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Bike theft, “political” solutions to definitively eradicate this scourge

We have recently seen the main reasons why we can still hesitate to switch to cycling. Among them, security or comfort reasons that can be legitimate and perfectly understandable.

Although it is difficult to obtain precise statistics on the subject, the latest official data from the Insee “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 bikes stolen per year is around 300,000. The site estimates that 1,076 bicycles are stolen every day in France, or 400,000 per year. However, the reality could be well beyond these figures. It is difficult in this context to imagine investing in a machine costing from 500 to more than 3000 euros – if you opt for a good VAE – thinking that its lifespan when parked in the street will probably only be a few hours. And good luck insuring it against theft.

And, of course, still according to the same source, the phenomenon does not only affect France. Every year, an estimated 2.9 million bicycles are stolen in Europe, according to several national studies and figures from local police. 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 the theft are unsurprising.

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

However, by dint of practicing and rubbing shoulders with all kinds of cyclists, it seems to me more and more obvious that the reason that comes up most often as a foil is the problem (or fear) of theft. The worst being that this permanent anxiety first affects those who already travel regularly by bike and who have a secure way to park their bike, either at home or at their destination. This is particularly the case for a large proportion of cyclists.

Unfortunately, apart from these perfectly marked routes, many of those who travel by bike during the week to get to work practically do not use their bikes outside of this context because of the fear of theft. Because not only has the bicycle become a work tool, but it is often practically impossible to insure it against theft. Or in any case difficult, or at dissuasive prices. A theft is therefore equivalent to a double penalty, financial and logistical.

Based on this observation, it is complicated, apart from commuting to work, to imagine using your bike for leisure activities if these suppose that you have to leave it parked somewhere unattended. Exit therefore the exits to the restaurant, to the cinema, to the museum, or even the walks in the city center after having attached his precious with a lock which often only has a lock in name. A fortiori if it is a VAE which cost between one and three SMIC.

As a result, you don’t take your bike when it would be so much more pleasant, and either you don’t go out, or you take public transport 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 really tackle this problem head-on instead of hiding the dust under the rug, and propose real solutions so that their injunctions to travel by bike are really followed by effects. Because, at a certain point, the subject 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 chaucidous. However, as it stands, we do not really have the impression that this is the case. In other words: “Be green, ride a bike, and too bad for theft, it’s not our problem”.

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

So okay, it would be a little unfair to claim that policies do nothing, since a first measure in favor of protection against theft was put in place at the end of 2020 with the obligation to mark bicycles. It’s a good start, but it is not forbidden to do better, to go further in the political will.

Without falling into blissful solutionism, it seems that many avenues are possible to eradicate bicycle theft, especially in the city. And that these solutions could be promoted, even supported by local authorities, since we are in the country of all-out subsidies.

What solutions are we talking about? Traceability, secure parking, and space sharing between individuals. 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 one’s bicycle, being able to track and locate it in order to recover it would already constitute significant progress. Some connected bikes (Angell, etc.) come with a GPS tracker that allows them to be found in the event of theft. The generalization of this device to all bicycles above a certain price, as well as a communication and awareness campaign, would probably cool the ardor of thieves. It would still be necessary that this tracing be followed by effect on the part of the police, and by legal sanctions. Which is far from won…

Truly secure and tamper-proof parking systems

To deter bike theft, we must imagine totally inviolable and dissuasive systems. So, as for cars, boxes or closed car parks, video-monitored, with a card access device on subscription. This type of service already exists and is, in our opinion, destined to develop. There are dedicated spaces, closed and accessible by subscription card in Lyon Parc Auto car parks. In the United States, Bikelink also offers this type of system.

Shared parking spaces

This does not exist to our knowledge, but could probably be a concept to develop. Think of a kind of Airbnb of bicycle parking, which would work like this: a person has a surplus of unused space in their garage, or even their apartment. She registers it in an application to make it available to a cyclist with (or not) a small parking allowance. The cyclist finds the available spaces via geolocation in the application, and can book. A system that could work very well with some merchants with free m2, and even companies, like a Zenpark for cars.

In conclusion

There are probably many ways to eradicate the scourge of bike theft, well beyond the three examples mentioned above. They will come, as very often, from private initiatives. But since governments are unanimously showing a determined desire to encourage populations to move towards soft mobility, and are transforming a technical subject into a political subject, it does not seem out of place to ask them for a little help by making the effort to study all the solutions, even to imagine new ones.

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