This Cycling App Cut Bike Thefts by Over 50% in Vancouver

project 529 vancouver

Within a distinctive East Vancouver warehouse, a spectacle of hundreds of suspended bicycles awaits identification and return to their owners. The warehouse is a nod to an innovative mix of a dry cleaner’s garment conveyor and an automatic car parking system, holding an average of 440 recovered bikes and additional heavy-duty electric ones which rest on the floor due to their weight.

The man at the heart of this operation is Rob Brunt, a retired detective from the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), who continues to devote his time as a volunteer with the police force’s bike-theft team. This warehouse, in his view, symbolizes progress in combating bike theft, a stark contrast to what he witnessed eight years ago. “In 2015, this would have been the largest bike store in British Columbia, undoubtedly,” he reflected to The Vancouver Sun.

Brunt’s turning point came when he discovered Project 529, an anti-theft software brainchild of J Allard, former Microsoft executive and the creator of Xbox. Allard had designed the program following a personal encounter with bike theft.

Together with Allard and VPD Chief Adam Palmer, Brunt championed the adoption of Project 529 in Vancouver. The program, offering a unique seven-letter code and decal for each registered bike, has grown into a worldwide system with over 3 million users, assisting not only law enforcement but also institutions like universities in tracking stolen bicycles.

The 529 Garage app is a powerful tool that places bike protection at your fingertips. In a matter of less than five minutes, the app aids you in documenting essential details about your bicycle and establishing ownership. This information is instrumental in boosting your insurance claims and facilitating police recovery efforts if your bike is ever stolen.

In the unfortunate event of a theft, the app features a ‘panic button.’ Once pressed, an alert is sent to your 529 community, essentially putting out a ‘Be On the Look Out’ (BOLO) notice to all other users. This collective vigilance significantly increases the chances of spotting and recovering your stolen bike.

Moreover, the app also empowers users to assist others in their community. If you happen to notice a bike that matches the description of a stolen one, you can take a snapshot, provide information about the bike’s direction, and submit it through the app. The app will relay your findings to the owner, allowing them to act on the new lead.

In Vancouver and its surrounding vicinity, about 200,000 cyclists have registered with Project 529, according to GeoDASH statistics. The initiative has significantly impacted bike theft rates, with an overall decrease of 52%.

But perhaps the most striking symbol of Project 529’s effectiveness is the simple decal that registered bikes bear. According to Brunt, this might be one of the most effective theft-prevention measures after the act of double locking your bike.

“If a thief leaves a bike alone because it’s shielded by a Project 529 decal, that’s fantastic,” said Brunt, who started the VPD’s anti-bike theft program in 2015. “Until someone invents a better mousetrap, the shield is the simplest, cheapest, and easiest thing to do.” You could also hide an Apple AirTag on your bike as well, on top of using Project 529.

Project 529 not only helped reverse the growing trend of bike thefts in Vancouver but also freed up valuable police hours for other law enforcement tasks. Brunt’s dedication to the initiative has led him to become a global advocate for Project 529, sharing its success story in various countries, with his most recent stop in New Zealand. His mission revolves around Allard’s adage, “The thieves are organized, we’re not that well-organized. We need to be organized so we’ll work with everybody, everywhere.”

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