Indego - Philly bike share review
Joining the ranks of bike share programs in other cities, Indego is Philadelphia’s version. The basic concept is the same and pretty simple. You check out a bicycle from one of many kiosks located about the city, ride around, then return it to an empty dock when done. The program is manufactured by B-cycle but owned by Philadelphia; it’s similar but not identical to programs in other cities, such as Austin or Denver.
There are three plans available. For $4 per 30 minutes, the walk up plan lets you check out a bike with a credit card. This is clearly the tourist and visitor plan. The flex plan, with a $10 annual fee, gets you a key fob for easier access and extends your $4 to an hour long ride. I’m not sure who this plan is for. The Indego30 plan is $15 per 30 days, but includes an unlimited number for one hour rides. This is the plan for locals.
The bikes are cruiser style models, with baskets, large fenders, and a reasonably comfortable seat. It’s definitely more of a leisure model than a racing model, but it works well for getting around town. There’s a three speed rotary shifter in the right handle. It’s easy to use, but not very decisive. Shifting between 2nd and 3rd in particular often feels more like making a suggestion than giving a command. The shifter will take your input under advisement, and perhaps at some later time make the necessary adjustment. Stopping is perhaps the bigger concern. There’s front and rear brakes, but Brembos they ain’t. Again with the suggestion versus command distinction. Even applying a healthy squeeze to both brakes only results in slowing, not stopping. Fortunately most of the city is fairly flat. I’d have concerns about turning into an unintentional juggernaut on even a moderately steep downgrade. Since all the bikes are like this, I guess it’s a deliberate choice to tune for “anti-locking” brakes.
The tires are wide enough that gutters and drains aren’t a problem. The large fenders have proven capable of minimizing splashes from puddles. You’ll still have to deal with a wet seat, of course. There’s a bell on the left side, though all it’s accomplished for me is to dig into my index finger when gripping the handle bar. I don’t have much use for the baskets. They’re surprisingly bouncy, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting anything of value in them, especially the rear basket which I wouldn’t be able to see. The rear basket is unusually shaped as well, so you’re not going to fit a bag of groceries in there, but it does add some bonus peril to a rolling dismount.
The bikes are new this summer, so it’s too early to judge what the wear and tear and repair cycle will be like. So far, I’ve had one flat tire, quickly exchanged, and one nonfunctional front brake which I rode anyway. The kiosks don’t provide any means to report issues, so I guess bad bikes just sit around until maintenance notices them. In my case, since I have unlimited rides I just return the bad bike and pick a new one, but I’m not sure what happens to the pay per ride users.
The program website and signage on the bikes themselves advises users to wear a helmet, but of course there aren’t any included. If I’m a tourist visiting the city, it’s doubtful that I’ve brought my own, nor would I be inclined to buy one for a few rides. If I’m a local, carrying a helmet around in turn detracts from the convenience of having a bike when I want one, and not having a bike when I don’t.
I would not classify Philadelphia as an especially bike friendly city in terms of overall temperament, but I’ve found riding around to be mostly pleasant. Many streets have bike lanes, though they come in a variety of flavors. Some lanes are dedicated and provide for smooth riding. Other lanes are multipurpose bike, bus, right turn lanes and provide a more interesting experience. Depending on the street, however, even dedicated lanes get coopted into bonus short term parking for deliveries and the like. Often a two car lane, zero bike lane street is better than one of each. Consistently riding in traffic is less disconcerting than weaving in and out around bike land obstructions. Drivers generally seem patient with bikers, probably because it’s just one more thing to be on the lookout for. You can only drive so fast racing from one red light to another, and even the slowest biker is faster than a horse and carriage. The only incident so far was somebody on a fucking Vespa trying to run me off the road because they were more deserving of the bike lane than I was.
If I hadn’t already known, one ride over a cobblestone street was sufficient to convince me that nobody was riding bicycles in 1776.
Riding a bike is about as good a way as any of traveling river to river. Faster than a bus, for sure. Cheaper than a taxi and not much slower. The subway can be faster if you catch it at the right time and it’s going where you want to go. The effective range of the bikes is limited to the areas served by kiosks, however.
Kiosks are densest in center city, with solid coverage between the rivers, but thinning out in neighboring areas. There are a select few stations as one approaches Northern Liberties, but none at all in Fishtown. Perhaps because the residents there all own bikes already, but how are their yuppie friends going to visit? Curiously (or not) the map of bike stations looks very much like the map of Starbucks locations.
The paucity of stations in outlying areas (which really aren’t outlying at all) can lead to two kinds of availability problems. Sometimes you want a bike, but they’re all gone and you must walk to the next station. Or the docks are all full, and you must ride to a nearby station and walk back. This isn’t a problem when the kiosks are close together, but as the distance between increases the accompanying delay does too.
So far I haven’t seen any evidence that they try to do any balancing. Predicting bike flow across the city and transferring bikes from areas of high supply to high demand sounds like an interesting challenge. Maybe unnecessary, at least yet, because I also haven’t seen entire neighborhoods cleared out by uneven demand.
Checking out a bike is pretty simple. Tap key fob to bike dock, extract bike. One can also simply swipe a credit card at the kiost and use a somewhat low quality touchscreen to select a bike. Returning a bike consists of riding it up to an empty dock and pushing forward until it clicks and sounds three beeps. This last part, waiting for the confirming beeps, seems to trip up any number of users. I was somewhat paranoid about being charged for hours and hours of rental after a failed return, so I read those instructions with extra attention, but others have not. On several occasions the bike I’ve tried to check out was not marked available, because it hadn’t been returned. I had to push it forward until it beeped, then I could check it out.
The most difficult aspect of dealing with the docks is probably their location. Some stations are located up on the sidewalk, which is generally the most convenient. Others are located in the street, usually in a parking lane, but in order to keep people out of traffic, the bikes back out towards the curb. It can be pretty tight quarters getting the bike out and orienting it in the desired direction.
I have the local unlimited rides plan. As noted, it’s pretty handy as a transit alternative. The per ride charge of the other plans limits their value in my opinion. Consider a friend that visits for a weekend. We ride to brunch, to a museum, and back. That’s three rides, $12. Throw in one more ride to predinner drinks in a popup beer garden and my friend is spending more in a day than I spend in a month. Upgrading to the flex plan doesn’t change the math because it only extends the ride duration from half hour to full hour, but doesn’t change the per ride cost. One idea would be for me to get a second monthly plan, then rent it out at $10. The fact that I’d likely profit from such an arrangement is a bit silly. Indeed, other cities all seem to have day or weekend passes.
As it is, the best visitor plan is probably the monthly plan. It can’t be selected at a kiosk, but once signed up online via the web site, a credit card is sufficient to check out a bike. Then cancel after the weekend is over.
The Indego program is supported by the B-cycle app, though this isn’t immediately obvious because the Indego branding is far more prominent. Once in the app, a program must be selected. Nearly every other program is City Name B-cycle. Here the name is back to Indego, but most confusingly, it’s the very last entry in a list that is otherwise alphabetical.
The app provides a standard iPhone map with a display of stations overlaid. Extremely annoyingly, however, every time the app is exited and restarted, the map returns to the default city level zoom. If you look up a station, then walk or ride a bit closer, then check again to refresh your memory, have fun pinching and zooming and panning to find your spot again. Every single time. It’s possible to check how many bikes and docks are available at each station, but only by tapping on each one. There’s no simple option to simply request nearest bike, etc.
The web site also provides a list of all the rides one has taken. Obvious feature request: time lapse overlay of rides on a map.
Preliminary thoughts are mostly positive. It happens to suit my needs as a center city dweller and commuter, but others will quickly find themselves cramped by the program’s limitations. I’ve never owned a bike in the city because I didn’t want to be bothered with storage and maintenance. Now there is a (hopefully) maintained bike just a block or two away. Even better, my bike will be nearby for my ride home even if I walked the first half of the trip.
As a bonus, I now get to annoy friends by incorporating the word cadence into conversation.