Bike registration - Project 529 in Toronto ?

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(updated September 23, 2023)

Disclaimer: I don't work for, and am not compensated by, Project 529. I prepared this summary because I'm a Toronto cyclist concerned about the high level of bike theft in Toronto. It would help if Toronto Police upgraded to a better bike registration system. Project 529 is not the only modern bike registration system, but it is good, and is in widespread use throughout North America.

The company name is "Project 529" and their product is called "529 Garage", although most people (including me) say "Project 529" when referring to this bike registration product. Project 529 was first implemented in Vancouver in 2015, where police have reported a 40% reduction in bike theft since the start of the program. In Ontario, police in Guelph, Halton, Kingston, London, Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Thomas and Stratford have adopted Project 529, and report success. Other Canadian cities using Project 529 include Victoria, Brandon, Regina, Montreal, Sherbrooke, Quebec City and Moncton. Some bike stores in these cities automatically register with Project 529 evey new bike they sell (with the permission of the bike owner). Here is a list of all locations using Project 529. (Project 529 is used in 3 of Canada's 5 largest cities; it's not yet used in Toronto or Calgary.)

Toronto's existing bike registration

how to use Project 529

Even though Project 529 is not yet used by Toronto Police, it's still worthwhile to register your bike using this app, since Project 529 prompts you to record all of the details that you might need for making a police report and insurance claim, if your bike is stolen (eg. photos, specs, serial #, purchase price).

Toronto Police Service (TPS) current online process for bike registration is very basic, and lacks many of the advantages of a more modern registration system like Project 529. Toronto Police's online system for reporting bike theft is equally cumbersome.

Gaps in TPS' existing bike registration system:

A quick analysis of Toronto Police statistics: Bicycle Thefts, 2014-2019 reveals:

chart:  # bike thefts in Toronto, by year

(data for this time period, illustrated graphically)

Lots of bikes get stolen in Toronto, which is frustrating for cyclists. In part due to low recovery rates of stolen bikes by Toronto Police, there is a very active private Facebook group Stolen Bikes–Toronto with 2,000 members (and growing), where user posts frequently appear, in an approximation of the "lost" bike and "found" bike features of Project 529. (Another Facebook group is Stolen Bikes Ontario.) Whether or not all members of these Facebook groups actually see every post is controlled by Facebook's news feed algorithm. Posts contain photo(s) and narrative text (unstructured format), and are not searchable.

Q: If I register my bike with Project 529, and then my bike is stolen in Toronto, what do I do?
  1. Use the Project 529 app to indicate that your bike is stolen. At that time, you'll will need to specify details such as:
    1. What information that you want to share publicly: photos of the bike, your name, etc
    2. How to be contacted: you can be contacted directly (phone or email), or if you prefer to stay anonymous, you can be contacted through Project 529. You can also specify a reward as well. All Project 529 users – other cyclists, the general public, as well as participating police forces – can be immediately aware that you've reported a lost bike.
    3. Other details collected by Project 529 for reporting: eg. location where bike was stolen, locked status, time of day, etc.
  2. Report the theft to Toronto Police. Ask if they use Project 529.
  3. public notices: Post on local community social media, put posters up, keep an eye out on reseller sites like Facebook, eBay, Craigslist, NextDoor, etc. These notices can be generated by Project 529.
  4. Since Project 529 is a global database, if your bike shows up in another city and anyone checks Project 529, they'll recognize that bike as stolen and can use the app to notify the bike's owner.
Q: I've registered my bike with Project 529, so do I also have to register bike with Toronto Police ?
A: Toronto Police currently do not use Project 529, so also registering your bike in the TPS system would increase your coverage. With Project 529, there are several cities surrounding Toronto where police do use Project 529, so if your bike is stolen and transported elsewhere (often the case) and the police recover it nearby (eg. in Oakville, Guelph, etc) there's a very good chance you'll be notified by Project 529.

Basic features of Project 529

"We work 9 to 5, but we live 529." The bike registration system Project 529 was developed in 2014 by J. Allard, who works in the computer industry.

This video explains Project 529 in 30 seconds, and also answers to the most commonly asked questions about bike theft prevention. After having several bikes stolen, Allard set out to build a registration, reporting and recovery platform that is now considered the world's largest and is the most widely used system in Canada; in North America, there are almost 2 million searchable bikes in the database. Project 529 can be accessed via web browser or by using the 529 Garage smartphone app, and is revised frequently. It is a useful tool for police, cyclists, bike shops and the public to access bike information from one universal searchable database. A widely-used cross-jurisdictional registration system would help when a bike is stolen in, say Markham, Mississauga or Oshawa, and then found in downtown Toronto. Several municipalities in the greater Vancouver area are returning an increased # of bikes to their owners, since these municipalities all use Project 529.

Project 529 offers free registration to cyclists and bike shops, and free searching to the public and to the police (advanced system capabilities available to police for an annual fee).

Project 529 records whatever basic information about your bike you choose to enter (manufacturer, style, serial #, frame colour, # gears), also allows uploading multiple photos (bike viewed from the side, front, etc). No personally identifiable information is required to register using Project 529, except for your email address. (See Project 529 privacy policy.) All data is stored "in the cloud" and is secured by Amazon (AWS).

Advanced features

Project 529 has many additional features which are missing from the Toronto Police bike registration system:

  1. bike manufacturer; type; and frame colour, material and finish; are chosen from drop-down menus, to ensure consistent spelling
  2. A bike owner can register or access their bike registration at any time: to update their contact information (phone #, email, mailing address), to update bike description (eg. upgraded components: seat, wheels, pedals, etc), to transfer bike ownership to another person, or to remove entries for bikes which have been discarded.
  3. cyclists who own several bikes only have to enter (or update) their contact information once, and then enter details for each bike.
  4. For each new registration, Project 529 sends the bike owner a confirmation email. Also, a reminder email is sent annually (prompts users to keep all registration information current).
  5. Bike registration info can be accessed via smart phone app, or via website.
  6. affixing sheild to bike frame
    As an option, bike owners can purchase a tamper-resistant decal (a "Project 529 shield") which is affixed to a visble part of the bike frame, to indicate registration. The shield has a unique ID number which the bike owner enters into Project 529 as part of the bike registration details. (The shield number is very visble and easy to read when a bike is found; it's quicker than trying to locate and read the serial # on a found bike. The shield is a visual indictor that your bike is registered, and so many deter some would-be thieves.) Unfortunately, Project 529 shields are not yet sold at any Toronto-area bike shop; you'll have to buy them from Amazon, either singly or a 4-pack. (Shields are no longer sold by MEC).
  7. If your bike is lost or stolen, in addition to notifying the police, you can immediately record your loss in Project 529. This lets the entire cycling community know, and potentially have more people in your area on the lookout for your bike.
  8. For greater visibility, when an owner reports a loss, Project 529 offers the option of formatting a customized post for Facebook, Twitter or email (including images copied from your bike registration). See below.
  9. Persons buying a used bike can search Project 529 to check to see if it's been reported stolen.
  10. Anyone who finds an abandoned bike can enter details into the Project 529 database: bike description, photo, location found; maybe someone in the cycling community will quickly recognize that bike, and contact its owner, via Project 529.

Attempts to get Project 529 in Toronto

Nov 2017
A CBC news report stated "Cycle Toronto is in discussions with the city and police about the possibility of following Vancouver's lead. The cycling advocacy group says an app [Project 529] would be an important step toward cracking bike theft in Toronto."
Cycle Toronto conducted a fundraising campaign in Dec 2018 in order to implement Project 529 in Toronto; this was mentioned again in Cycle Toronto's Feb 2019 newsletter.
April 2021
Puzzling statement from Cycle Toronto:Supporting community-led responses to bike theft that do not require police intervention for their success, by exploring the costs and implementation of systems that allow the reporting and tracking of stolen bicycles.
Their May 2021 statement: We are exploring community-led solutions, which may or may not include software provider Project 529, that focus on prevention.
Aug 2021
A Toronto city councillor had her bike stolen; City Council in Oct 2021 approved her motion, that "Toronto Transportation Services, in consultation with the Chief of Police and the Toronto Police Services Board, meet with 529 Garage and request that they provide a demonstration and presentation on how their app deters and eliminates bike theft, to the Infrastructure and Environment Committee meeting on October 26, 2021".
However, no details about any Project 529 presentation appeared in that committee's minutes. In "off the record" comments provided by that councillor: Toronto Police (TPS) kiboshed whatever opportunity there was to get Project 529 implemented. Apparently, TPS did meet with the people from the 529 Project and nothing came out of it. According to the councillor, the police were not interested in utilizing Project 529 services.
July 2023
I requested more information about the Oct 2021 study of Project 529.
CycleTO replied: "For various reasons, largely centred around privacy and confidentiality around the data management, it was determined that [Project 529] was not the right solution". When asked for clarification, CycleTO gave this vague reply: "The adoption of the 529 Garage app will not improve Toronto's current stolen bike registration and process."
The City of Toronto replied: Toronto Police Services (TPS) is better equipped to procure and manage a [bike registration] product as they would be the primary users from the perspective of law enforcement and return of stolen property. This approach of TPS taking the lead would also reduce privacy protection challenges that would arise if the City were to procure the system and jointly make use of it with TPS.
Both CycleTO and the city claim that:
- Toronto Police Services can and does access 529 Garage stolen bicycle reports via the free public portal, in their efforts to match found property with the rightful owner.
- Bike owners that want to make an insurance claim about a stolen bike, will need to submit a formal police report regardless of their use of the 529 Garage platform.

It is not known whether the Toronto Police Service is still considering adoption of Project 529.

More information about Project 529 and bike thefts

CBC, July 2018
police guideleines
CHCH, April 2021
Global News, Aug 2020
CTV, May 2021
CBC, Nov 2020
Canadian Cycling, Feb 2021
Ottawa bike advocacy, Nov 2019
CBC, May 2019
CBC, Nov, 2017
Nov, Aug 2018: thefts from condo garages
Global News, Oct 2018
CBC, Feb 2021
CTV, July 2021
CBC, July 2017 (video): how easy to cut different types of bike locks
Project 529: configuring a police account (5 min video)
Project 529 manager console (8 min video)
Project 529: benefits
Facebook post, generated by Project 529Facebook post, generated by Project 529
bike registration details from Project 529, displayed when user clicks on URL contained in social media postbike registration details from Project 529

Comments? Ideas how to reduce bike theft in Toronto? Or how to convince Toronto Police to adopt Project 529? Contact me via email
(previous version of this document)