Philly’s bike share hits peak ridership as coronavirus concerns grow

A nearly empty Indego docking station on 6th Street. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A nearly empty Indego docking station on 6th Street. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

While coronavirus has city agencies on high alert and panicked people emptying shelves of hand sanitizer, Philadelphia’s bike-share program is riding high. Indego clocked 14,000 rides during the first nine days of March, that’s close to twice the number from 2019.

The numbers continue a hot streak for Indego. Ridership set a record with more than 86,000 rides for the January and February months. Last year those numbers were around 63,000. This year beat out the record high set in 2017 at 81,000.

Aaron Ritz, transportation programs manager for the city’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability, attributes the jump in ridership to the unseasonably temperate weather.

“I think the early spring this year has been a positive thing for our program overall,” Ritz said.

The highest ridership months are generally July, August and September with around 100,000 rides.

But the bike share’s success reflects a trend seen in New York City and Wuhan, China, among other cities, as coronavirus-wary commuters seek alternatives to crowded mass transit.

Coronaviruses don’t last long in the open air and research shows that being outside lowers the risk of exposure through objects or materials such as clothes, utensils, furniture or other objects that may carry infections. Meanwhile, proximity to people who are sneezing and coughing poses the biggest risk of transmission.

Since the virus doesn’t have a long outdoor life span and people are advised not to touch their face without washing their hands, the risk of getting sick from bike handles is very low, city officials say.

With that in mind, there are no specific precautions or alerts for riders beyond the standard directions from health officials to wash hands and practice good personal hygiene.

“Indego is keeping well aware of trends with regards to COVID-19,” said Ritz.

Philadelphia just confirmed its first case, while New Jersey confirmed its first death. Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey reported close to 40 presumptive cases combined on Wednesday.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health does not recommend disinfectants for outdoor equipment or in areas without a confirmed case of the virus.

That’s one less thing for riders to worry about while biking through the busy streets.

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