Amsterdam’s policy of removing ‘wrongly parked bikes’ is organised theft, says Ab Gietelink.
In the past couple of years, 50,000 bikes have been impounded in the centre of Amsterdam. This astounding figure was mentioned at the council information meeting at which I protested against the bicycle raids that are taking place in the capital on a daily basis.
The civil servant in charge said it without batting an eyelid: 50,000. How could a council policy get so out of hand?
In the 1980s and 1990s our bikes were stolen by junkies who sold them back to the students they stole them from in the first place. The council tutted and thought this was a very bad state of affairs. Cynically enough, that same council has now turned into the most powerful ‘bike mafia syndicate’ in town.
The area around Central Station is the council’s favourite hunting ground. Hundreds of bikes parked outside the designated racks are routinely loaded into vans and taken away. These are not wrecks, nor do they present any danger to traffic or the public. They are simply people’s bikes which they use to get around.
When I lost my bike at Central Station I wandered around looking for it for two hours and the following day reported the theft to the police. I was told to get in contact with Stadstoezicht, the municipal city wardens.
I finally ended up in an industrial zone in Havens West where thousands of bikes, ‘stolen’ by the council, are being stored. Once I managed to locate my bike at the bike handling centre AFAC I had to pay a ransom of €10.
I was furious, as were many others. €10 is about what you would have paid the junkie all those years ago. If you fail to find your bike at AFAC chances are you can buy it back on the Waterlooplein for €100, not including locks. This is because the council sells unclaimed bikes to dealers at a monthly auction. They then sell the stolen, sorry, impounded bikes for a nice profit.
How did this happen? People are accepting this when they shouldn’t. The whole thing started in the 1990s when the council began to remove abandoned bikes from bridges. Then it went on to remove bikes that were in the way. After that it removed bikes for any old reason.
We are facing a well-organised bike mafia which is impounding hundreds of bikes a day on the pretext that they are not properly parked.
What does that even mean? One unfair criterion, for example, is that the bike is parked outside the bike rack. Central Station is lacking in racks but bikes are impounded anyway. There is a simple solution. The council could opt for an extra bike boat. But the council would rather opt for a repressive policy than do something for its citizens.
A junkie steals and the council ‘impounds’, I hear you say. For the duped citizen it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. The council doesn’t know what to do with its haul and sells it off to dealers.
Is that morally right? The council opts for meaningless repression and is making money off what isn’t theirs. Citizens are powerless to do anything about it.
Amsterdam has had a worldwide reputation as a bike-friendly town for over a hundred years. The council has cast a dark shadow over this reputation.
Over the last decades Amsterdam has turned into a city in which most things go into a heavily-controlled place where nothing is tolerated. The bike policy is just one example and it doesn’t look as if things are about to change.
Down with AFAC!
The council is now experimenting with bike stickers so even more places will be out of bounds for bikes. It is also contemplating taking the steel cutters to tens of thousands of bikes attached to railings and poles around the city.
Since the Labour party, which was responsible for the policy, was thrashed during the last local elections bike owners have allowed themselves to hope.
The ‘Stop the bike raids’ committee hereby asks the new council to stop the war on bikes, abolish the stickers and provide more parking spaces for bikes. Down with AFAC! Hands off our bikes! Citizens, make yourselves heard! Cyclists of Amsterdam unite!
Ab Gietelink is an actor and theatre maker, and founder of ‘Stop the bike raids’.
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