Amsterdam’s narrow streets and nearly impeccable cycling infrastructure create its world-famous cycling culture. While cycling has numerous benefits, from improving health to a reduction in fossil fuel usage, the abundance of bicycles makes stealing bikes a lucrative sport. With an estimated 80.000 bikes stolen in Amsterdam each year, the Municipality of Amsterdam is looking to make it harder for thieves. However, where to start tackling the problem if you do not know what is actually happening to these bikes? That's when the idea came alive: If we know where stolen bikes end up, we can effectively design interventions to make it harder to steal and sell stolen bikes.
“It was a challenge finding the right GPS trackers. The trackers needed to be hidden on the bikes and last a long time as recharging was not an option. We eventually settles on SigFox GPS trackers that last 4 years.”
Research Fellow - Affiliate
After finding two ways of hiding the trackers, the research setup was complete. The researchers continued to determine where in Amsterdam the bikes should be placed to have the highest chance of a stolen bike. Once the top 20 locations were found, the researchers deployed 5 bikes at each location. In total, the researchers placed and locked 100 GPS traceable bikes in Amsterdam. Over the course of 5 months, 70 bikes were stolen. We tracked these stolen bikes, logging every start and end point of each trip. Enabling the researchers to uncover how stolen bikes move through the city.
The main conclusion from the research is that for the used prize category of bikes, which is in the lower segment, stolen bikes remain close to the city they are stolen in. We can also identify different patterns of theft. For example, we found several stolen bikes visiting unusual places where other stolen bikes had also been before. This indicates that one group or individual could be responsible for multiple thefts. We also found that stolen bikes quickly return to being regularly used. The stolen bike market in this sense is very circular, stolen bikes are quickly used again in the same city. The results of this study are bundled in this visualization.
This research has no correlation with the “Bait Bikes” the police in the Netherlands employ to catch thieves in the act. Rather than trying to retrieve the bike, we collect data about the movements of the bike until the bike makes an obvious residential pattern. At this point, the bike is in regular use again by a person who might not know the bike had been stolen. So we stop collecting data from that bike, and consider it lost.
Please visit this website to have an insightful visualization of the summary and outcomes of the research.