With a timid EU own response, bike theft continues to threaten modal shift away towards sustainable transport.
Off the record, Brussels admits that bike theft is a growing cross-border problem. But which officials at the European Commission should take charge? Those responsible for climate, transport, or for justice, business, and industry?
“Unless there’s a proven cross-border dimension, it will be difficult to raise interest at EU level because it will be seen as a local or national competence,” says an unnamed official.
“You can’t even buy an international [bike] insurance policy in Europe,” says Kevin Mayne, chief executive officer of bike-makers association Cycling Industries Europe (CIE). Fresh research by Cycling Industries Europe points to 12% of those surveyed having a bike stolen over the previous three years. CIE took nationally representative samples of 1000 people each in the eight largest markets (Germany, France, Spain, Sweden, Netherlands, Italy, UK, and Poland). “Bicycle theft is highest in Sweden and lowest in Poland,” Mayne tells Travel Tomorrow.
CIE’s statistics indicate another 13% of those having experienced theft going on to give up on cycling. “We work incredibly hard to get modal shifts of one or two percent,” adds Mayne. “So that’s a Europe-wide impact. You could roughly say a million people gave up cycling after their bike was stolen over the three-year period.”
Europe-wide technology may slowly help with increasing use of GPS and other trackers and bike passports, exemplified by France’s mandatory bicycle identification scheme. “It’s not a competence of any European agencies. But that will change, I think, with passports and registry,” says Mayne.
Bikes are still seen as “expendable leisure vehicles”, says Philip Amaral, director of policy at the European Cyclists’ Federation. “For lots of people, they’re their only or most used mode of transport.”
Governments, too, need to prioritise recovery of stolen bikes as high as for stolen cars. And Amaral also wants multi-country cooperation to recover stolen bikes such as Interpol’s two-week 2022 operation in 77 countries that recovered hundreds of stolen cars, motorbikes, and trucks.
“The third or fourth time a bicycle is stolen, you stop cycling,” says Wies Callens from Fietsersbond, citing research by the Flemish cyclist association in Antwerp. Fietsersbond also regrets the lack of a European approach.
It’s really something that also has to take challenged at European level.Wies Callens from Fietsersbond
Bike identification numbers
France’s obligatory bike identification number does not apply to transferring ownership, unlike reselling cars where you have to fill in an online sale or transfer declaration. But is the French bike registration system showing results? “Before, we saw only 2% of stolen bikes recovered. Latest figures are around 11%. That’s not enough for Decathlon. We want to see recovery reaching almost 80%,” says Loïc Lammertyn, Decathlon’s cycle identification leader.
Lammertyn wants improvements to the system. He says if bike owners do not activate personal accounts, then the police don’t have a number to call. And if stolen and registered bikes end up in other countries, there’s little to be done.
The European Parliament has called for the commission to designate 2024 as the European Year of Cycling. Earlier this year, chair of parliament’s transport committee Karima Delli pushed through a resolution calling for cycling to be put on an equal footing with transport modes.
Sadly, though, parliament’s resolution only briefly mentions the lack of secured parking and measures to prevent theft. “We all agree about the many benefits of cycling: better health, less congestion, more liveable cities. But so far, we were lacking from the EU institutions a strong signal that recognizes the central role of cycling in our societies,” says Delli.
Delli is still pushing for a change of mind-set within EU institutions with dedicated European strategy. And the cycling industry should be recognized as key to European industry.
The Press Club Brussels holds a conference entitled “Towards a theft-free EU for bikes and micro-mobility” on 8 June, 10:00 am to 12:00 pm. The event begins with a keynote from Georges Gilkinet, Belgian mobility minister, and is followed by panel contributions, including by Kevin Mayne, Loïc Lammertyn and Philip Amaral.