Pictured last month at the launch of the council’s new bike hire scheme in Athlone were: Thomas O’ Connell and Akash Kajal of Moby Bikes, Cllr Frankie Keena, and Westmeath County Council officials John Jackson, Pat Nally, Jackie Feeney and Barry Kehoe.

Take-up of new Athlone bike hire scheme "far better than expected"

The response to Westmeath County Council's new bike hire scheme in Athlone and Mullingar has been "excellent" and "has far exceeded our expectations," according to a local authority official.

The €1-per-hour bike rental scheme, which is being operated on behalf of the council by Irish company Moby Bikes, came into operation almost four weeks ago, on April 25.

It's offering 30 bikes for hire in each of the county's two biggest towns, and the council's Environmental Awareness Officer, John Jackson, said the take-up of the scheme so far had been very encouraging.

He said the level of usage had been particularly strong in Athlone, but that bike hires in Mullingar had been going well also and had increased over the last week.

One man recently contacted the Westmeath Independent about what he described as a very disappointing experience of the scheme when he tried unsuccessfully to hire six bikes for himself and his family to use on the Greenway between Athlone and Moate.

After getting set up on the 'Moby Move' app, which is required to use the scheme, the local resident brought his family to the Athlone Regional Sports Centre on a Sunday afternoon, as the app showed six bikes available for hire there.

However, when he arrived, he tried to hire the six bikes and found he was unable to hire more than one bike at a time on the app.

In the end he hired one bike, and his children took turns on it, but when he went to return it he found the process difficult, and was surprised that in order to complete the return of the bike he had to take - and upload to the app - a photo showing the bike locked in position.

The man, who asked not to be named, told the Westmeath Independent he had used other urban bike hire schemes in various parts of the world but had never previously been asked to upload a photo when returning the bike. He also felt there should be a clear and easy to use multi-bike rental option as part of the scheme.

When these points were put to Mr Jackson, the council official said there was the option to add more than one bike to your hire period, and that this was "explained in the terms and conditions on the app."

However, he said the council was not actively promoting the rental of multiple bikes by individual customers, because "there are well-established local companies operating in the group hire and family market for the past few years in Westmeath, who provide an excellent service to that customer profile.

"We were conscious of those local businesses when locating the bikes and setting up the scheme," said Mr Jackson.

He acknowledged that there would be "some teething problems" during the initial phase of the pilot bike hire scheme.

"The Moby Move app contains a Frequently Asked Questions section, and Full Terms of Conditions of using the scheme. It is important that people read and understand how the scheme works before hiring," he stated.

"The Westmeath Bike Hire scheme is an urban bike hire scheme, similar to the type of scheme operated in most major cities. As such, the terms and conditions match what is in place on the majority of these schemes."

He suggested the requirement to upload a photo of the locked bike in order to end a hire period was a "common" feature used in many urban bike hire schemes.

"This protects the user, by showing that they have locked the bike to the designated stand, and have locked it correctly. It also confirms their hire and responsibility for the bike has ended.

"It controls the locations of the bikes and ensures they are available at the designated locations for the next customer. It also helps to prevent the bikes becoming a nuisance around the towns by ensuring they are not locked in inappropriate places."

Mr Jackson said the council would be taking feedback from the public on board, and that it was planning to make "a couple of small tweaks to the scheme" in order to make it more user-friendly.