Bike Theft in Oxford

By Kathryn McNicoll

The Bikes for Key Workers project is drawing to a close after 340 bikes were handed out in Oxford over 10 months. It has been a wonderful, heart-warming project, bringing together generous donors, magnificent volunteer bike mechanics and very grateful key workers.   

But there is just one downside: bike theft. The last two bikes that we have handed out have been to key workers whose previous bikes were stolen and a key worker has just got in touch to say that her donated bike has been stolen recently. We have given locks out with every bike, but even that is not always enough of a deterrent for a determined thief. 

Bike theft may not seem to be a terrible crime and certainly nobody has been hurt or killed because of it. However, for a key worker who cannot afford a car (and where do you park at the hospitals anyway?) and who is trying to get to work without using public transport, a bike is a lifeline. 50-minute walks to work become 10-minute rides for instance and, for those dependent on a car or bus before, health and well-being are improved – we know this from the statistics gathered by Active Oxfordshire on key workers with bikes. The feedback we have had from the key workers has been really inspiring.

So what to do? Firstly, it is our responsibility as bike owners to secure our bikes properly, with at least one D-lock to something immovable. However, many people do just that and still lose their bikes. The effect of walking outside to jump on your bike for work, only to find it gone, can be devastating, especially for someone who does not have the means to replace that bike.    

Cyclox is working hard to ensure that all new housing developments include secure locked bike parking: these will make a great difference to those areas. There are also some new initiatives, like the one in East Oxford funded by Thames Valley Police from a Safer Streets award from the Home Office, to provide more secure bike parking for that area, but we need more of these city-wide. Let’s hope this shows bike theft is moving up their agenda.    

Moreover, this problem could be tackled nationwide. The Bike Register scheme exists but it is not universally known (Cyclox members receive a 15% discount). It should be more widely advertised or, even better, made compulsory. Better still, why not make the bike register scheme compulsory at source – at the bike shop? Bikes could be registered to the owner before they walk out of the shop with their new bike. Tracking devices could be fitted to all bikes as a matter of course.  If this puts the price of the bike up a bit, then consider the cost (as well as the heartache) of replacing a stolen bike.      

The government claims to be interested in a green agenda: fewer cars and more bikes, which will mean even more people using bikes – potentially more bike theft. A concerted effort by everyone – individuals, police, councils and employers – could go a long way to making bike theft no longer worthwhile.

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