529 Garage hopes to bring a solution to bike theft to UBC

On October 4, 529 Garage will host a community service bike registration event at UBC as a part of an overall goal to drastically reduce the rates of bike theft and encourage more people to consider using bicycles as a way to commute.

The brainchild of J Allard — a former Microsoft executive — 529 Garage was brought to Vancouver in conjunction with the Vancouver Police Department in an attempt to reduce the high rates of bike theft that plague the city.

“So when the [chief of the Vancouver Police Department] asked me to do a bike registration system … look what Edmonton police services are doing, Calgary police, Toronto: nothing. Nobody’s doing anything,” said Rob Brunt, head of the law enforcement side of 529 Garage here in BC.

It was only about a month or so later that Brunt and Allard began working on a way to bring 529 Garage to Vancouver.

“So I brought [J] up to Vancouver to meet the chief ... and everybody loved the program, and so in October 2015 we launched at the city,” Allard said.

529 Garage works to reduce bike theft by tackling a problem that has so far prevented police departments everywhere from both recovering and returning bikes as efficiently as possible: a huge number of bikes that are sold do not have traceable serial numbers.

By providing users with “shields” that can be stuck to bikes and traced through their own unique serial numbers, 529 Garage allows for owners to track their stolen and otherwise unregistered bikes making it that much easier for victims of bike theft to retrieve their property.

Since being introduced in 2015, 529 Garage has faced certain challenges in terms of working with police departments in cities all over BC as well as with campus security at places like UBC.

The main issue that 529 Garage faced as it was introduced to UBC was the fact that the RCMP’s budgetary constraints did not allow for it to be a Campus Security initiative. Rather, 529 works under the umbrella of Campus and Community Planning at UBC.

“Initially we met with the RCMP ... and they wanted to assist us but they had no budget ... and that’s how we ended up almost a year and a half later just going through the community side,” Brunt said.

On being launched by the Vancouver Police Department, 529 Garage’s goal was to have 10,000 bikes registered to the service in three years time. “We did twelve hundred bikes in four days. We’re almost two years in and we’re coming up on twenty-two thousand bikes ... just in [Vancouver],” said Brunt.

As of this summer, 529 returned on average two bikes a day and they have recorded a 30 per cent drop in bike theft in Vancouver as of this year.

Currently the program operates over the whole of the Lower Mainland, with plans to expand to Seattle and even Toronto in the near future. As of this summer the app was introduced at the University of Alberta where it was beta-tested with hopes of a full-scale launch soon.

Speaking on the future development of 529 Garage, Brunt said the main issue the non-profit faces is funding.

“If we could get funding for J [Allard], the amount of things he wants to do with the app is incredible ... I’m super excited that once we get J some money that what this app will become will be amazing,” said Brunt.