Indego is about to get bigger.
The city is turning over maintenance and expansion of the bike-share system, which has been looking to grow for a while, to privately owned Bicycle Transit Systems, based in Philadelphia. The company was recently selected for a 10-year concession agreement, said Aaron Ritz, transportation programs manager at the city’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability.
“The big thing that people can get excited about is that they’re more likely to have a new Indego station moving into their neighborhood sooner,” Ritz said. “We’ve had way more requests for bike-share stations than we’ve been able to fill.”
The latest plan, coming at no operating cost to the city, needs official approval from City Council. The contract is expected to start in January, with more stations popping up in the middle of next year.
Community input will help determine locations of new stations. A 2018 business plan suggested that Indego “expand in a balanced manner” as well as beef up core areas such as Center City and University City. The business plan set a goal for Indego to grow to more than 250 stations from the current 140 by 2024.
Indego, sponsored by Independence Blue Cross, was launched in 2015 and now has about 1,400 bikes. Its expansion will be gradual over three to four years to at least 3,500 bicycles, said Alison Cohen, Bicycle Transit Systems president and CEO.
Users can expect more of the program’s popular electric bikes, which were introduced last year, Cohen said.
“They’re so fun,” Cohen said. “The ridership is three to seven times higher than regular bikes, and because of that, we’re getting ... a much larger part of the population that would consider getting on a bike for transportation.”
The proposal includes flexible “connected docks” that could be deployed in smaller groups than the larger stations used now, Cohen said.
Bicycle Transit Systems, Indego’s current operator, beat out high-profile companies including Lyft and JUMP for the long-term agreement. Bicycle Transit Systems also runs programs in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Under the new contract, Bicycle Transit Systems will have more responsibility in running the program than under its current contract.
“As a Philadelphian, speaking sort of selfishly and unselfishly, I am very proud that they chose the local company,” Cohen said. “It’s such a great feeling as a Philadelphian to know that in a true competition, that we were recognized both for our emphasis on DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] and our awesome operations and our ability to provide the great system that Philadelphia deserves.”
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As the agreement shifts responsibility to Bicycle Transit Systems, the city falls into a monitoring and support role. It allows for expansion to happen faster, Ritz said, especially given the current budget crisis.
Indego is funded by user revenue, sponsorships, advertising, and grants, according to its 2018 business plan. Its title sponsorship with Independence Blue Cross will expire in 2022.
Indego has continued to operate during the COVID-19 crisis, providing essential transportation to those who need it. Ridership is down but has shifted during stay-at-home orders, Ritz said. People aren’t commuting as much to work but use Indego for more recreational trips.
The program has also seen a “proportionate increase” in low-income pass use, available to users with a Pennsylvania ACCESS card.
“I hope that we’re able to kind of see that trend kind of revert more to normal, but also to keep some of the people who have been introduced to cycling through this traffic slowdown,” Ritz said. “Hopefully, they still find value in it when things open up a bit more.”