Project 529 helps position Vancouver as world leader in fighting bike theft

Project 529 helps position Vancouver as world leader in fighting bike theft
Vancouver Police anti-bike theft program recognized by World Bank
Project 529, the app designed to fight bike thefts, and a community approach to fighting bike thefts by the Vancouver police, is making Vancouver a world leader in fighting bike thefts and bikes used in crimes.

VPD Const. Rob Brunt is the liaison officer for Project 529, a digital registration and recovery system for bikes. Jason Payne / PNG

An app to fight bike theft adopted by the Vancouver police three years ago has grown into a community initiative that’s being described as one of the best in the world.

Known as Project 529 in Canada, the app and how it’s being used by the Vancouver police has resulted in a dramatic and sustained drop in bike thefts. Its success in expanding beyond the police to include bike stores and community groups is one reason why the World Bank believes it has potential application in other cities.

The two key figures in Project 529’s success have been Const. Rob Brunt and J Allard, who was involved in creating Xbox for Microsoft.

Project 529 is celebrating its growth from 22,000 Vancouver bike registrations in 2017 to almost 70,000 in the region this year. In total, about 800,000 bikes, mostly in Canada and the U.S., are now registered with 529.

“This has become a Monday to Sunday job,” Brunt said. “I’m doing stuff locally, provincially, nationally and internationally. It’s non-stop.”

In 2015, the VPD was the first police force to adopt Project 529 — known as Garage 529 in the U.S. That happened because Brunt thought it didn’t make sense that an old Honda Accord worth $500 could be easily returned to its owner but an expensive bike worth $15,000 would go to an auction in 90 days if not claimed.

When he researched online bike registration and return programs, Brunt discovered that the Project 529 app was far more sophisticated than anything else available.

After the VPD adopted Project 529, a milestone occurred when it was included as part of a program to reduce bike theft on Granville Island in 2015 and 2016. Bike thefts on the island dropped by 60 per cent, which contributed to the first overall decrease in bike thefts in Vancouver in 10 years.

Elsewhere in B.C., Project 529 led to a drop of 55 per cent in bike thefts in Whistler; in Richmond, they were down 30 per cent. Project 529 is now in 35 cities and towns in B.C.

“Can you believe it?” Brunt said. “A street cop from Vancouver and an Xbox inventor have become the experts on bike thefts.”

One of the big reasons for the jump in registrations in Vancouver during the past year was the way Brunt and Project 529 were able to piggy back onto the independent registration systems created by various bike stores. Thanks to a program written by Allard, Project 529 added several thousand bike registrations while respecting the privacy of the businesses.

Project 529 in Vancouver has been so successful that Brunt and Allard travelled earlier this year to Bogotá, Colombia, a big cycling city that wants to combat bike theft. The two cities were linked by William Moose, a consultant on mobility issues for the World Bank, an international financial institution based in Washington, D.C., dedicated to fighting poverty.

“We were looking at what were the best practices internationally,” Moose said by phone from Miami. “Like any good researcher, you start on Google. You look around and see what you can find. We saw that there was some really interesting stuff being done in Vancouver where the police was working with Project 529.”

Moose cautioned that what he says can’t be interpreted as endorsing a private service or product. That said, he pointed out that Project 529 is a well-designed app that’s more than a bike registration program. It helps to create a community.

“What we really liked about the Vancouver approach was how holistic it was, and involved a lot of players,” he said, citing the involvement of bicycle stores and the Granville Island experience that involved local businesses and community groups. “It wasn’t just a single approach. They were using multiple routes to having a positive impact.

“That appealed to us because it made sense to us from a sustainability standpoint. You have the community help you to do the job from stopping bikes from getting stolen.”

“We believe in encouraging sustainable modes of transportation,” he said. “Cycling and walking are very low cost and equitable forms of transportation. Anything we can do to make cycling more attractive is a good investment in urban mobility.”

Project 529 is involved in the fall instalment of Bike to Work Week starting Oct. 29. Project 529’s goal is to beat its previous record of registering 1,300 bikes during the week.

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A Vancouver pilot project focused on tackling bike theft, both in the city and beyond its borders, is attracting international attention.

With local bicycle registrations surpassing 70,000, the joint initiative of the Vancouver Police Department, City of Vancouver and Project 529 has resulted in a 30% drop in bike theft.

These results have drawn attention from the World Bank as it looks to emulate the success and improve bike security in developing countries.

Having started in Vancouver three years ago, Project 529 has grown into the worlds largest bicycle registration program, with more than 800,000 searchable bikes. On Monday, the VOD said this amounts translates to one stolen bike returned to its owner every day.

“The number of reported bike thefts in Vancouver have been declining since 2015 and Project 529 has played an important role in this success,” said VPD Chief Const. Adam Palmer. “This program gives law enforcement tools to easily identify stolen bikes and locate their owners.”

Palmer noted that the World Bank has enlisted Project 529 and the VPD to provide expertise on its efforts to combat thefts in Bogota, Colombia. Discussions around the program are also taking place in Chile and Brazil.

Vancouver is recognized as a world leader in targeting bike crime, said William Moose, consultant for the World Bank. The World Bank looked into Vancouver when researching the global best practices in fighting bike theft and used the services of one of VPDs own and 529 to advise the City of Bogota on its bicycle security strategy.

The global 529 Garage app and web-based database is searchable and shared by police forces. As a result, hundreds of bicycles are being recovered – and returned to their owners – at times across international borders.

Last week, for example, a mountain bike that was registered in Prince George and stolen in Penticton was recovered in Vancouvers Downtown Eastside. Since the registration program has begun, Vancouver bicycles have been recovered as far away as Portland, Oregan and San Francisco, California.