Athlone bike hire scheme could be up and running by April

A council-funded bicycle hire scheme could be up and running in Athlone and Mullingar by the beginning of April.

There were calls last year for a bike hire scheme to be introduced locally ahead of the 2022 tourist season, and earlier this month Westmeath County Council invited tenders from companies bidding to operate such a service.

The invitation to tender stated that the scheme would be put in place in the county’s two largest towns for an initial six-month trial period between April 1 and September 30.

"The option of making the scheme permanent will be considered based on the overall success of the six-month trial," said the council.

Like similar schemes in cities such as Dublin and Galway, an "app-based system" is due to be used by the public to hire a bicycle.

"The app will need to be free to install on all mobile devices and allow users to quickly sign up to hire a bicycle," stated the council.

It said the app should be able to "control the locking and unlocking of the bicycle fleet" and should also "facilitate the payment for hires using all major credit or debit cards."

A minimum of 30 bikes is due to be provided across at least six locations in Athlone and Mullingar, while the council said it wanted to set a '€1 per hour' cost to the public for hiring a bike.

"Bikes will need to be good quality, well maintained units with a minimum of three gears," stipulated the local authority.

"The bike fleet will need to be maintained by the operator every 30 days to ensure the fleet is consistently safe and fit for purpose."

The geographic spread of the scheme within each town is due to be agreed between the service operator and the council, which advised potential service providers to "consider transport hubs, industrial locations, schools and tourist attractions when defining their operating zone for each town."

The council added that the scheme should "use as much of the existing bike parking infrastructure as possible to minimise installation costs."

The invitation to tender also stated that the bike hire provider must commit to offering "a rebalancing service" to make sure that "adequate bikes are available at all locations within the agreed designated zone" in each town.

"A rebalancing guarantee of a minimum of seven hours per week in both Mullingar and Athlone is required," stated the council document.

The service provider will have to submit monthly reports to the council on the scheme, including "fleet hire data, fleet management data and a full financial report."

In the tender documents, Westmeath County Council pointed out it would retain the option to "cancel or extend the scheme based on the performance of the scheme in each location after the trial period."

Furthermore, the council said that if the scheme proved "more successful in either Mullingar or Athlone," it would retain the right "to withdraw or extend the scheme in either location as a separate entity."

The council advertised for a service provider on January 12, and the closing date for tenders to be submitted was on Monday of this week, January 24.

It emerged last autumn that a plan to introduce a bike hire scheme in Athlone in 2022 was being considered by the council's Environment section.

A motion by Cllr Frankie Keena, which called for the introduction of such a scheme, received unanimous support at the November meeting of the Athlone Moate Municipal District.

Cllr Keena said at the time that a bike hire scheme in Athlone was "a no-brainer" given that the town had a university, tourism attractions, the greenway and a large number of schools.