Move over, Seattle and New York. Philly may not be a first-gen adopter, but I’m proud to say my city’s pay-t0-ride biking service is already a smash hit, with over 8,000 rides and 2,400 new members in its first week alone.
For a big city, Philly is admittedly a bit late to the bikeshare trend. Denver, Minneapolis and Washington D.C. kicked off the first US bikeshare services in 2010, and five years later, there are more than 80 such programs nationwide. But in the years that it’s watched other cities roll out bikeshare, Philadelphia has been working to make its streets more bike-friendly, and now boasts the highest bicycle commuting rate of the ten largest U.S. cities to show for it. It’s not surprising, then, that Indego Philly Bikeshare, latecomer though it may be, has been so quickly embraced. Even though I cross town on a beloved and slightly decrepit hybrid bike on a daily basis, I decided to take one of the new city bikes for a spin and see what all the buzz was about.
Indego Philly is part of the B-cycle program, a Trek-developed bikeshare system that debuted in Denver and now services more than 30 cities in the US and one (Santiago) in South America. If you live in a B-cycle city, the company’s app (available for Apple and Android) will plot all the nearest bike kiosks for you on a map, and by clicking on individual stations you can learn how many bikes are currently available. Downloading that app was my first order of business, since I didn’t actually have a clue where the hell the closest bikeshare kiosk was. I was pleasantly surprised to discover it was located 2 blocks from my apartment.
Like many other bikeshare systems, Indego Philly offers monthly and annual payment plans. For folks intending to use the service regularly, the best option by far is the $15 dollars a month membership that allows unlimited 1-hour rides. (You can use the service as many times as you want per day, but you do have to dock your bike after an hour to avoid incurring additional charges. I can only assume this strategy is intended to thwart bike theft, which is notoriously rampant in Philly.) In an effort to expand the service’s usership to the city’s low-income residents, Indego is also one of the first bikeshare programs to offer cash payment options.
Since I was simply testing bikeshare out with no real sense of whether I’d be using it again, I elected to go for the highway robbery option of paying $4 at the kiosk for a half-hour rental.
My B-cycle experience, brief as it was, went about as smoothly as I could have hoped: The bike was comfortable, in good shape, and got me within a block of my destination. I even would have returned it within the allotted half hour, if I didn’t stop at another kiosk along the way and bump into the city’s bicycle program manager, Aaron Ritz.
Ritz, who has been on the ground overseeing the deployment of the new service, described how the city is crowdsourcing user data to inform the placement of over a hundred more kiosks to come. While the system is currently concentrated around the compact downtown and historic districts, using data from each B-cycle’s RFID tracker—which communicates with the kiosk every time a bike is checked in our out—analysts are mapping the ebb and flow of traffic across the city to identify neighborhoods where there might be unmet needs. To get a sense of how this sort of data can be used, I highly recommend taking a peek at Oliver O’Brien’s interactive bikeshare map, which collects and displays real-time statistics for over a hundred bikeshare programs across the world.
Screenshot from Oliver O’Brien’s interactive bikeshare map, showing kiosks in South Manhattan color-coded by usage
Although I probably won’t become a regular B-cycler as long as I own a bike myself, it’s great to see bikeshare services gaining so much traction nationwide. While Indego as it stands definitely caters to repeat users over one-time bikers, I sorta think that’s okay—after all, the city’s real goal here is to make a long-term dent in traffic and carbon emissions. And let’s be real: If you’re in town for an afternoon to be a tourist, you’re probably going to be eating a cheesesteak on a horse-drawn buggy instead.