After years of studies, debates, and setbacks, Philadelphia finally has a bike share program in place.
On Thursday, Indego bike share launched a system of 200 bicycles and 60 docking stations in and around Center City. Next week there should be 600 bikes and 70 stations.
“We put them where people are taking short trips, of 3 miles or less,” said Andrew Stober, chief of staff at the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities. “We located them in places where there are hubs for jobs, commerce, and recreation.”
Ultimately, the company that operates Indego — Bike Transit Systems — wants to place 180 docking stations hosting more than 2,000 bikes.
What was just a glimmer in the eyes of bicycle advocates a decade ago became a feasibility study in 2008, but put on hold during the economic recession. In the meantime, other major cities installed bike share programs as Philadelphia looked on.
“Philadelphia has learned a lot about what other systems are doing,” said Alex Doty, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. “The city put it’s own money into the game, rather than saying this has to be funded by outside sources. New York has had tremendous problems because they decided to not put any city money into the system.”
Philadelphia has invested $3 million in Indego. Mayor Michael Nutter announced at the launch that that municipal investment attracted an additional $13 million in corporate, state, and federal grants.
Here’s how it works — you can sign up for a membership for $15 a month, which gives you unlimited one-hour trips. You get a fob for your keychain, so you can just swipe and ride.
You can take the Flex option, which allows you to take one-hour trips for $4, for an annual $10 membership fee. The key fob gives you immediate access.
Or, you can take a one-time, ½-hour trip for $4 by swiping a credit card into the docking station kiosk. When you dock the bike, it is the end of the trip. The return trip requires another credit card swipe.
The system is designed for station-to-station riding, meaning the destination must be another docking station. You can’t ride anywhere and risk leaving the bike unattended. A downloadable app (“BCycle”) will pinpoint all the stations in the city relative to your GPS position.
“Five years ago, before any bike share systems, cities were worried that Americans don’t share, that there would be vulnerable tourists on the street, and bikes are going to disappear,” said Bike Transit Systems president and CEO Alison Cohen. “None of that has happened. The safety record is incredible, and as for thefts — in Minneapolis for five years they have 1,500 bikes with a loss of 10 bikes.”
There are cash-payment options for low-income people, or those without smartphones or credit cards. The system is aimed at the commuter or tourist who likely does not have a bike and does not normally ride a bike in Philadelphia. The idea being: if you build it, they will come.