The Checkup: Can QR Codes Curb Bike Theft?

The $15 solution could make it easier to track a stolen bike

I’m happy to report I’ve never had a bike get stolen—anyone have a piece of wood to knock on?—but I’ve got plenty of friends who have. And we’ve all seen those YouTube videos, where a person hacksaws a U-lock in plain daylight and the pedestrians walking by do nothing to stop it. Sigh.

The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia brings news of a $15 fix that might make it easier to find your bike if it gets stolen: QR codes. It works like this: Bike owners can buy the tamper-proof codes with unique ID numbers and stick them on their bike. If the bike gets stolen, the owner can register it as such in the system. Then—and here’s the rub—it’s up to to other smartphone users to scan the code if they see a “suspicious” bike on the street. A scanned bike that comes up as stolen would alert the owner, the police, area bike shops and other vigilantes in the area.

I’m skeptical. I mean, it’s a good idea in theory, but at the end of the day, the system is built on the hope that a Good Samaritan would see something and take action—which kinda takes us back to the YouTube videos we started with. What do you think? Could it work?

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