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Cyclists upset by rising bicycle thefts

Calls for a registration system as few culprits prosecuted due to age
Oct 13,2009
Lee Sang-beom, a 36-year-old who rides a bicycle to work, was not amused.

It was the fifth bike he had lost since he started commuting to work by pedal power three years ago.

He had gone to the bike shed one recent morning as usual ahead of his ride from his apartment in Bundang, Gyeonggi to his workplace near Gangnam subway station in southern Seoul.

“I have spent over 2 million won [$1,708] just on bikes,” Lee said. “I reported the thefts to the police but I haven’t got any of the bikes yet.”

Yang Eun-jeong, a 24-year-old college student who lives in Daegu, said her family has lost 21 bicycles in the last 18 years. Yang alone has lost seven since she was given her first as a gift when she was in the fifth grade of elementary school.

And more than 150 bike thefts in September alone have been posted on to the bulletin board of Korea’s largest Internet bike commuters group on Daum’s portal site.

With bicycle theft on the rise, angry bike commuters are calling on the government to introduce a bicycle registration system sooner rather than later.

According to a report that the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency submitted to Grand National Party Representative Kim Tae-won, police only managed to solve 304 of the 591 thefts reported in the second quarter of this year. The other cases remain unsolved.

About 200 bikes are reported stolen in the capital per month, but police say the actual number is at least three to five times higher, since not everyone notifies the police if their bike gets stolen.

“For one reason, they can’t be bothered and also the bikes are usually cheap ones,” an officer at Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said on condition of anonymity.

Songpa Police Precinct in southern Seoul had the highest number of reported bike thefts (84) in Seoul, followed by Suseo Police Precinct in southern Seoul (68) and Yangcheon in western Seoul (48).

The police said 79 percent of the people arrested for stealing bikes are teenagers.

Police said the number of thefts committed by teenagers is on the rise and the crimes are becoming better orchestrated.

In one case, a team of ten middle and high school students targeted luxury bikes by dividing into three groups: one provided information, another did the stealing and the other sold the stolen merchandize.

Only 9 of the 458 people caught stealing bikes in Seoul in the second quarter this year were detained because many were under 14 and thus exempt from punishment under the country’s juvenile laws.

To better protect bikes, Nowon District in northern Seoul has installed a bicycle lot in Seokgye subway station that can accommodate 20 units.

“People who have expensive bicycles were reluctant to use outdoor parking lot facilities and they are our regular users,” said Kim Jeong-jae, an official at Nowon District Office.

And the Ministry of Public Administration and Security announced in August that it will require all bikes to be registered with local autonomous governments from next year and the data will be integrated into a national database by 2011.

“A bike registration system shouldn’t just play a role in keeping taps on bicycle records but should mainly focus on preventing bike thefts,” said Kim Tae-won, a Grand National Party lawmaker. “The government should create a nationwide bike registration system in collaboration with the police.”

Meanwhile, Seoul city government launched a pilot test on Oct. 4 at 38 subway stations encompassing subway lines No. 1 through 8 allowing bicyclists to take their bikes on the Seoul subways on Sundays and holidays. In addition, bicycle-friendly facilities, such as ramps have been installed on each side of the stairways to make it easier for cyclists to carry their bikes.

By Ko Sung-pyo, Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]