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St Alban's City takes unwanted accolade - but scale of problem is understated...

St Alban’s City has the highest number of bike thefts of any railway station in Great Britain, according to data obtained by the BBC, which has highlighted strong growth in the crime over the past couple of years.

In 2018/19, 6,400 bikes were reported stolen from railway property, according to figures from British Transport Police and published by the BBC’s Shared Data Unit, up 42 per cent on the reported 4,500 stolen in 2016/17.

At St Albans City, which ranks 66th nationwide in terms of passenger entries and exits and has 1,150 secure cycle parking spaces, 262 bikes were reported stolen over the three-year period.

Next came Bedford Midland (with 188 reported thefts from 2016/17 and 2017/18), followed by Fareham (152), Maidenhead (141), Surbiton (139), Chelmsford (137), Oxford (134), Birmingham New Street (130) and Ashford International (128).

With the exception of Birmingham New Street, all those stations are on busy commuter routes into London.

As road.cc highlighted in 2016 when we investigated railway station bike theft, one possibility is that thieves target such stations where bikes are likely to be left during working hours so they can go about their activities during quieter parts of the day when they are less likely to be disturbed.

> Where are Britain’s station cycle theft hotspots?

Sam Jones, senior campaigns officer at Cycling UK, told the BBC: “Bicycle theft might seem a relatively minor offence - and unfortunately is sometimes treated as such by some police forces - but it is most definitely not," he said.

"It's a low-risk, high-reward crime, with stolen bikes easily changing hands for hundreds or even thousands of pounds on the internet.

"The majority of these bicycles stolen from train stations are not just playthings, but are undoubtedly being used as a vital link in someone's journey to work or school."

It is highly likely that the figures underestimate the scale of the problem for several reasons.

First, many bike thefts go unreported, so won’t appear in police statistics at all.

Secondly, not all thefts of bikes near railway stations will fall to British Transport Police to deal with, but to the local constabulary, so even if they are reported, they won’t be in these figures.

We suspect this is one reason why, for example, thefts from London mainline railway stations are to much less than might be expected – as dedicated bike parking facilities are introduced there, often on the platform side of the barriers and covered by CCTV, thieves seek easier pickings in nearby streets.

Thirdly, as we have pointed out before, it seems the data only relate to thefts on the station premises themselves.

In Cambridge, for instance, only one theft was recorded in 2016/17, two in 2017/18 and three in 2018/19.

Yet when road.cc conducted its in-depth investigation into railway station bike thefts in 2016, we found that there had been an average of 69.5 reported thefts at Cambridge railway station from 2011-14.

Since then, the UK’s largest cycle parking facility has opened at the station, with space for more than 3,000 bikes.

It’s run by station operator Abellio Greater Anglia, and policed by British Transport Police. However, a June 2018 report from Cambridge News found that in the first year of operation, 39 reported bike thefts had happened at the building.

Add in bike thefts in the area around the station that fall under the responsibility of Cambridgeshire Constabulary – the CB1 postcode has more than 100 such reported thefts each month, some of which will be in the station area – and it’s legitimate to question how, for this station at least, the figures obtained from the BBC are arrived at.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.