Bike theft in Vancouver drops 30% thanks to new app. Will other Canadian cities catch on?

Vancouver used to be the worst city in Canada to get your bike stolen. But a new anti-theft initiative for cyclists may have changed that.

A bike registration app, called Project 529 Garage is taking Vancouver by storm and has now spread to 26 communities across British Columbia, helping decrease bike theft across the province.

It was created by an avid cyclist, J. Allard, who is a former Microsoft executive and Xbox developer. Allard said he came up with the idea for the app after his own bike was stolen when he was living in Seattle.

Const. Rob Brunt, with the Vancouver police, was also tired of the bike theft in his city and was searching for a way to solve it using a digital registration system.

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He looked to see what other Canadian cities were doing. But every municipality, like Vancouver, was using a registration system that relied on a bike’s serial numbers, which Brunt said isn’t that effective.

WATCH: Vancouver bike theft victim takes matters into this own hands

Click to play video: 'Bike theft victim takes action'
Bike theft victim takes action

“There is no industry standard for serial numbers on bikes,” he said. “Its usually a maze of numbers, making it really difficult to find a bike’s owner,” he said.

Then he came across Project 529 Garage — an online database system for cyclists that is powered by its users.

How does it work?

On the app, you enter your bike’s information, such as make, model, year, cost, and serial number. You can also upload pictures. You receive a tamper-proof sticker that contains a code corresponding to the registry.

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If your bike is stolen you can report it to the entire community on Project 529.

Launched in Vancouver

When Brunt read about Project 529 Garage he immediately met with Allard over a beer in Seattle. The two talked for hours about ways to reduce bike theft in Vancouver.

“I came running back to Vancouver with the idea,” Brunt said. “Then in October 2015, we launched the app. We had a goal to register 10,000 bikes in three years. I thought that was brave and we would not come close.”

They reached that goal in six months.

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There are now over 20,000 people who have registered their bikes in Vancouver using Project 529, and ten of thousands more across the province.

Since it launched, bike thefts in Vancouver have fallen by 30 per cent.

Vancouver’s Granville Island, a popular tourist spot that is also a hotbed for bike theft, saw a 70 per cent decrease in bike thefts since 2015.

WATCH: Targeting bike thieves at Vancouver’s Granville Island 

Click to play video: 'Targeting Granville Island Bike Thieves'
Targeting Granville Island Bike Thieves

It wasn’t just the app that can be credited to the decline in thefts.

Brunt and Allard visited every bike store in Vancouver to discuss the problem and get owners to register their bikes. They helped move bike racks to safer locations, implemented bike valets, got businesses to provide cyclists “loan locks,” and put Project 529 logos on as many bikes as they could in order to deter thieves.

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Success of Project 529

Gaelan Connell, a chiropractor living in Vancouver, credits Project 529 with recovering his stolen bike.

He said in January he went on vacation and his bike was stolen from his apartment’s storage area. Connell had previously registered his bike with Project 529 and sent a notification it was missing.

“A week later police said they found my bike,” he said.

“It was a special moment to get it back. Everyone has had their bike stolen but most people don’t get their bikes back.”

Bike theft numbers across Canada

Although bike theft is rampant across Canada, Vancouver is still the worst city to get your ride stolen, according to a study by Square One Insurance.

The insurer gathered numbers from police department theft reports in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Montreal.

While Toronto had the highest count of bike thefts as a population, their rate of bikes stolen is far lower compared to Vancouver’s. In 2015, Vancouver had the highest rate of bicycle thefts per capita among Candian cities.

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Have other cities adopted the app?

Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle Toronto, said he hopes Toronto will adopt the anti-theft initiative.

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“Bike theft is a serious issue in Toronto and it’s not adequately addressed,” he said. “Our bike registration system still functions, but it’s out of date. It does not have the elements that 529 Garage has added.”

He said he’s been in touch with the city and local police to help pilot Project 529 in Toronto, but it’s still too soon to say if it will actually be implemented.

WATCH: Online petition calls for harsher punishments for bike thrives in Toronto

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Online petition calls for harsher punishments for bike thrives in Toronto

“It’s an inspiring experiment out of the West Coast to see what they have done,” Kolb said. “It hasn’t taken off in Toronto but Cycle Toronto is looking really closely at it and we hope to have something in the future.”

Brunt said other cities, like Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg have contacted him about the project, but the problem is the cost.

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“Everyone is facing the same problem — money,” he said. “And to implement this app it costs money, for things like promotion, design, handouts and holding registration events.”

But Brunt said he hopes other municipalities realize the benefits of this initiative far outweigh the costs.

“Bike theft in Vancouver is down 40 per cent, in Whistler it’s down 40 per cent and even in Prince George it’s down 27 per cent,” he said.

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