Bicycle theft: Belgian app helps reduce risk by increasing secure parking spots

Bicycle theft: Belgian app helps reduce risk by increasing secure parking spots
Bicycles parked in Antwerp. Credit: The Brussels Times / Helen Lyons

Belgian startup Owlee, whose free app maps out secure parking spots for cyclists, is working together with BePark, an online parking space search platform, to lower the risk of bicycle theft.

Every year, an estimated 100,000 bicycles get stolen in Belgium, which has a long-running problem with the theft of the two-wheeled vehicles, an issue which is difficult to combat, even with more stringent measures such as on-the-spot fines of €250 being introduced.

Even when kept in communal parts of buildings, bicycle theft is difficult to prevent, and it in turn deters people from making the switch to the greener transport mode. According to cyclist association Groupe de Recherche et d’Action des Cyclistes Quotidiens (GRACQ), a third of people who have their bike stolen stop cycling.

To combat the risk of bicycles being stolen, Owlee is collaborating with BePark, which specialises in renting parking spaces by subscription, to help cyclists find specially designed indoor facilities for the parking of bicycles, according to reports from L'Echo.

"For bicycles, the best thing is private parking," BePark CEO Julien Vandeleene said. The company rents bike spaces by subscription for €15 per month for normal bikes and €25 for cargo bikes.

Meeting bicycle needs

However, BePark is mostly associated in people's minds with the car, meaning just 20% of the available bicycle spaces are being rented, despite there being great demand for such safe bicycle storage.

By collaborating with Owlee, of which the technology is also connected to Google maps, it can target a more specific audience.

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Owlee allows other users to share their experiences of all types of bicycle parking spots, including the quality of it, the accessibility and whether there are incidents at the locations, among others. Every place is colour-coded based on the level of security, with green being the safest space.

It also includes a feature allowing users to directly declare and report an incident via the app itself, connected to local police zones' online platforms, to increase the number of thefts that are reported to the police.

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