A too-often sight for cyclists in urban communities.

Reflections on our 3 year pilot to reduce bike theft in Vancouver

by J Allard October 29, 2018   529 Team

3 years ago I visited Vancouver to kick off Bike to Work Week. We announced a 3 year pilot in cooperation with the Vancouver Police Department and Vancouver Police Foundation to address the region’s growing bike theft epidemic.

Constable Rob Brunt, a veteran of the VPD was assigned the task to investigate what could be done and reached out to me in the summer of 2015. While we had been operating 529 Garage for 2 years already, the VPD partnership was by far the largest partnership for our young company.

Bike theft had been climbing steadily at 20% per year in Vancouver since the Olympics and was on track to close out at north of 3,000 reports in 2015, then estimated to exceed 5,200 reported incidents in 2018. Knowing that only one-in-five bike thefts are reported to the police, it was clear that bike theft was a huge problem for Vancouver cyclists and the city’s Greenest City initiative.

We were challenged by Chief Adam Palmer to assemble a strategy to register 10,000 bikes and see what could be done to arrest the growth of this epidemic. At the time, both challenges felt quite ambitious. We faced many questions that day:

  • Would a voluntary / 3rd party system gain adoption?
  • How would the nature of a private / public partnership play out?
  • What will the response be from the cycling community?
  • Could software really play a meaningful role in crime reduction?

These weren’t just questions from the media and our new partners, but questions we also asked ourselves. While I’m very pleased the answers to those questions were ultimately all positive, never, in a million years, would have predicted the momentum of engagement we experienced. Not a few bike shops, but dozens of bike shops jumped aboard. Not just 10,000 cyclists, but 70,000 cyclists engaged. Not just the Foundation and key players within the VPD, but the Parks Board, the City, the University, non-profits and CMHC also joined hands along with hundreds of volunteers.

And looking beyond Vancouver, another 30 municipalities locked arms with their Vancouver neighbors to attack this epidemic, together.

 

Cst. Rob Brunt of the VPD addresses the media on the 3 year anniversary of the 529 Garage pilot program in Vancouver.

As part of this effort if you would have told me that we’d reduce theft by 60% on Granville Island in partnership with the Canadian federal government as part of this pilot, I wouldn’t have believed it.

When I began to study bike theft in detail over 5 years ago, my headline was that the “bad guys” were far better organized than the “good guys.”  The challenge was less about creating a breakthrough technology or a disruptive app. Our challenge was to build simple tools that would help shift the dynamic and uniting citizens, government, non-profits and businesses to address the problem hand-in-hand.

Change is hard.

Stopping an epidemic that is growing at 20% a year is very hard.

But reversing that trend and reducing crime by 30% in 3 years… well, that felt near impossible.

But, as history has proven time and time again, nothing is impossible when people work hand in hand around a common goal. The credit of the results we shared today with our partners and the media doesn’t belong to one individual, one agency, one municipality and definitely not one app. The credit truly goes to the spirit of British Columbians – public agencies, private companies, non-profits and citizens – working together to stop a problem that has been damaging our communities for too long.

Just 3 years after the launch of the pilot, bike theft is down 30%, returning to 2012 levels in Vancouver. Neighboring cities like Richmond and Whistler also experienced double digit drops (30% and 55% respectively). Granville Island – the number one cycling destination in the city (and leading locale in bike theft in BC), plummeted by 60%. Hundreds of bikes annually are being returned to their rightful owners by the Vancouver Police, nearly a bike every day. And, with the help of community tipsters and local bike shops the criminals have been put on notice and the black market has become less profitable and with higher risk.

In curbing the growth and reducing the problem to 2012 levels, Vancouver has set an example for other cities, communities and regions to follow. While there still is much work to do in Vancouver and across BC, this is a incredible 3 year result and a blueprint ripe for other regions to adapt and apply.

3 years from now, I plan to be writing about results from the other NHL cities across Canada, as well as meaningful international progress made down the I5 corridor. As part of that, we’re going to see expanded commitment from shops, manufacturers and online marketplaces to make bike theft a priority and in shrinking the black market. And, I’m sure we’ll be discussing new partnerships in other countries that want to provide the same world-class and safe infrastructure for cyclists in their metros as Vancouver does for its cyclists in partnership with our friends at World Bank.

With this pilot, Vancouver has demonstrated their commitment to the modern mobility movement and been an exceptional neighbor to the communities that surround them. I couldn’t be happier to have played a small part in this transformation, both personally and as an organization. Today is a great day for cyclists!

– J


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