Dockless bike share is coming to Philly, could be active by end of year

The program would supplement — not replace — Indego.

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Updated June 6

A new bike share system in which bikes can be parked and picked up anywhere in the city via smartphone will likely be active in Philadelphia by the end of the year.

The “dockless” system was discussed at City Council on Monday. Aaron Ritz, Philly’s transportation programs manager, told the Committee on Streets and Services a regulatory framework could be in place by late summer or early fall. In an interview afterwards, Ritz said it would be reasonable to expect dockless bikes on the streets of Philly by the end of the year. (The timeline is pending Council’s passage of regulations.)

But the arrival of dockless bikes doesn’t mean Philly is scrapping its current system. Indego, which debuted in 2015, will continue to operate with city oversight. Ritz said an expansion of service for Indego is planned for later in the summer, with details to be announced in the coming weeks. Indego has about 1,200 bicycles at 120 docking stations.

“We’re absolutely focused on Indego,” he said. “It’s proven that it works.”

Before Indego, the city originally considered dockless bikes, but the idea was spurned over reliability concerns. Since then, the dockless market has exploded. Seattle, Dallas, Austin and Washington DC are among many cities to embrace the product in the last two years. La Salle University launched a dockless program for use by only the campus community this spring.

Dockless bike share is generally cheaper than Indego. Limebike and Spin, two of the biggest companies, charge $1 per 30-minute ride. Indego, which is operated by Bicycle Transit Systems, no longer offers single 30-minute rides; the current least-expensive option is $10 for daily, unlimited 30-minute trips. Monthly memberships, a focal point for Indego, are not always offered by dockless companies.

Foreign and domestic startups have been flooding cities with dockless bicycles for free, emphasizing volume over profit in an attempt to capture the market share. At times, the proliferation of bikes has produced an adverse effect. Dallas, home to more dockless bikes (20,000) than bicycle commuters (12,000), has gotten widespread attention for its dockless bike graveyards and bikes parked in trees and other wrong locations. Local Dallas government didn’t begin planning regulations for the bike companies until this spring, months after allowing them to operate.

“We have to be prepared,” said Councilman Mark Squilla, who proposed the bill.

According to the bill, all dockless bike companies would have to be licensed by the city and regulated by L&I and the Streets Dept. User safety would be the biggest priority, Ritz said, with mandatory regular inspections of bicycles. It’s not yet clear whether Philadelphia would let just one company register or allow multiple companies to operate and compete, as has been the case in Dallas, Seattle and elsewhere.

Users of dockless bikes would share some responsibility. The bill would make it illegal for a person to park a bike in the street, punishable by fine.

The bill would allow for more than dockless bikes, too. It would govern rental programs for essentially anything you can rent that doesn’t require a license plate, such as electric scooters — the latest craze in San Francisco — and who knows what else?

“Scooters were not a thing,” Ritz said, “until three months ago.”

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