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Should mandatory registration of bicycles be introduced in Ireland?

3,929 bicycles were reported stolen from Dublin in 2018.

90329893_90329893 Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

IF YOU LIVE in a major Irish town, there’s a fair chance you’ve had a bicycle stolen or know someone who has.

Nearly 4,000 bicycles were reported stolen from Dublin last year, according to the most recent figures, and of those 3,929 bicycles just 286 were recovered. 

While there has been a decrease from the number of bicycles reported stolen in 2017 (4,365) and 2016 (4,436), campaigners have said the real figure is likely higher than 4,000.

Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone is now calling for mandatory registration of new bicycles sold in Ireland to prevent theft. 

In a recent statement, Noone said that the mandatory registration of all bikes sold should be introduced in order to counter increases in bike theft.

Deter thieves

“Currently we do not have any central database of bikes owned in Dublin and registration can be done through some online sites but this remains a minority and voluntary endeavour,” Noone has said. “By introducing registration of all bikes at shops and other outlets, we can ensure that the vast majority of new bikes on our streets are registered.”

This means that in the unfortunate, but sadly not unusual, event that a bike is stolen, registration details can be provided to the Gardaí who can then correctly identify the owner of the bike. This will not interfere with any other aspect of cycling in Dublin.

Noone went on to say that such a measure would increase cyclist security and deter thieves. 

Database abroad

So, how does bicycle registration work elsewhere?

In Japan, cyclists must register new bicycles with local police. Similarly, Romania operates a free bicycle register while New Zealand operates a bicycle registry which allows the general public to search through a list of stolen bikes before purchasing a second-hand bike.

Through BikeRegister, the National Cycle Database in the UK, cyclists are encouraged to register their bicycles online and to mark and protect their bicycles with security marking kits such as tamper resistant QR Code labels, permanent unique BikeRegister ID markers and UV cover technology. 

According to the database, over 800,000 bicycles are registered with BikeRegister, which is operated by Selectamark Security Systems, which collaborates with the British police and Transport for London to recover stolen bicycles. 

Co-founded in 2013 in Chicago, Bike Index boasts over 150,000 registered bicycles on its system, which, similar to Bike Register in the UK, allows cyclists to register stolen and non-stolen bicycles online free of charge. 

A 2017 study by a student at the New York City Data Science Academy showed that approximately a third of these bicycles are marked as stolen.  

In addition to allowing individuals to search the database, Bike Index “partners with local businesses and organisations, law enforcement agencies, and other apps to alert the community when a bicycle is stolen,” the study notes. 

According to Bike Index, 5,512 bicycles have been recovered since 2013.

Practical solutions

The question for Ireland, however, is if mandatory registration of new bicycles comes into force as Noone suggests it should, who will establish such a system? 

According to Green Party councillor Ciarán Cuffe, who chairs Dublin City Council’s Transport committee, there have been numerous attemps over the years to have a bicycle registration system set up for the capital through the council’s Walking and Cycling sub-committee. 

Cuffe told TheJournal.ie that neither An Garda Síochána nor Dublin City Council wanted to trial it, though. “Nobody wanted to take it,” Cuffe has said. 

As the city looks to implement improved cycling infrastructure, bicycle registration is a practical solution, Cuffe said. Not necessarily mandatory registration, though, he added. 

Improved infrastructure 

Earlier this month, the NTA unveiled plans for a 5km cycle track along Dublin’s River Liffey. In December, Minister for Transport Shane Ross suggested that the NTA establish a new ‘Cycling Office’.

Route. Proposes Liffey Cycle Route Source: National Transport Authority

The number of people travelling into the city by bike has dropped recently. With 12,227 people cycling – down from 12,447 last year -there’s been a drop of 2%, the first time since 2010 that cyclists have declined in numbers. 

The number of cyclists in Dublin, however, has increased overall over the past 10 years. 

Lock it or Lose It

For those who do report their bicycle stolen it’s An Garda Síochána’s remit to investigate the theft. For now, however, it looks unlikely the gardaí intend to set up a bicycle register or enforce mandatory registration of new bicycles sold here. 

Asked about Noone’s call for mandatory registration of bicycles, a garda spokesperson referred to An Garda Síochána’s 2018 ‘Lock it or Lose It’ campaign which urges cyclists to take extra precautions by locking bicycles in the most secure way possible.

Gardaí advise cyclists to lock their bikes tightly to an immovable object, keep the lock off the ground and to take a photo of the bicycle and its serial number. 

According to the gardaí, the average cost of a bike stolen is around €510. The most common time for a bike to be stolen is during the hours of 8am and 5pm, with Friday being statistically the most common day for bikes to be stolen. 

Between 1 January 2016 and 30 June 2018, 9,918 bicycles were stolen in Dublin, 683 were stolen in Cork and 646 were stolen in Limerick. 

Of the 14,000 or so bikes stolen since 2016, only approximately 16% of the bicycle frame numbers are recorded, according to a garda spokesperson. 

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Capture Drury Street Underground Bicycle Parking Source: Dublin Cycling Campaign

Effective prevention

Prevention is a more effective measure in tackling bicycle theft in Ireland, according to David Timoney, of Dublin Cycling Campaign, who has conducted research into bike theft and who says that a lot of bicycle theft in Ireland goes unreported.

Based on CSO data from 2015, Timoney estimates that 12,000 bicycles are stolen in Dublin each year. 

“It’s roughly a three-to-one ratio” between bicycles stolen and bicycles reported stolen, Timoney told TheJournal.ie.

Although registration could aid unlucky cyclists in recovering their bicycles, prevention is a more effective measure in Timoney’s experience. 

It’s so hard to get your bike back, maybe bicycle registration might help that. But the easiest thing to deal with bike theft is a good lock and a good[cycling] rack.

“The combination of the bicycle lock plus a high-security rack will stop most bicycle theft.”

Dublin Cycling Campaign has called on Dublin City Council to ensure all new apartment and office blocks contain Sheffield bicycle stands – standalone metal racks bolted to the pavement. 

However,Timoney has said that often cyclists don’t have bicycle details or registration numbers for gardaí.

Similarly, when gardaí recover stolen bicycles they can’t link them with owners because there is no serial number. “Bicycle registeration…could deal with that.”

‘A no-brainer’ 

Fine Gael’s Noone has said the NTA should take the lead on enforcing mandatory bicycle registration. “It seems like a no-brainer.”

Cuffe has said he’d like to see the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport advance voluntary bicycle registration in Ireland. “But if not, then a private operator should.”

Given the prevalence of bicycle registration abroad, bicycle registration could work in Ireland. 

Political will, however, is required to advance Noone’s proposal for mandatory registration. For now, it is unclear where that leadership will come from. 

It is also unclear how practical such a solution is. “We’d want to ensure a scheme that isn’t overly bureaucratic and costly,” Cuffe has said. “The private operators running these schemes seem to be doing a good job.”

“I’d really worry that a state-led scheme could be cumbersome and inflexible as new technologies arise.”

Instead, Cuffe has said, the State could encourage voluntary registration.

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