Bicycle theft, “political” solutions to definitively eradicate this cycle

We recently looked at the main reasons why we may still hesitate to switch to the bike. Among them, security or comfort reasons that can be legitimate and perfectly understandable.

Although it is difficult to obtain accurate statistics on the subject, the latest official data from Insee’s “Living Environment and Security” survey dates back to 2018 and indicates a total of 361,000 thefts. But according to other sources, such as the Ministry of Ecological Transition, the number of stolen bicycles per year is around 300,000. The site estimates that 1,076 bicycles are stolen every day in France, or 400,000 a year. However, the reality could go much further than these figures. In this context, it is difficult to imagine investing in a machine that costs between 500 and more than 3000 euros – if you opt for a good VAE – thinking that its useful life when parked on the street will probably be a few hours. And good luck securing it against theft.

And, of course, still according to the same source, the phenomenon does not only affect France. Every year, 2.9 million bicycles are stolen in Europe, according to various national studies and local police figures. 900,000 bikes are stolen in the Netherlands, 686,000 in the UK, 600,000 in Germany and 100,000 in Denmark and Belgium.

The consequences of theft are not surprising.

  • After a theft, only 5% of bicycles are returned to their owners.
  • 66% of cyclists say they use their bike less
  • 25% of them even declare to give up the bicycle as a means of transport
  • 20% of cyclists buy a cheaper and/or second-hand bike

However, after practicing and rubbing shoulders with all kinds of cyclists, it seems more and more obvious to me that the reason that comes up most often as a foil is the problem (or fear) of theft. What’s worse is that this permanent anxiety first affects those who already regularly commute by bike and have a safe way to park their bike, either at home or at their destination. This is especially the case for a large proportion of cyclists.

Unfortunately, apart from these well-marked routes, many of those who cycle to work during the week almost never cycle outside of this context for fear of theft. Because the bicycle has not only become a work tool, but it is often practically impossible to secure it against theft. Or in any difficult case, or at dissuasive prices. A theft is therefore equivalent to a double penalty, financial and logistical.

Based on this observation, it is difficult, apart from commuting to work, to imagine using the bike for leisure activities if these involve leaving it parked somewhere unattended. So leave the outings to the restaurant, to the cinema, to the museum, or even to the walks in the city center after having stuck your precious with a lock that often only has a name lock. A fortiori if it is a VAE that costs between one and three SMIC.

As a result, you don’t take your bike when it would be much nicer, or you don’t go out, or you take public transportation when possible, or you take… your car. In short, a beautiful mess.

Consequently, it is high time that local politicians and elected officials – who boast ambitious strategies for the development of soft mobility – finally tackle this problem head-on, instead of sweeping the dust under the carpet, and propose solutions real because their mandates cycling trips are really followed by effects. Because, at a certain point, the issue becomes political, and should be integrated into any plan aimed at reducing the place of the automobile in the city, in the same way as the development of cycle paths and shocks. However, as it stands, we don’t really get the impression that this is the case. In other words: “Be green, ride a bike, and shame about stealing, it’s not our problem.”

Going back a little in the history of incivility, we remember that the main scourge of the 80s and 90s was the theft of car radios. A problem that seemed insoluble and that generated improbable limitations. Today it has completely disappeared, not thanks to politics, but simply to technology.

Well, it would be a bit unfair to say that the policies do nothing, since at the end of 2020 a first measure in favor of protection against theft was launched with the obligation to mark bicycles. It is a good start, but it is not forbidden to do better, to go further in terms of political will.

Without falling into happy solutionism, it seems that many ways are possible to eradicate bicycle theft, especially in the city. And that these solutions could be pushed, even supported by local authorities, since we are in the land of total subsidies.

What solutions are we talking about? Traceability, safe parking and shared space between people. So many “social” solutions that seem to receive little attention from the competent authorities.

Really usable traceability

In the absence of being able to completely prevent the theft of your bike, being able to track and locate it in order to recover it would already constitute an important advance. Some connected bikes (Angel, etc.) come with a GPS tracker that allows you to find them in case of theft. The generalization of this device to all bikes above a certain price, as well as a communication and awareness campaign, would probably cool the ardor of thieves. It would still be necessary for this tracking to be followed by effects on the part of the police, and legal sanctions. Which is far from winning…

Truly secure and tamper-proof parking systems

To deter bike theft, we need to imagine totally tamper-proof and deterrent systems. Thus, with regard to cars, pits or closed parking lots, video surveillance, with access device with subscription card. This type of service already exists and, in our opinion, is destined to develop. There are dedicated, closed spaces accessible with a season ticket in the Lyon Parc Auto car parks. In the United States, Bikelink also offers this type of system.

Shared parking spaces

This does not exist as far as we know, but could probably be a concept to develop. Think of it as a sort of bike parking Airbnb, which would work like this: a person has a surplus of unused space in their garage, or even their apartment. It registers it in an app to make it available to a cyclist with (or not) a small parking franchise. The cyclist finds the available places by geolocation in the application, and can book. A system that could work very well with some traders with free m2, and even with businesses, like a Zenpark for cars.

In conclusion

There are probably many ways to eradicate the scourge of bicycle theft, far beyond the three examples mentioned above. They will come, most often, from private initiatives. But since governments unanimously show a determined will to encourage populations to move towards soft mobility, and are transforming a technical issue into a political subject, it does not seem out of place to ask them for a little help by making the ‘effort to study everything. the solutions, even imagining new ones.

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