Belfast City Council is considering options to tackle the problem of vandalism that has severely diminished its fleet of Belfast Bikes.
A cycling network in the city has said the “pointless destruction” of bicycles could signal the end of the scheme if action is not taken.
Since its launch in April 2015, the scheme has gained 5,000 annual members and over 5,000 casual subscribers.
However, 210 of the 576 bikes in the fleet have been taken out of service due to vandalism or having been stolen. Over the Easter weekend, 19 bikes were stolen and a further eight were vandalised.
A Belfast City Council spokesperson said increasing costs could jeopardise any future expansion, adding that vandalism has been concentrated at the bike docks in the city centre area.
They explained: “Some thefts can be attributed to incorrect docking of bikes, but there is widespread vandalism, which has increased dramatically in the second year of operation.
“Vandals are forcibly trying to remove the bikes from the docking points causing a lot of damage to the bike and locking mechanism.
“According to the PSNI’s analysis of the situation, the majority of the thefts are for the purposes of ‘joyriding’, with the bikes subsequently being dumped.”
They added: “The council is working with our partners NSL, the PSNI and local community representatives to reduce incidents of vandalism and thefts. CCTV is one option under consideration.”
Jonathan Hobbs, editor of Belfast cycling network Bikefast.org, said: “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 – £20 a year places this within the budget of everyone – and it’s about to be squandered.
“The growing subscriber levels, high number of journeys, calls for expansion and evident joy the scheme brings to city residents and users show what a success it has been.”
He continued: “A small group of people are intent on choking it off, and without being checked they’ll succeed.
“This is widespread organised vandalism. Nineteen bicycles stolen over the Easter weekend should cause worries that a flaw which can be exploited is known and is being shared. Infrastructure providers must identify and fix it before it’s too late.”
“For comparison, the Dublin Bikes scheme lost just 12 bikes in its first four years of operations – Belfast beat that tally in a weekend.
“The goodwill and commitment of councillors and funders is not unlimited and losses on this scale are mortally wounding the scheme.
“If a way can’t be found to stem the bleeding – community intervention, CCTV, infrastructural amendment – the end for Belfast Bikes will come sooner than is believable.
“As a city we need to stand up to it, find a smart solution and not give in to vandalism.”