessment criteria to ensure clarity of definition and application of assessment.”
Alliance Councillor Michael Long said the Sinn Fein call-in had caused a six month delay to the scheme, and stated the report recommendations had not changed since then.
He said: “I have concerns about the three or four groups that have been identified as being potentially impacted – that we are not taking account of that now. The reason it was called in seems to be geographical issues rather than anything else.”
The council officer replied: “We don’t understand the nature of those differential impacts without further analysis, and when we secure the specifics of the site locations.”
Sinn Fein Councillor Ronan McLaughlin said: “I am surprised by other councillors’ reaction to this, they seem to think we have spent the past six months almost wasting our time, and this should have been agreed in June.
“It was called in for two reasons, community impact, which has proved valid, and for procedural reasons, because it wasn’t equality screened. And what we have seen from this exercise is that people with disabilities, women and old people may be adversely affected by some of the decisions we make.
“Certainly I don’t think it is a waste of time for a screening process. I am almost shocked by councillor’s thoughts. The screening will make Belfast Bikes and where they are stationed better for everyone in the city.”
Councillors agreed to 15 new stations in the north at Yorkgate, Shore Road and Antrim Road, Duncrue; St Mary’s College Falls, Shankill Road, Springfield Road, and Whiterock Road in the west; Lisburn Road, Malone Road and Upper Ormeau Road in the south, and Castlereagh Road, Upper Newtownards Road, Cregagh Road, and Holywood Road in the east. They will be phased in through 2022 and 2023.
Earlier this year councillors agreed four new stations at the Kennedy Centre, Falls Road, the Waterworks, Cavehill Road, Lisnasharragh Leisure Centre, Montgomery Rd, and Olympia Leisure Centre, Boucher Rd.
The Belfast Bikes scheme was launched in 2015 by Belfast City Council, and now has 400 bikes and 48 docking stations.
Money to replenish the fleet of bikes is being used by the council from Stormont’s £749,000 “Blue and Green” funding allocation. Council officers say £525,000 of that is required to fund the recommended expansion.