Philadelphia’s Indego bike share network was officially launched last week with over 600 bicycles connecting various corners of the city. Mayor Michael Nutter and hundreds of bicycle enthusiasts came out to celebrate the opening of the system with a ceremonial ride from the Philadelphia Museum of Art to many of the 60 docking stations scattered across various neighborhoods.
Indego is unique in that it is the first system in the United States that was launched from the start to allow riders to utilize the system without needing to have a credit card (Boston’s Hubway and Washington D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare now offer limited cash payment options, but there are geographic and income-level restrictions for this privilege). Over a third of Indego’s docking stations are located in low-income neighborhoods, and those without credit cards can sign up for a $15 30-day membership, which allows for unlimited one-hour rides. Cash users receive a key fob in the mail that grants access to bike share stations, and payments can be made at any local 7-Eleven or Family Dollar store.
Philadelphia already has by far the highest bicycle commuting rate of the ten largest US cities—2.3 times higher per capita than New York City’s bike commute rate. With a planned threefold expansion of Indego’s network in the next three years, along with the continuing growth of area bike lanes and the Circuit regional trail network, many pieces are coming into place to make Philadelphia a world class bicycling city. If Indego is successful, the program may offer a number of lessons for cities across the country in how to implement a truly equitable bike share system. Especially New York City.
Since its launch, New York City’s Citi Bike program has suffered its fair share of criticism for failing to to make itself more accessible to low income residents of the five boroughs, who often have the longest commutes and fewest transit options. And while it is in the process of doubling the size of its network and expanding beyond lower Manhattan and brownstone Brooklyn over the next two years, unlike Indego, Citi Bike program receives no public subsidies—a sore spot for many, as it has resulted in greater reliance on corporate sponsorship and membership cost increases and has been an impediment to the program’s expansion. Citi Bike currently offers a $60 discounted membership for qualifying users, as long as they have a credit card. And those who don’t want to pay the annual membership rate must still use a credit card to pay for hourly or daily passes and have a $101 security deposit placed on the card until the bike is returned.
The good news is that Citi Bike’s new leadership is prioritizing a system overhaul and technology and design upgrades, in addition to focusing on private local sponsorship opportunities and corporate collaborations to promote the brand and bring in more revenue. While these changes will increase confidence in Citi Bike and encourage more widespread use, the next focus should be on how to match Philly’s efforts to make bike share an affordable option in low-income neighborhoods.