Indego offers a 30-day discount to mark 5 years of blue bikes in Philly

The bike-share has logged more than 3.5 million rides and hit record numbers in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the city.

A rider stands next to an Indego station. (Indego/City of Philadelphia)

A rider stands next to an Indego station. (Indego/City of Philadelphia)

Indego turns five this week and to mark the big day, the city bike-share program is offering riders a 30-day pass for $5. The discounted pass will be available on the Indego website and mobile app until May 21.

Pennsylvania Access cardholders can sign up for $2.50.

“Being part of the city means you’re there in good times and the bad times,” said Aaron Ritz, transportation systems manager for the city. “Hopefully, that helps people get to where they need to go to get the vital services they need … to carry on their lives in this very unusual time.”

The bike-share program logged more than 3.5 million rides in its first five years and hit record numbers this year before the coronavirus pandemic completely shut down the city in mid-March.

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But since Indego’s rollout, its operators have focused on making it a service used by a more diverse population than bike shares in other cities, and that has paid off as the virus changes people’s habits and needs.

Tonnetta Graham, an Indego ambassador in Strawberry Mansion, where the poverty rate is about 50%, said she has seen more people riding the bikes in recent days.

Graham, also president of the Strawberry Mansion CDC, says SEPTA’s reduction in service, which cut the Route 49 bus that ran from Strawberry Manson through West Philadelphia to Grays Ferry, is one reason for the increase.

The other reason: “We need something to do” while social distancing, she said.

“People are using it in a more recreational way, which is great,” Graham said. “This is a way that you can get out and get your exercise on.”

Unlike systems in New York and the Bay Area, there has been steady investment in locating stations outside of high-rent downtown neighborhoods and reaching traditionally underserved communities. While a Portland State University study found that bike-share users tend to whiter and wealthier people than the general population, 45% of Indego passholders identify as nonwhite and 35% have incomes less than $25,000, the city reported in 2018.

So far in 2020, Indego Access pass holders and other low-income riders took 20% more rides compared to last year, city officials said.

Ritz said he is glad to see the system being adopted as one of the “transportation options for people in Philadelphia.”

“Our real hope is that we can be part of the recovery of neighborhoods after this is all, hopefully, behind us,” he said.

Bicycle Transit Systems, a national company based in Philadelphia, with bike-share operations in Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, and Las Vegas, runs the program.

Alison Cohen, CEO and president of Bicycle Transit system, said seeing the fifth anniversary of Indego is “pretty incredible.”

The former president of Alta Bicycle Share, which launched Citi Bike in New York City, recalled the events that Indego has played a role in — the Pope’s visit, the SEPTA strike in 2016, the Eagles Super Bowl parade and now, the pandemic. People rode Indego’s blue bikes through all of it.

It’s been gratifying to experience these moments in history “through the eyes of bike-share, to see Indego stand out as a reliable, healthy and safe means of transportation for essential workers,” Cohen said.

Ritz praised Bicycle Transit’s “rock-solid” performance through their five-year partnership with Philadelphia, though city officials launched a search for a new operator to take over the program in January 2021.

“We’ve had a really great working relationship with Bike Transit,” said Ritz. “They’ve done a really good job with the program to date. And have been super responsive and resourceful in the COVID-19 situation we find ourselves in.”

The city is looking for a partnership with less of a financial stake, which is in line with Mayor Jim Kenney’s recent financial projection for the city.

“It’s not necessarily a rosy picture that we’re looking at,” said Ritz. “So, we’re very eager to partner with firms that can be creative on this financial front.”

Ritz withheld information on the bidders, but ride-hailing service Lyft issued a bid for the program, the startup told PlanPhilly.

Lyft runs bike-shares in cities including New York City, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Cohen expressed hope that Bicycle Transit will remain the operator.

“We’re hoping that as the local, women-owned, women-led, LGBT-owned, LGBT-led company, national company headquartered in Philly that has done … a really strong performing job of leading, operating the most equitable and accessible bike-share system in the country, that it would be a no-brainer to pick the local champion,” she said.

The city initially planned to announce a new operator this spring but the pandemic pushed those plans back to an unknown date. City council and the mayor’s office will be involved in the process.

The rideshare program plans to increase their e-bike fleet to 350, a quarter of their total fleet, by the end of spring. Currently, an average of 1,350 Indego bikes are on the street, 220 of which are e-bikes. Further expansion of Indego will depend on the contract with the new operator, said Ritz.

“It’s not on the schedule we anticipated,” said Ritz. “But we’re feeling really confident about the future, confident about the big announcements for 2021.”

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