Toronto - bike registration

(updated March 7, 2021)

(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 already in use in several other Canadian cities.)

Several municipalities in the greater Vancouver area are using the same registration system: Project 529. More recently in Ontario, police in Guelph, London, Halton and Ottawa have adopted Project 529, and report success. Some bike stores in these cities register with Project 529 evey new bike they sell (with the permission of the bike owner). Project 529 will be implemented in Montreal and Moncton in the spring of 2021. Here is a list of locations using Project 529, in Canada and the U.S.

"We work 9 to 5, but we live 529." The bike registration system Project 529 (originally named 529 Garage), was developed in 2014 by J. Allard, who has worked in the computer industry. 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 and the 529 Garage smartphone app are revised and enhanced continuously; they are useful tools for police, cyclists, bike shops and the public to access bike information from one universal searchable database. (A cross-jurisdictional registration system helps when a bike is stolen in, say Markham, Mississauga or Oshawa, and then found in downtown Toronto.)

Project 529 in Toronto ?

Even though Project 529 is not yet in use by Toronto Police, it's still worthwhile to register your bike in Project 529, since this app 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.

A Nov 2017 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 discussed in their Feb 2019 newsletter but since then, Cycle Toronto hasn't publicized any progress. It is not known whether the Toronto Police Service is still considering adoption of Project 529.

Toronto Police Service (TPS) currently uses a basic online process for bike registration, which lacks many of the advantages of a more modern registration system like Project 529. Toronto Police's online system for reporting bike theft is cumbersome. (See below for TPS registration and theft reporting screens.) When bikes are reported stolen to the police, bike details are not available to the public. There is a national database of bikes reported stolen (searchable by serial # only), but this system is likely not updated daily.

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

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. Whether all group members will actually see every single post in this group is controlled by Facebook's news feed algorithm. Posts are listed in chronological sequence, with photo(s) and narrative text (unstructured format), and are not easily searchable.

Basic features of 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 was first implemented in Vancouver in 2015, where police have reported a 40% reduction in bike theft since the start of the program.

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. All data is stored "in the cloud" and is secured by Amazon (AWS).

Advanced features

Project 529 has 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 (see below)
  2. A bike owner can register or access their bike registration 24/7: to update their contact information (phone #, email, mailing address), to transfer bike ownership to another person, or 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. 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 easy to read when a bike is found; it's quicker than turning the bike over to search for the bike's serial #.) 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 from the 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.
Facebook post, generated by Project 529
bike registration details from Project 529, displayed when user clicks on URL contained in social media post

Comments? Ideas how to reduce bike theft in Toronto? Let me know by email

Project 529 web-based bike registration screen (coloured to illustrate drop-down menu values)
Toronto police
bike registration screen
Toronto police
theft reporting screen (page 1 of 7)

More information about Project 529 and bike thefts

summary of changes
March 1, 2021
posted online
March 7
added Project 529 documents, videos; Montreal links