Indego bike share was established in Philadelphia three years ago with a specific goal of doing something other cities’ bike-sharing services have failed to do: establish a presence in lower-income neighborhoods. At its launch, Indego set up 70 stations across Philadelphia including 20 in low-income neighborhoods.
“Philadelphia has probably done more than any other city to try to make its bike share program accessible,” said Jim Saksa, transportation reporter for the local news site PlanPhilly.
Indego partnered with the Better Bike Share Partnership, which is a collaboration among the city, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, The National Association of City Transportation Officials and People for Bikes. Through this partnership, they have developed strategies for outreach and accessibility in both high- and low-income parts of the city.
The Indego smartphone app allows riders to find the nearest dock, renew passes, check trip history and see how many bikes are available at any given station. But even an app can be a barrier of entry to many people, so Indego also accepts cash payments at every dock — one of two bike-sharing systems in the country to do so when it first launched.
In Indego’s first year, 33 percent of all its riders were non-white, according to a student by PlanPhilly. That figure is significantly higher than the roughly 20 percent of regular bicycle commuters overall in the city were non-white, the study found. A year later, Indego began offering discounts for those riders enrolled in the state’s food assistance program, and that further diversified ridership.
Three years later, Indego has more than 120 docking stations throughout the city extending north to Diamond Street, west to 48th Street, and south to McKean Street. However, there are still significant areas of the city that lack access to an Indego station. That could change in the near future if Indego follows through on a system that doesn’t require docks at all, Saksa said.
“With dockless, the bikes are spread out more broadly and you can have a handful of bikes where they are currently zero [Indego] stations,” he said.
Dockless bike sharing is being used in several other cities across the country and through their smartphones users are able to track the closest bikes via GPS. The bikes are self-locking, which means riders can leave at their destination rather than a docking station. One of the downsides to dockless bike sharing is that unused bikes tend to pile up in certain places, said Kyle Hearing, of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.
“I’d much rather have an abandoned bike parked on the sidewalk than a car,” he said.
Plus, the city is becoming ever-more bike friendly.
The the South Street bridge over the Schuylkill River was recently repainted and lights along with bike lanes were added. Bike traffic over the bridge has jumped in recent years. And last summer, a parking-protected bike lane was partially finished extending from 45th Street to 34th Street along Chestnut Street, resulting in an uptick of nearly 20 bikes per hour going through the intersection of 34th and Chestnut, the Coalition found.
Despite the expansion of Indego, commuting on bike is still something relatively few Philadelphians do. According to the Coalition, Philadelphia has the highest percentage of bicycle commuters of any large city at a little over 2 percent.
– Text, images and video by Brett Lane.