“Oh my god, brilliant idea,” says Rachel Maher, as she neatly parts a customer’s hair in The Ivy Studios hairdressers on Fassaugh Avenue in Cabra.

Tami Saunders, pasting hair dye next to her, says she also likes the idea of a shared-bike scheme in the neighbourhood.

It’s needed, she says. “There’s so many more students in Cabra now.”

Maher says she’d definitely use it, and Saunders too.

“So would I,” says Mandy O’Macallorum, sitting below with her hair patched in aluminium foil. “I drive all the time but that would be a great option for me to get out of the car.”

None of the three bike-sharing schemes in the city – the public DublinBikes, and the private BleeperBikes and Moby Bikes – have stations in Cabra. It is one of several bike-share “deserts” in the city, many of which are in more deprived areas.

Providers say there isn’t demand, which is why they don’t offer them there. But some locals and councillors say different, arguing too that if the current bike-share systems can’t serve the whole city, maybe it’s time to re-jig things.

What Demand?

“I would get regular sort of lobbies from people about expanding the scheme, particularly in Cabra,” says Seamas McGrattan, a Sinn Féin councillor. “It’s great to use it in the city, but people want it to come up.”

Dublin City Council and private providers have said that they don’t believe the demand is there, though.

In March 2021, a spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that initially locations of stations were decided based on anticipated demand at places where more people work and visit.

“Within the available budget it was only possible to serve the very highest demand areas,” they said, “with a need for public transport linkage, hence the initial focus on the city core.”

Brian Gormley, secretary of Connecting Cabra, a community sustainability group, says putting in stations can up demand too, though.

“It does increase cycling in the area when you put them in,” said Gormley. “It would just be so beneficial.”

Changes to other bike infrastructures in the neighbourhood could also change whether or not people opt to cycle.

Gormley said a survey by the group of 269 people in Cabra found that a lack of safe cycling routes is the main deterrent to people cycling.

“There’s loads of scope for cycling in Cabra but the safe cycling infrastructure just hasn’t been installed,” he says.

The volume of traffic and a lack of safe bike parking also held people back from cycling, the survey found.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said on Tuesday that in 2019, 26 bike stands were installed in its North West Area. In 2020, 9 were installed. In 2022, the council plans to install 10, they said.

Near two bike stands on Fassaugh Road, Jean Rylands is sweeping the pavement outside her shop front.

Her staff at Lady Jeans Hairdressers, and those of neighbouring businesses, all drive to work from places like Ballymun, Malahide and Finglas, she says.

She’s not sure a DublinBikes station, or more bike parking, would fit here, she says. “We’re very short of parking along here for cars, so we need the space here.”

Public transport needs to improve, she says, and be more frequent.

Rachel Maher cuts a customer’s hair in Ivy Studios. Photo by Claudia Dalby.

Back in The Ivy Studios, the hairdressers and customers are banding together on why a bike scheme would be so handy there.

“I think they’d do great around here. I really do think they’d do great,” says Saunders.

O’Macallorum says it would help to reduce pollution in the area. “We’ve got motorbikes and everything else, and all the noise.”

Says Maher, with a cackle: “You’d be able to drink more wine!”

Bike-Share Deserts

There are 1,600 DublinBikes and 117 stations, all located within the canals. Dublin City Council have said before that DublinBikes is run at a loss.

There is a DublinBikes station on Charleville Road, just off the Cabra Road, which is the closest one to Cabra, says Colin Kelly, walking down Connaught Street towards his home.

Kelly says he cycles his own bike. But on the way to work in the morning, he sees people walking from Cabra to pick up bikes in Phibsboro.

“Then in the evenings coming home, drop them off there, and walk up here,” he says. “It would be a great facility to have here.”

Last December, Declan Meenagh, a Labour councillor, asked the council to outline its plans for new DublinBikes stations in the city.

The council said it would review future plans for the scheme over the summer once it was clearer what Covid-19 restrictions may look like going forward. “And other factors such as funding and e-scooter regulation,” it said.

The draft city development plan for 2022–2028, the roadmap for planning in the city for the next six years, doesn’t mention expanding the DublinBikes scheme.

Hugh Cooney, the CEO of BleeperBikes, a private bike-share provider, says their bikes need to get at least 2.5 rides a day to be commercially viable.

The scheme, which has “operating area” zones to show where a user can and cannot park a BleeperBike, is available along New Cabra Road, up to Blanchardstown, but it curves around Cabra, cutting off at Connaught Street, and carrying on up to Finglas.

There are gaps in the south-west of the city, too.

BleeperBike isn’t available beyond Rialto, so there are no bikes in Crumlin, Drimnagh or Kimmage. Past Islandbridge, the scheme stretches along Inchicore Road and Emmet Road, but doesn’t serve the rest of Inchicore.

Cooney says they choose areas to operate in after observing how many people are cycling around the area and what the population density is like – and that is in flux.

“More and more people are cycling. And as a result, more and more places will become commercially viable for us,” he says.

BleeperBike used to be in Cabra, says Cooney. “We did have one particular street in Cabra, and I’d prefer not to mention it, where we faced a lot of vandalism of the bikes and we just stopped operating in that area.”

“So that is a reality, but I don’t like saying that because it’s offensive to people who live there, for the sake of a minority of people,” he said.

Gormley, of Connecting Cabra, said he noticed that the maps of different areas that bike sharing covers matches somewhat closely with the Pobal Deprivation Index, which compares the deprivation levels of different areas around the country.

Shared-bikes schemes should be in areas where people can’t afford bikes, or don’t have space to store them, he says. But instead they are in better-off areas. “Essentially, it’s kind of, it’s kind of advantaging these already advantaged areas,” he says.

Cooney says BleeperBikes are available in parts of inner-city Dublin. “Where, you know, crime rates would be the highest, and we’re operating there.”

“Our business is fairly simple, like, if people will use the bikes, why would I not be in the area?” he says.

Just a Waiting Game?

Cooney says BleeperBike is planning to trial bikes in Crumlin soon, now that it has a new way to expand its operating area.

Now, BleeperBike can have bubbles of operating areas around the city within which bikes can be unlocked and must be returned to.

This allows them to extend to more suburban areas, he says, while ensuring that bikes won’t end up locked far away in a winding residential estate, inaccessible to users and BleeperBike employees collecting the bikes for servicing.

“If there’s five bikes spread out over the whole postal code of Crumlin, versus the five bikes only being allowed to park at the hospital, the cost of our staff getting those five bikes is so much lower,” he says.

Cooney says BleeperBike is also looking to expand its current fleet of 800 bikes. “It just takes time. There’s such long delays in getting new bikes in. Since Covid everything has gotten slow.”

Meenagh, the Labour councillor, says the solution to bike deserts is that there should be just one fleet of shared bikes in the city rather than three. “People don’t want to sign up to three different bike schemes, so it’s bad for consumers.”

And the stationless bikes are taking over a public service that existed already, he says. “It’s wrong to have competing bike schemes.”

(A 2018 council report suggested that DublinBikes membership may fall over time, partly because of competition from private bike-share schemes.)

Janet Horner, the Green Party councillor, said that councillors might decide it’s more efficient for the council to contract the bike share schemes out to companies rather than run it itself.

But in that case, the companies should be required, in contracts, to serve neighbourhoods currently without services, she says.

Claudia Dalby is a freelance journalist. She has worked as a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer, writing about the southside, transport, and kids in the city.

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