Philadelphia is considering complementing and expanding its current bike sharing system with dockless bike sharing. Like Indego bike share, dockless bike share is a pay-per-ride system, except users don’t have to lock their bike up at a set station, which has the potential for opening up new possibilities for how, and where, Philadelphians can use bike share.
We support more bicycles in the City’s transportation network and a dockless bike share system that has long term sustainability has the potential to place bicycles throughout Philadelphia. A dockless bike share system would have a lot to offer Philadelphians by spreading the benefits of a bike share system to diverse neighborhoods for an accessible price (often $1/ride).
These are the positives we see, so far, from dockless bikes in Philadelphia. We support it, and more people bicycling. We believe dockless bike sharing is the future of bike sharing in general, and want to see it succeed in Philadelphia.
However, after studying the issue and speaking to people in other cities currently experiencing dockless bike share, we’ve laid out questions and concerns we have. As we continue speaking with the City of Philadelphia and the companies working to bring dockless bike sharing to Philadelphia, we’d like to make sure claims being made about the benefits are guaranteed.
Before getting into those concerns, it is important to note that this is not a debate between dockless bikes and Indego. B-Cycle, the company that supplies Indego with its bikes has created a dockless version called The Dash. Dash bikes can be docked at a station or via GPS.
Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems’ Request for Information “to gather information regarding best practices and trends in bike sharing technology and explore potential opportunities to advance the City’s efforts to improve and promote bike share” will allow the City to determine how best it can conduct such an integration.
We are excited to see what they come up with. In the meantime, here are our own questions and concerns about dockless bike share.
Offering rides for $1 per hour or per 30 minutes significantly lowers the barrier for entry for potential riders and could help increase the amount of bicyclists in Philadelphia. Those dollars do add up though. Riding to and from work just 10 times in one month will cost you $20 which is already $5 more a month than the current bike share price of $15/month for unlimited rides.
If you are a low income Philadelphian, then just 6 rides in one month is more expensive than the current $5/month Access Membership. We would hope that any addition to Indego bike sharing that includes dockless bikes comes with these monthly subscriptions and their costs. We would hope that dockless bike sharing does not come to Philadelphia at the expense of potentially charging people in areas that do not currently have docking stations, more money.
Equitable access to bike share is an important focus of our work. This is especially essential in Philadelphia, America’s poorest large city.
Indego, which is publicly owned, has worked closely with the Bicycle Coalition to support classes and rides with community partners. The City of Philadelphia and Indego has implemented a number of equity-focused initiatives.
We believe that if the dockless business model could lower the cost and increase accessibility of bicycles to more neighborhoods, it could help reduce inequity in bicycling, as well. But, we would have to review the business model to understand better how the companies will make sure their bicycles are getting to more neighborhoods.
Dockless bike share systems often tout the freedom to lock up anywhere. In reality, many dockless systems use ‘geofencing’ which creates a specific geographic area of the city where you are allowed to lock up. The boundaries of geofencing can be constrained to a campus, a neighborhood, or an entire city’s jurisdiction. Locking up outside of a predesignated area could incur extra fees.
What would the geofence look like in Philadelphia? How much of it would be in far flung neighborhoods from Overbrook to Roxborough to West Oak Lane, and how much of it would overlap with the existing bike share network? Any dockless that includes geofencing should allow bikes to be used throughout Philadelphia. We do not want a new system that specifically, and intentionally, excludes anyone from any neighborhood.
Cluttered Public Spaces
There are many photos of dockless bikes (in other cities) ending up in piles, laying in the middle of the sidewalk, in trees, rivers, etc. This is the result of dockless bikes that have technology that allows bikes to lock to themselves. The rear wheel is locked so the bike can’t be ridden, but the bike can be picked up and moved anywhere.
Any dockless bikes that come to Philadelphia should ideally lock to something, preferably existing (or new) bike parking infrastructure. This keeps the bicycles from being vulnerable to theft, vandalism, or simply being knocked over and obstructing walkways.
This also helps better gauge demand for bike parking which often drives decisions by organizations such as SEPTA or business improvement districts on how many racks to install. Some companies’ bikes come with a built in U Lock which would be preferable to the self-locking bikes. We look forward to see what these companies use design and technology to maximize appropriate placement on sidewalks and streets.
What is the plan to make sure the dockless bikes do not clutter sidewalks, public spaces, and block people with disabilities from getting down the street? Dockless bike sharing could surely get more people on bicycles. But we’d like to see a plan — perhaps an incentive program? — that keeps bikes off ADA wheelchair ramps and other street infrastructure meant to support people with disabilities.
The Bicycle Coalition has been, and will continue to, research this subject to better understand how Philadelphia can approach this new technology.
*Sarah Clark Stuart and Greg Young contributed to this post.