Cycle Toronto launched its #EndBikeTheft campaign in late 2018 with an ambitious goal. For many, having your bike stolen can cause you to stop travelling by bike as much or altogether — the costs of replacement and temporary transportation, sense of invasion, lack of recourse, and inability to prevent further thefts is often too much to bear. We have continued to work on this issue and gained enough traction that bike theft prevention will be entering the conversation at City Council, this week.
What’s happening at Council
Councillor Wong-Tam has made a motion that — if passed — would direct Transportation Services and the Toronto Police Service to have 529 Garage (a bicycle theft prevention app which has shown success in Vancouver and many cities in Ontario) make a presentation to the Infrastructure and Environment Committee (IEC) in October.
Cycle Toronto has committed to you and to members of Council to help the City get bikes registered on a modern, community-powered system, and if adopted, would do outreach across the city and online to register bikes, teach bike theft prevention, get bike shops and community partners on board, and continue working on policies to address secure bike parking. But we’re not there yet! Before we can take these actions, the City would have to commit to taking action on bike theft by devoting resources to recovering stolen bikes, and to replacing the outdated and ineffective Toronto Police Bike Registry.
Police role in bicycle theft prevention
In conjunction with the release of our Anti-Oppression and Anti-Racism Commitment we made a call to the community for volunteers interested in exploring community-led bike theft solutions. What was determined after much research and discussion, was that to discourage vigilantism and get bikes back in people’s hands, some level of police involvement has been a necessary component in any city that has been successful in reducing bike theft. Theft of stolen property like bicycles is usually connected to large, organized crime rings that transport goods across geographic boundaries. And as serial numbers are easily wiped off, bikes are difficult to register, and many have lost faith that police will investigate a stolen bike and are reluctant to register, we are faced with a vicious circle where nobody wins.
The good news is, if the City were to adopt a modern, community-powered system, bike recovery rates could vastly improve. Direct police intervention could also be reduced by using transparent tools that are accessible to anyone with a computer or smartphone. Community-led programs are capable of easing the process for registering bikes with minimal personal data collected. From there, anyone on the app can report a stolen bike with the click of a button which alerts key places like bike shops, community members, and the police.
Of the thousands of bikes reported stolen every year (and likely thousands more unreported), around 1% are recovered. When Vancouver committed to a community-led approach to bike theft prevention in 2015, it resulted in a reduction of bike theft by more than 40%. We can get there in Toronto too.
Want to help? Let your councillor know that ending bike theft matters to you and write them a personal note before Friday’s meeting — if you've had a bike stolen, tell them how it has affected you. You can find your councillor here. Mayor Tory is [email protected]. You can find your ward here. If we act now, we could soon create a downward trend in bike thefts in Toronto.