Philadelphia to see dockless bike rentals as soon as this fall

The city plans to distribute only two licenses and each business will be limited to 1,200 bikes. (Joe Mabel/PlanPhilly)

The city plans to distribute only two licenses and each business will be limited to 1,200 bikes. (Joe Mabel/PlanPhilly)

This article originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

While the future of e-scooters in Philadelphia hangs in the balance, the city is moving forward with a pilot program for dockless bike sharing with proposed regulations.

Barring any requested public hearings, the pilot could begin as soon as the fall, said Chris Puchalsky, director of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for the city’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability. The office will oversee the program along with the Streets Department.

“We’re hoping it opens up new opportunities for Philadelphia residents to get around in a sustainable way,” he said.

The city plans to distribute only two licenses and each business will be limited to 1,200 bikes. The program will take place in a designated area of the city, which has yet to be determined.

The licenses will be valid for one year or less, though the department may grant extensions for no more than one year.

The application fee will be about $2,600 and the license will cost $76,000. That’s about $63 a bike if a company maxes out its Philly fleet.

Just last year, Camden kicked off a six-month dockless bike-share pilot program with a company based out of China called ofo. The company pulled out of the city two months later to “focus on priority markets.”

For Puchalsky, the short-lived Camden program is a cautionary tale. The city is looking for reputable businesses with a proven track record.

“We don’t want someone that’s here today and gone tomorrow,” Puchalsky said. “Even though this is a pilot, we want it to be a successful pilot.”

Officials behind the regulations also took a cue from cities in the throes of the dockless vehicle craze, where bikes and e-scooters are strewn all over the place. The city is taking steps to ensure bikes in the pilot stay out of people’s way.

Philadelphia requires the bikes to have a lock or cable so riders can secure them to something permissible for bicycles. They must be parked upright out of the way of “pedestrians, motorists, or other road or sidewalk users.”

And no unused bike can remain in the same place for more than two days.

Businesses have two hours to relocate their bikes from prohibited places upon notice from the city. Otherwise, they face removal which is accompanied by a $65 fee and $10 per day per vehicle storage fee.

They’ll also be required to have insurance for workers compensation, general liability and automobile liability.

Workers comp ranges in liability coverage of $100,000 to $500,000, and both general and automobile cover up to $1,000,000 per occurrence.

“We want an operator who’s going to be very responsible and respectful of Philadelphians,” Puchalsky said. “Both those who are going to be using the service and those who aren’t going to be using the service.”

Businesses will also be required to share their data with the city, a provision that came from previous missteps with Uber and Lyft, Puchalsky said.

The pilot program will be a test for more than just bikes. For Indego, the city’s current bike share program, it’ll provide insight into “what works well for Philadelphia.”

That also includes dockless vehicles, such as e-scooters, which are illegal in the state, though state lawmakers proposed legislation to change that. It could pass as soon as the fall. That could set the stage for dockless e-scooter companies to finally do business in the Commonwealth, and possibly in Philadelphia.

“We’re going to see what we can learn from dockless bikes before any kind of new micro-mobility device including scooters,” Puchalsky said.

The city could begin accepting applications as early as August, for the duration of the month.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.