The Cycling City, Oxford faces Constant Crisis
Bicycle theft has become increasingly common in Oxford in the recent past, especially after the pandemic. Oxfordshire is divided into tiny areas, it has approximately 7 police zones, which are Oxford Cowley, Central Oxford and Oxford East respectively. The annual crime rate of Oxford stands at a 237% out of which bicycle theft makes up for 3.4% of it. From April 2022 to March 2023, there were approximately 1.9k bicycle theft crimes, an increase of 10.3% when compared to pre pandemic years.
Sam, a member of the social venture Broken Bike Spoke Cooperation says, “My first reaction would be that since Oxford is a student city and they(students) tend to possess inexpensive locks, the numbers have been on the rise. However, irrespective of that, the organised bike theft crime is synonymous with our city.”
The alarming numbers have obstructed the common man from utilizing more convenient and eco-friendly transportation. According to Becci, the head manager at Cyclox, (a charity based in Oxford) nearly 345 people whose bicycles they furnished during Covid-19, almost 21% had previously stopped cycling before Cyclox was launched because of the increasing number of thefts. The least policed area in all of Oxford is Central Oxford that includes the city Centre and New Hinksey, which also consequently have the most number of unreported crimes.
These regions were the county's largest hotspots for bicycle thefts with 47 thefts, 46 of which occurred in the city's downtown and 13, which occurred in the George Street and Broad Street neighborhoods. Between 2018-2019 Oxford witnessed the maximum number of bicycles being stolen in all of U.K with nearly 2050 of those being reported. Since the pandemic hit in 2020, people have been cycling more as per statistics which state that there has been a 300% rise after 2019.
Last month a 4 year old Cherwell school’s student had their bicycle stolen from the school premises and the footage was caught on the CCTV. However, the perpetrator was not charged or arrested as the footage recorded was not reliable. The mum of the 4 year old was interviewed by The Oxford Mail in which she was quoted saying, ‘The level of bike thefts are only going to increase. I am not suggesting that someone who steals a bike should be sent to prison, but there should be some form of justice rendered for us to feel safe. People need to feel reassured if they do decide to take a bike into oxford.’
Nearly 4000 bike crimes have taken place over the last few years since the pandemic and 56% have not been reported. This is a clear indication that the issue at hand is far more serious than it appears to be on the surface level. An alarming 74,421 bicycles were reported stolen between July 2021 to June 2022. This means that a bicycle had been stolen every 7 minutes in this city. The actual numbers might be worse because these were the ones that were reported and recorded. Further on, nearly 90% of these cases went cold and only 1.7% were actively worked on and solved. Naturally, there seems to be a low chance of the bicycles being retrieved by their owners. Out of the 4000 bikes being stolen, only 21% were restored.
Tom Hayes, the cabinet member of Zero Carbon Oxford initiative says, ‘Our Oxford bike crime partnership which comprises of the Universities, local Thames Valley police, county councils and City have been collectively aiming at improving the deteriorating condition of bike safety. The newest venture has been the introduction of parking pods on the street in the east oxford area which falls into the category of the Safer Streets initiative. Since we live in a city known for cycling and the council is eager to encourage the adoption of a greener and more eco-friendly environment, they also decided to provide nearly 130 parking spaces for cycles during the Covid period. We are currently aiming to install more such remedies for cyclists to feel safer within the city.’
During the pandemic and afterwards, surprisingly the cases had only increased in spite of the reduced traffic on roads and more stringent deadlines for students. Between October 2020 and March 2021, there were more than 220 thefts. During the same time frame, there were about 90 thefts reported in Cowley and Oxford East, while there were between 60 to a little more than 70 thefts in Oxford North and Oxford East (Stolen Bikes, 2023). The average cost of any bicycle that is stolen is around 200 GBP.
This indicates that bike purchase and maintenance is a major cause of concern for citizens and the situation is only worsening with the crime rate steadily increasing. The Crime Survey that was conducted in 2015 had received responses from their participants about their emotional wellbeing as well after the loss of the bicycles. About a quarter of participants said they were "quite a lot" emotionally affected, and about half said they were "just a little" affected. 79% of respondents said they were annoyed, 55% were angry, and 26% were shocked.
There has been a 46% increase in bike theft since 2019 and that comes as a shock when clearly theft crime in general has declined over the pandemic since there are fewer people venturing outside. This is a clear indication towards the fact that the burglars are spotting easier targets like cycle enthusiasts. In the first 4 weeks of the pandemic 37% of the theft crimes that were reported fell under the category of bike theft which is a staggering 20% more than pre pandemic. Safia Hassan, a Cowley road resident is of the opinion, ‘The original investment of bikes for myself and my three kids, together with the cost of helmets and any necessary maintenance or repairs, is what adds up to the most expense. I'm afraid that if you save up the money, buy the bike, and then have it stolen, it will be one of Oxford's many bike thefts.’
Data sets from the Thames Valley Police reveal that there have been nearly 1000 reported and recorded bike thefts between the months of March and August. 910 of these took place in the premises of the universities and schools in and around Oxford and a very low percentage (15) were recorded to around nightclubs or parks in central Oxford. 'Further/Higher Education' sites saw the most thefts, with 73 bikes reported stolen from these places. Following that, 31 thefts occurred in parking lots, 24 occurred at supermarkets, and 52 occurred in shopping areas. High Street (6), Clarendon Shopping Centre (6), and Alice Smith Square (6) were the areas where thefts occurred the least often.
Although bike thefts do not seem to be overtly dangerous but they are a source of constant hindrance for the common man who is unable to afford a vehicle. The Cyclox community is working at improving the state of cyclists in Oxford and they have also teamed up with Thames Valley Police in their Safer Streets venture to make it a success. More importantly, this bicycle theft issue should be handled and taken care of at a national level.
The Bike Register scheme initiated by the police has been working on bettering the system for cyclists to not only safely park their two wheelers but also maintain a code and identity of the same in the police database. The approach should be to eventually make this scheme mandatory. Prior to the owner leaving the shop with their new bike, the bike may be registered to them. All motorcycles might be equipped with tracking devices by default. If this increases the cost of the bike a little, it will still definitely be less in comparison to purchasing a whole new one. Since the City and the government is hoping to see a greener and more eco-friendly environment for the city, a concerted effort by all could go miles in ensuring the security of this cycling city.