City pulls Indego e-bikes from streets while police search for stolen electronic bicycles

Philadelphia police are hunting e-bikes as Indego works to make it harder to steal electric bikes from the city’s bike share system.

Indego's electric bike (Indego)

Indego's electric bike (Indego)

Indego e-bikes have proven popular with riders. So popular, in fact, the city is turning to the Philadelphia Police Department for help finding and tracking electric bikes that have gone missing at the hands of riders eager to hold onto the $2,500 rides.

Over the last few weeks, Indego has been pulling the motorized bikes out of docks for maintenance and inspection. By Friday, the entire fleet of e-bikes will be off the streets, according to city officials.

While they’re being serviced, police will be on the lookout for any of the e-bikes, which they will know don’t belong there. The bikes have been disappearing faster than Indego’s traditional bikes.

“A number of them have gone missing. We assume that some of them have been stolen maliciously, but some of them may not have been,” said Aaron Ritz,  the city’s transportation program manager.

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The pedal-assist bikes operate with battery-powered motors enabling speeds up to 17 miles per hour. PlanPhilly reporter Darryl C. Murphy described the vehicle as “the perfect bike” after taking one out for a spin last summer.

“If you’re in an automobile that’s maddeningly slow, but feeling the wind caress your cheeks as you bike at almost 20 mph is pretty amazing,” Murphy wrote.

Indego would not provide exact numbers on how many have been stolen or lost. The e-fleet is much smaller than the system’s 1,400-strong collection of traditional pedal bikes. Indego added the electric option to its fleet in 2019 with most of the e-bikes coming to docks last summer.

The e-bike withdrawal was advertised to the public as necessary maintenance, with no mention of the investigation. Police will not arrest anyone caught with an e-bike — at least, not for that alone.

“If there are other factors that the police deem appropriate, arrests may be made on other matters, but not specifically for the e-bikes,” said Ritz.

The city would not provide other details about how police will conduct their investigation, as it is ongoing. The e-bikes are not geo-tagged. Their locations are logged only at the beginning and end of a ride when they’re in a dock. They cannot currently be tracked while they are being ridden. So, how will police find them?

“We rely on a number of different sources for that information, but the bike itself is not reporting that information,” said Ritz. “The police are looking for them visually.”

Ritz also said Indego would be tweaking the program to make the bikes harder to steal in the future, but would not comment on specifics.

While off the streets, the e-bikes will also undergo a diagnostic check-up. Each bike collects information on its performance, like battery life, that will be reviewed and updated.

“That allows us to make small tweaks to the software that runs the motor, to make sure they are not running too fast, not running too slow, and that helps us extend the battery life,” said Ritz.

The e-bikes will return in late February or early March. Philadelphia will be eagerly waiting. The battery-aided bikes are enormously popular. Since Indego rolled them out last May, the  system’s 120 e-bikes have been ridden over 110,000 times. The 1,400 traditional pedal bikes, which were available all year, were ridden roughly 700,000 times.

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