With launch of new system, La Salle pioneering dockless bike share in Philly

When students at La Salle University return to campus after a short break for Easter, waiting for them will be one hundred baskets — attached to brand-new bicycles. 

Almost exactly three years after the City of Philadelphia launched the area’s first bike share system, La Salle is starting its own bike borrowing program for students, faculty, and staff. The Catholic college in Logan is partnering with dockless bike share operator Spin. It will be the first dockless bike share program in Philadelphia, providing a testing ground for a new technology that Philly officials are currently considering as they consider whether to expand or replace the Indego bike share program launched in April of 2015. 

It was Indego — or the lack thereof — that inspired La Salle to trot out their own bike share program, said Dawn Soufleris, La Salle’s vice president for student affairs.

“La Salle has not had anything like [Indego], nor has the area around us — in the Germantown, Olney, Logan area — which is really a bike desert,” said Soufleris.

The lack of Indego had La Salle looking at some of their Philly peer institutions with green eyes.

“At Drexel, Penn, and Temple, they all have access to Indego bike share through the city,” said Soulferis. “There is no Indego [dock] anywhere near where La Salle is located.”

The bikes will be available to only the La Salle community and will cost $1 per half-hour or $50-a-year for an unlimited ride membership. Students, faculty and staff will use an app on their phones linked to a credit card or bank account to unlock the self-locking bikes.

Use of the bikes will be limited to La Salle’s campus through the use of a geofencing technology that will lock the bikes if they are ridden too far away.

Unlike Indego bikes, dockless bike share allows riders to leave the bicycles just about anywhere. While La Salle will have some designated bike racks, students will be able to dismount the self-locking bike just outside of their class or dorm. Riders will locate available bikes through the app’s map function. Soulferis said Spin will hire at least one student to relocate bikes parked in far-flung places. Camden will also be rolling out a dockless bike share system this spring.

La Salle is introducing bike share for the same reasons why Philadelphia launched Indego: to encourage healthy, environmentally-friendly lifestyles in the community. “We are hoping that will be an impetus for getting into a bike culture than what we haven’t had here,” said Soulferis.

Soulferis brought the idea of a campus bike share to La Salle from Rochester Institute of Technology, where she worked before joining the Philly university. La Salle considered other bike share operators, but ultimately picked Spin in part because of the positive experiences the company had in Rochester.

If things go well after a pilot period during the final six weeks of the academic year, La Salle may expand the program’s size, said Soufleris. But, already, she’s thinking outside the box for how to use the program.

“Our admissions folks are looking into the potential for next fall of having bike tours,” said Soulferis.

Will the campus tour guides have to learn how to ride backward? “I would be very concerned for their health and safety,” said Soulferis with a laugh. “If they were on unicycles they might able to… but no. Backward biking — that’d be a little scary.”

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