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Philadelphians rode the city’s bike share system 45,000 times last month, marking Indego’s highest March ridership since the program launched almost six years ago.

The system is in the midst of a major expansion to bring even more people into the fold, and the upward ridership trend looks primed to continue.

Riders will face a slight cost increase because trips are now subject to sales tax. There wasn’t any actual tax code update, officials told Billy Penn, but rather revised guidance from the state on how it applies to city-owned programs.

“The listed change that was recently announced keeps Indego pricing in compliance with updated tax collection information from the state,” said Joy Huertas, a spokesperson for the city’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability.

Operator Bicycle Transit Systems, which recently extended its contract to run Philly bike share for another decade, is aiming to increase the number of available bicycles, going from 1,400 to 3,500, with half of them e-bikes.

Ridership increased slightly from 2019 to 2020, despite a big dip during the city’s spring shutdown.

The plan calls for more than tripling the number of docking stations over the next five years, from 145 now to 350 in neighborhoods all around the city.

Starting in May, the bike share will start adding 30 new stations to the system, mostly in West and South Philly, specifically Point Breeze, Gray’s Ferry and Mifflin Square. By the end of the year, officials hope to have 175 stations, said Huertas.

The goal is for those docks to hold 1,800 bikes, including 500 battery-assist e-bikes, which have become more and more popular over the years.

E-bikes have also been a target of theft, making up a third of the record number of vehicles that went missing last summer. Progress has been made on keeping those vehicles around, thanks in part to the installation of about 100 GPS devices, according to Huertas. Officials are still testing how well they work, she said, before deciding whether to add more.

But early numbers look good. Per info provided by Huertas, the missing bike rate has dropped 70% this year, from an average of 22 per month in 2020, to just 7 per month in the first quarter of 2021.

Summer of 2020 was all about bike rides

Thanks to the pandemic, ridership fluctuated over the past 12 months. It dropped significantly last spring, but then surged back to record levels last summer.

During March 2020, when Mayor Jim Kenney gave his first shutdown order, Indego clocked 16% fewer rides than the same month a year prior, roughly 36,000 versus 43,000. The drop widened the following month, when there were also around 36,000 trips — half the number the city saw in April 2019.

But the riders came back. In the summer, Indego surged. June and July each saw more than 90,000 rides. Even with many Philadelphians still working from home, the number of bike share uses remained high through November.

What did change was when people were renting the bikes. “The pandemic has changed some of the patterns of travel,” Huertas said. “More people are making trips at all hours of the day, rather than heavy commutes in the morning and afternoon.”

Single-ride trips were nixed three years ago, so a day pass is the cheapest option, at $12 plus tax.

It doesn’t cost much more to get access for 30 days — $17 plus tax — and many regular riders go for the longer-term method. There are 75% more active monthly passholders now than at this time last year, according to city data.

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Michaela Winberg

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...