'Robin Hood' Rule Takes on Bike Owners

You better have a ticket to ride if you want to bicycle through Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

Since 1999, the city council has required riders to cough up cash and register their bikes with police, who have the power to stop a cyclist and ask for their two-wheel registration. Those who don't have one could be subject to seizure.

"If we see them riding a bike we may stop them and check their compliance," said Det. Mike Reed of the Ft. Lauderdale police.

'It's a preventative measure," said Mayor Jim Naugle. "Instead of after crimes take place, it's something you can do to prevent the crime from taking place."

The goal of the registration program is to prevent theft and return stolen bikes to their rightful owners. Police say a six-year study showed nearly 1,500 bikes worth $2 million were being stolen citywide each year.

But some city leaders say the bike plan could backfire. Currently, unclaimed bikes that are seized from unregistered riders are donated to shelters that hand them over to homeless people and recovering drug addicts who can use them to ride to jobs.

However, city leaders admit that some of the homeless may in fact be committing freewheeling crimes.

Seizing cycles and then giving them away has some critics saying the city is playing Robin Hood.

"We're supposed to be free, you know, and I mean a bike, how can you have registration from a bike like this?" asked one resident.

So far this year, more than 500 bikes have been impounded for not having the $1 decal. If caught riding an unregistered bike, citizens face fines, community service or a simple warning.

"They're given a pamphlet on bike registration and where they can register the bike and how they can register the bike. They're not issued a citation right off the bat," Reed said.

If the bike is seized, the onus is on the rider to prove it's his, register it, and then pay a $10 fine to get it back. Otherwise, the bike goes to those considered more in need of the wheels.