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CITY TRIBUNE

Businessman loans e-bikes and scooters to HSE workers

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Colin Barry of Brite Mobility.

A Galway company which rents out electric bikes and scooters is providing free transport for healthcare workers struggling to get to work.

Colin Barry, owner of Brite Mobility, heard that frontline workers were too scared to use their own cars if sharing with their families. They also were finding it difficult to use public transport since schedules were scaled back due to the drastic cut in the numbers of people working. Many were afraid to even get on a bus or into a taxi in case they were infected.

He got in touch with the HSE offering hospital staff the use of his vehicles during the lockdown.

“We have 65 e-bikes and e-scooters on loan now to mainly nurses and doctors. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We have one consultant coming in as far as Barna, others are scattered across Knocknacarra, Doughiska, Salthill. They don’t share them due to coronavirus, so they have full use of it while they need it for work,” he explained.

“The HSE nationally ramped up hours so they are working really long hours so they need to get in and out of work quickly. Now it’s taking them 15 minutes to commute – instead of 45 minutes to an hour.”

While Colin is at home taking care of his three-month-old baby and two-year-old son, he has three staff looking after maintenance, technical issues and customer service.

He predicts he will be able to absorb the cost of allowing the HSE staff to use his electric devices for a month or two before he will have to pull the plug. He is hoping for corporate donations or for members of the public to pledge their financial support through an online fundraising page.

So far, €1,300 has been donated for the scheme with a target set of €6,000.

Colin set up Brite Mobility last July after his family sold their car dealership, Motorpark (Barry Motors) on the Headford Road, which had been established by his grandfather.

Colin is convinced that shared electric vehicles are the way forward for city transport following the huge success of similar schemes in major cities in the world such as London, Barcelona and New York.

While push bike schemes – such as the Coca Cola Bike Scheme in Galway – have been a bit hit in the likes of Dublin, they have not really captured the public imagination in smaller cities like Galway.

With legislation due to be enacted by the incoming government regulating the use of e-scooters on public roads, he hopes to be the first to bring in a rental scheme in Galway, Limerick and Cork.

“In the UK some of the shared e-bikes and e-scooters have had eight times the take-up of push bike schemes – electric really is the key. They go at 25km/h, people can wear a suit and arrive at work without having to shower and it’s much cheaper than keeping a car on the road,” he enthuses.

“We’re hoping to partner up with some of the American multinationals to set up schemes for employees to cut down on the traffic jams and free up parking space. At the moment, we’re looking at a €150 commuter charge but we hope to bring that down.”

An e-bike can cost around €2,000 while an e-scooter will set you back around €600. The beauty of renting them is the company takes care of the maintenance.

Since setting up on Eyre Street and before the coronavirus lockdown, there has been an average rental of between 20 and 30 e-bikes or scooters, mainly to tourists. The daily rental for an e-bike is €30 while an e-scooter costs €20.

Users sign up to an app with their bank cards, scan their details when they take it out and return the device to the designated point. If a scheme similar to the Coca Cola bikes was rolled out, there would be stations dotted across the city and suburbs.

“We’ve had town centre employees who live in Salthill, Knocknacarra and Mervue using it. A lot of students use them to go to work or grinds. We’ve had social workers who get off the train at Eyre Square and then use them to get to appointments.

“The use case is huge. I really believe this is the future for getting people around Irish cities. Our reliance on cars to the detriment of people’s lives and the environment can’t go on.”

E-bikes can do 70km before needing a charge, while scooters go as far as 16km.

The new legislation will likely outlaw their use on footpaths and by those under 16. There will also be a power limit of 350 watts, which is the industry standard and mandatory use of helmets.

He has already held discussions with Galway City Council about partnering up to roll out a scheme across town but little progress has yet been made.

“Bringing micro-mobility to transport infrastructure is the norm across Europe and the world. Ireland is just way behind. We work with a lot of the big suppliers so could push to 1,000 devices very quickly if we need to.”

To help fund the transport for healthcare workers, log onto GoFundMe.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Cyclists and disability groups don’t feel the love for ‘kissing gate’ barriers

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From the Galway City Tribune – Cyclists and disability groups long campaigning for the removal of ‘kissing gates’ on popular routes were overjoyed to see the one at ‘the Swamp’ in the Claddagh removed last week.

But their joy quickly turned to anger when it was returned a few days later. They learned that it had only been taken out to facilitate a private company. Grant Thornton had organised a 5K run along the Salthill Promenade for corporate staff and sports teams.

Gráinne Faller, who organises the Sundays4Safety awareness campaigns in Salthill, said she could not believe how quickly the Council could act to remove, then replace the barrier when bike groups have been calling for their removal for years, only to be met with inaction.

“These gates lock so many people out of our parks and playgrounds. How can we justify blocking access to public spaces? They are ableist, ageist and they block people with buggies and bikes. They really discriminate against parents. And then we learn that the Council is claiming that this isn’t a problem? We wait. And wait. It is not okay. It’s Council-sanctioned discrimination.”

Chairperson of the campaign group Cyclist.ie, Neasa Bheilbigh, said the gates excluded families and people with mobility impairments from using safe active travel routes to school and public amenities.

“To suggest quiet routes through housing estates and parks are not active travel routes, shows a lack of understanding about how people move in our city,” she insisted.

She highlighted the fact that the National Transport Authority (NTA) has committed to providing funding to remove barriers to promote universal access.

“I always feel safer cycling than walking at night, but having to dismount leaves me feeling vulnerable. The Council don’t seem to grasp the needs of people who use non-standard bikes as mobility aids and who cannot dismount or have the strength to navigate through these barriers.”

Liam Ferrie from Menlo said he was long past retirement age but he found his e-bike was a great way of getting around Galway.

“Last Sunday I cycled a total of 28km without any difficulty – apart from a very close pass by a motorist. However, if I had come to a kissing gate I’d have had to turn back as there is no way I could lift the bike through it.”

Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for the National Ambulance Service, Reg Turner, said his family cycles along the Terryland Forest park en route to school and they have to manoeuvre a large cargo bike carrying his baby son through a kissing gate.

“My seven-year-old calls them jail gates. She says she is sick of lifting her bike and asks when are they coming to remove the gates. The crazy thing is the forest can be accessed from various other exits and entrances which don’t have these gates.”

At a Galway City Council meeting last July, City Council Director of Services for Transport, Patrick Greene, told councillors the NTA had written to Councils acknowledging that kissing gates were problematic for some users.

He said the NTA was working to come up with a new design for gates that are more accessible for users such as people on cargo bikes, pram users and people in wheelchairs, and the Council would act on any recommendations from the NTA once an alternative was sourced.

He said the City Council was planning to do an audit of all kissing gates across Galway.

Cllr Noel Larkin stated that without kissing gates, housing estates and public parks would be more accessible to vehicles and could result in antisocial behaviour.

Cllr Donal Lyons said motorbikes and other vehicles could access public parks and amenity areas if they were removed and not replaced.

(Photo: A cargo bike stuck at a kissing gates. The City Council removed one in Claddagh recently for a road race but then reinstated it).

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune, September 23. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Council needs extra loans for home-buying scheme

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From the Galway City Tribune – Galway City Council has had to draw down further loans to keep up with demand for the Local Authority Home Loan Scheme.

At a meeting of the City Council, Director of Services for Housing, Brian Barrett, said they had initially sought approval from councillors for a loan of €4.1 million but such was the demand that they required a further €1.4 million.

A renewed Local Authority Home Loan was announced in December last year and provides for Government-backed mortgages for first-time buyers and ‘fresh-start’ applicants – those who are divorced or separated, or who have undergone personal insolvency or bankruptcy.

The scheme was introduced to provide lower interest rate mortgages to those who are creditworthy but would otherwise find it difficult to access sufficient finance.

Mortgages up to 90% of the value of the property are available, with a limit of €320,000 applicable to Galway. An income ceiling of €65,000 applies to single applicants, or €75,000 in the case of a joint application.

Mr Barrett said since the original scheme was launched in February 2018, 277 applications had been received by Galway City Council and 120 had been approved.

Twenty-three of those loans applied to the Tenant Purchase Scheme for local authority tenants buying-out their homes.

“In February, councillors approved a loan of €4.1 million and we need another €1.4 million . . . we require €5.5 million,” said Mr Barrett, who explained this applied to 2022 applications only.

The funding would be borrowed by the Council from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind) raised the issue of joint applications in the case of parents and an adult child who wished to buy out a local authority house under the Tenant Purchase Scheme.

“There is a situation arising where a parent with a son or a daughter in the house and the parent is in their 60s. After getting approved, they go to the Housing Finance Agency and they’re told they can only get a four-year mortgage – they waste five months getting approved to be told that,” he said, explaining that money would not be loaned for a period beyond when the parent turns 70.

“That information was not relayed to the Council,” added Cllr McDonnell.

Dermot Mahon of the Council’s Housing Department said he was aware of this issue, but it was part of the scheme.

“The loan scheme specifies that the maximum age of the eldest borrower is 70,” said Mr Mahon.

Councillors agreed to increase the loan, bringing it to €5.5 million.

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CITY TRIBUNE

City councillors pack their bags for Dutch transport junket

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From the Galway City Tribune – A group of city councillors will be packing their bags for Holland in the coming weeks as part of an initiative to introduce them to revolutionary transport solutions.

A meeting of the Council heard that the National Transport Authority (NTA) was willing to fund a trip for councillors to an area similar to Galway – in order to highlight the possibilities in relation to sustainable travel.

Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath confirmed that the NTA “feel it would be beneficial for councillors to see some of the solutions implemented in other areas”.

“It would be to a town in Holland, similar in size to Galway, to see their active travel solutions,” said Mr McGrath.

There would be no cost to the City Council, he added.

The meeting heard the trip would last three days and would be open to nine councillors – half of the full Council – while two City Hall officials would accompany them.

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