Bike theft in the European Union continues to threaten the success of change towards a sustainable urban mobility plan. To lower carbon emissions in the transport sector, follow the objectives established by the European Green Deal, and reach the ambitious title of first climate neutral continent by 2050, Europeans need to be on bikes more than cars.
With the Covid-19 crises, the challenges brought by congestion in European cities, and the rising cost of energy in recent times making this environmentally friendly mode of transport more attractive and relevant than ever, the EU has noticed a considerable increase in cycling.
Bicycles are not just expanded leisure vehicles anymore. They are becoming a lot of people’s main mean of transportation, even if they own a car. It’s becoming a high valuable piece of property.Philip Amaral, Policy & Development Director for European Cyclists’ Federation
Cycling brings better health, less roadblock, and a positive impact on the economy. It’s sustainable and efficient and an integral part of the European history and culture. It deserves as much political, financial, and public attention in the EU as other modes of transport. Then again, with theft being the number one obstacle to have more people on bikes, why is it so difficult to raise interest to the matter at an EU level?
On June 8th, the Press Club in Brussels held a conference titled “Towards a theft-free EU for bikes and micro-mobility”, to discuss how this menace demands better response from policymakers, law enforcement, research, and industry throughout the EU.
In the last 5 years, 18 million people will have experienced bike theft. After the fact, 13% of those citizens will stop biking. That represents about one million people in a 5-year time frame.Kevin Mayne, Chief Executive Officer for Cycling Industries Europe
1. Background and time for action
Back in February 2023, the European Parliament passed a historic resolution calling for the European Commission to develop a European cycling strategy, recognizing cycling as a fully-fledged way of transport and a crucial asset to meet long-term climate goals.
The European Parliament’s Resolution for an EU Cycling Strategy is legally non-binding, but it’s a key document to shape future policy priorities. The Resolution calls for a range of specific actions to enable and grow cycling, including commitments to increase funding for infrastructure and industrial growth, and a review of regulations and support for cycling industries in the EU’s industrial strategies.
Before federal Minister of Mobility, Georges Gilkinet, came into office, in 2020, Belgium did not recognize the central role of cycling in their society. “I felt like it was up to me to develop a clear national cycling strategy in Belgium”, said the Minister, responsible for the first Belgium national bike plan, with 52 concrete measures – “I dedicated several of them to bike theft”, he added. The plan, “Be Cyclist”, has combating bicycle theft amongst its chief priorities. For the Minister, “this needs to be a matter of national security and the theft reports need to be followed up”.
Part of the federal plan involves measures such as the possibility of a central bicycle register, investing in safe bike racks in every station in Belgium, and developing bike lanes along its train tracks.
I want 2024 to be the year of cycling. The Bicycle is now seen as a real mean of transport with real value. At a European level, I will keep bringing governments together to build a strategy for biking.Georges Gilkinet, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Federal Mobility Minister
According to the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), “A European Year of Cycling (is) a stimulus for public action. Dedicating 2024 to cycling sends a clear political signal to all levels of government in Europe, and to all citizens, that the bicycle has a central place in our mobility habits and policies (…)”.
To date, 17 EU countries have either signed the Belgium-led European Cycling Declaration, that calls for an EU action plan to prioritize cycling, or have a national cycling strategy currently in force, or both.
2. Cross-border dimension
Sadly, though, Parliament’s Resolution only briefly mentions measures to prevent theft and fulfill certain gaps, such as the lack of secure parking and obligatory bike identification numbers.
While a transportation shift is crucial to achieve goals of green mobility, federal governments argue that the power to implement many policies related to bicycle infrastructure falls under the control of regional governments.
Unless there’s a proven cross-border dimension, bike theft will still be looked at as a local or national competence, not raising interest at an EU level. For Belgium’s Minister of Mobility, it’s clear that “thieves do not stop at the borders”, and that “bicycle trafficking is an international issue”.
This is indeed a cross-border situation. Organized crime is a European competence. It’s of the EU’s interest to act on the matter. You can’t even buy an international [bike] insurance policy in Europe.Kevin Mayne, CEO of Cycling Industries Europe
According to Kevin Mayne, CEO of Cycling Industries Europe, statistics showing high percentage of repetitive theft in Germany show a real concern and should bring the attention to bike’s parking enforcement and organized crime.
Decathlon’s Cycle Identification Leader, Loïc Lammertyn, expressed how even with bikes having to be marked, with France’s mandatory bicycle identification system, if stolen and registered bikes end up in other countries, there’s little to be done.
3. Solutions’ effectiveness and prospects
Philip Amaral, ECF Policy and Development Director, policy & development director, defended that “one of the more immediate ways to address the issue is the energy performance of building directive“. Part of the European Green Deal’s legislative framework, the directive promotes policies that will help bring more confidence for bike users, such as requirements for mandatory parking in residential and non-residential buildings.
Users would be especially receptive to cycling if they had a trackability system where their bike could be protected. A way for Europeans to have confidence that their mobility investment can be protected has to be provided.Philip Amaral, ECF Policy & Development Director
Extra secure parking and an international bike identification data base were the two solutions more lively discussed by the June 8th’s Brussels Press Club panel.
Decathlon’s Cycle Identification Leader, Loïc Lammertyn, brought to the discussion how the French obligatory bicycle identification system has proven to be showing impressive results in the country. After 2 years of implementation, research showed that the chances to recover a stolen bike have been multiplied by 5 times, a growth from 2% to 11%. The system applies to new bikes, but also to 2nd hand bicycles being sold by authorized distributors.
It’s exciting to think of a time where the bike industry and users are going to be able to advocate for secure bike parking and liable bike trackability. For Amaral, “that’s something that will happen in the next few years.”
ECF’s policy & development director shared that e-bikes appear to be one of the more rapid tools for governments to achieve their green ambitions. To Frederike Pischnick, Bosch’s Senior Expert for Sustainable Mobility, ebikes might are a reliable tool for the green transport switch.
Amaral defended that “policy makers need to find solutions rapidly.” Transportation and mobility is the only sector in the world where emissions aren’t coming down as significantly. However, currently, ebikes, are the most electric vehicle looked for in Europe. And, unlike electric cars, ebikes are part of the road congestion’s fighting brigade, also having a positive impact on countries’ economies. In Brussels, “traffic jams costs more than 4 million euros a year”, stated Gilkinet.
Ebikes are part of the mix, just like investing in public transport. We would argue that this is where the European Commission should put a lot more priority, since it would mean achieving lower emission goals more rapidly.Kevin Mayne, CEO of Cycling Industries Europe
A serial number is already present on e-bike’s batteries. On one side, this bigger capability for trackability, which increases the interest of insurance companies, serves as a good warning to keep thieves at bay; on the other, batteries, even though they are the most valuable component of a bike, are often not reported stolen, which makes them impossible to recover.
Besides one of the main promoters for sustainable mobility, e-bikes can bring meaningful economic benefits to the EU as a whole. This transport transition raises the challenge of looking for industries where it is possible to relocate and invest the existing and future workforce. For Kevin Mayne, e-bikes are a concrete answer.
The CEO shared how the talk on lithium batteries for e-bikes also create a significant security concern. “We are worried these might end up on secondhand markets, and managed elsewhere by incompetent users”, added Frederike Pischnick.
At the end of the discussion panel, there were no doubts that the political momentum is here. “I am sure cycling will be made a political priority in years to come”, finished off ECF’s Philip Amaral.