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After Indego slashes prices, will Philly’s bike share finally reach the underserved?

Planners wanted socioeconomic diversity among Indego users — but a year in, that hasn’t happened. Yet.

Philadelphia’s bike share program is now less than half price for Pennsylvanians using ACCESS cards, the card used statewide for its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program assistance — for the uninitiated, food stamps.

Indego, which also unveiled its new bike model and new station sites, now offers monthly subscriptions to ACCESS card holders for $5 per month. Deputy Managing Director for Transportation Clarena Tolson announced the program at Indego’s first anniversary party today. The option is already live on Indego’s site.

This new payment option ups the ante on efforts to make the system’s subscriber base inclusive of the city’s poor. Before its launch, hopeful observers pegged Indego as the bike share system on the continent (no joke) that could attract socioeconomic diversity amongst its users. So far that potential has largely remained unrealized: Last October, less than one percent of riders had used the cash-pay option, a rare feature in American bike share that Indego offers specifically to make the system accessible to city’s unbanked.

Indego has also released the locations 24 new stations, funded through a $1.5-million William Penn Foundation grant aimed to increase bike share’s presence in the the city’s parks, waterfronts and in underserved areas.

This expansion allows neighborhoods to better connect with opportunities and high-quality destinations across the city,” William Penn Foundation Board Chair Janet Haas said in a release.

As expected, the new service zone will encompass Strawberry Mansion, which will have multiple stations. It also stretches the service area down to Moyamensing and Tasker in South Philly, and adds another station by the Mantua-Belmont border. Race Street Pier, the location of Indego’s first birthday/expansion party, will get an Indego site too.

Here is where the new locations will be, according to the city’s release:

  • 10th & Federal
  • 11th & South, Magic Gardens
  • 15th & Market
  • 15th & South
  • 19th & Girard, PTT
  • 22nd & Cecil B. Moore
  • 24th & Cecil B. Moore, Cecil B. Moore Library
  • 26th & Pennsylvania
  • 26th & Poplar
  • 27th & Master, Athletic Recreation Center
  • 29th & Dauphin
  • 29th & Diamond
  • 31st & Girard
  • 33rd & Dauphin
  • 33rd & Diamond
  • 33rd & Reservoir
  • 34th & Mantua
  • 42nd & Lancaster
  • 46th Street Station, MFL
  • 4th & Washington
  • Berks Station, MFL
  • Moyamensing & Tasker
  • Penn Treaty Park
  • Race Street Pier

This new ACCESS payment option is 66 percent cheaper than the monthly membership and almost 95 percent cheaper than a SEPTA transpass. With more stations in low-income neighborhoods and deep price cut for ACCESS card holders, this is certainly great step in the right direction to make Indego’s subscriber base more representative of city population. The question is, will it work?

Scholars and advocates have been working to peel back the onion to discover why exactly bike share systems have so often failed at this. In short, it’s tough and hard to say. Location isn’t the sole factor. Not, pardon the pun, by a mile. Looking only at location, many of the city’s low-income areas were outside of the initial service zone, and, even with this expansion, still are. (See this map in a SPOKE feature I penned this winter.)

This will be a continued challenge for Indego. Density is key to a bike share system’s connectivity and therefore functionality. “We can’t suddenly put a station way up in the Wissahickon, for example, but we can kind of push the boundaries as much as possible,” Cara Ferrentino, then the manager of strategic initiatives at the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities told me for SPOKE. “We are trying to grow as fast as possible, but we have to keep in mind operational efficiency and reliability for customers. We want the system to work.”

But other potential roadblocks, like bike share being perceived as something for the wealthy and lack of a cash option, are factors that Philly has worked on before launch.

The questions surrounding Philly’s efforts will certainly be on the table for discussion at the first ever Better Bike Share conference, which will focus on making bike share more equitable and selected Philly as its first host city. The conference will take place in June.

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