Philly’s bike-sharing system could have been dockless

But this city being what it is, Indego nixed the system that caused waves at SXSW.


A new dockless bike share system called Spin recently launched at SXSW in Austin last month, aiming to “increase ridership by allowing users to park and pick up bikes wherever there’s a bike rack.”

And Philly could have had it.

Spin is a dockless bike share system that lets users drop bikes anywhere — rather than at designated stations. Riders unlock bikes using a code given to them at sign-up. The codes work on the smart locks attached to all Spin bikes.

In the beginning stages, coordinators of Philadelphia’s Indego Bike Share program actually considered using a similar dockless system. So why are Philly bike share users riding between docks instead?

“There are a couple of ways that you do dockless bike share and one of the ways that we were thinking of doing it in Philadelphia when we were doing our proposal was, what’s the type of equipment that’s going to work well?” said Aaron Ritz, a transportation programs manager in Philly’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems.

Dockless bike share — sometimes called smart bike share — is a relatively new idea, Ritz said. A good example of that would be Portland, Ore., which launched a product last year called sobi, an app-based system where the company can locate their bikes with the smart technology.

When considering that here in Philadelphia, Indego began thinking about what implications there would be.

“With a busy and sometimes crowded Center City where people were going to want to ride, we wanted to make sure that when people wanted to park the Indego bikes, they weren’t just parking them and walking them to somebody’s house or to someplace that’s not really appropriate,” Ritz said. “We hadn’t tested it before and we wanted to make sure that we were launching with something that was really reliable.”

Indego has a contract with BCycle, which is currently working on a similar smart bike technology. Ritz said that Indego could potentially deploy the tech but still thinks a lot of questions about where the bike could end up have lingered.

“We want to make sure when someone is looking for a bike, they look for it at a station rather than hunting around an alley,” Ritz said. “I’m being a little bit dramatic here but when you have a bike that can be on its own, that’s something that we’re concerned about. We wanted to make sure that if our crew needed to fix a flat tire or pick up a bike that it would be easy to find them, and they’re centralized at the stations that we have them.”

Indego plans to create more stations around the city. Ritz wouldn’t say where or when, but the expansion will bring additional bikes and more density to the system.

But could Indego ever return to the idea of dockless bikes?

“If we’re reevaluating it and if that model works for us, I think we would really benefit from taking a look into how those bikeshare systems work like the Spin bikes or other companies who are testing out the model,” Ritz said. “It’s definitely a possibility, we don’t have any specific plans to do it at the moment but we’re already interested in making sure we’re providing a good quality system for the people in Philadelphia.”

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