In densely populated metropolitan areas, cycling carries many benefits for commuters, because it offers a flexible, accessible, cheap and healthy means of transport. However, in Philadelphia, as in other US cities, there exist huge differences in uptake along lines of race and income.
Even though bike share systems have the potential to equalise access to bicycles in many cities, equal access remains an ideal rather than a reality. In the US, high-income white residents take three times more bike share trips than low-income people of colour. Only 9 percent of low-income people of colour, 13 percent of low-income white residents, and 18 percent of high-income people of colour have used a bike share in their cities, compared to 29 percent of high-income white residents – according to a national 2017 Portland State University survey.
There are many obstacles to equal access to bicycles: the lack of bike lanes and other components of an adequate cycling infrastructure; and the limited availability of good quality bikes, repair facilities, and cycling safety classes. Waffiyyah Murray is the programme manager for the Better Bike Share Partnership (BBSP), a collaboration funded by The JPB Foundation to build equitable and replicable bike share systems. She has suggested one reason for these divisions: “even though a lot of bike sharing projects come into neighbourhoods, people feel that they’re not for us... The first time a bicycle station appears, they ask, ‘what is this, I don’t know anything about this, nobody talked to me.’ With bike shares, there is the additional need for digital access and for credit, as well as the high cost of replacing a lost bike.”
Indego, a cheap, reliable and accessible bike sharing system, was established in 2015 to address the prevailing transport challenges in Philadelphia’s densely populated metropolitan area. It integrates poor areas into Philadelphia’s transport network and provides flexible and affordable transport by bike for people from all social backgrounds. Indego has 125 stations and 600 bikes. The system resulted from a city of Philadelphia initiative, supported by the BBSP and sponsored by Independence Blue Cross (IBX), the largest health insurer in Philadelphia.
The Indego system features hundreds of bikes available 24/7, 365 days a year. It now also features stations that hold electric bikes for difficult terrains such as steep hills. Station locations were selected based on their proximity to community resources, employment centres, bike infrastructure, and public transport – in consultation with partner agencies, institutions, community groups and the public. Each station has a touchscreen kiosk, a map of the service area and surrounding neighbourhood, and a docking system that releases bikes when accessed using a credit card at the kiosk or with an Indego key at a dock point. Everyone who is aged 14 or above is welcome to use Indego.
From the beginning, the programme has focused on three pillars – increasing mobility for Philadelphians, financial sustainability, and equal access to bike share. Some of its unique features are a text-based and site-based outreach campaign to receive public input on potential site locations, a pricing structure that mirrors public transport pricing, and a scaleable cash payment programme. This is offered in partnership with PayNearMe, a payment provider that facilitates simple payments in cash as well as by card.
The programme is owned and managed by the city of Philadelphia, with day-to-day operations handled by the programme’s operating vendor, Bicycle Transit Systems (BTS). BTS is responsible for maintaining and operating the system, including most customer-facing activities. Indego is supported by a seven-year, USD10 million title sponsorship by IBX, along with additional private and public grants from a variety of partners (see Feasibility below).
The public impact
Indego still needs to make progress to achieve complete parity between its cyclists’ demographics and the demographics of the populations it serves. Nevertheless, it has one of the highest rates of participation among communities of colour and low-income households of all bike share programmes in the US.
Since its launch in April 2015, Indego has rapidly grown from 60 to more than 120 stations serving the city centre and adjacent neighbourhoods (44 neighbourhoods so far) within north, south and west Philadelphia. The system is increasingly an integrated part of Philadelphia’s public transport network and carries more than 2,000 cyclists on an average day. In 2017 alone, Indego had 782,000 riders using 2,400 docking points and 1,200 bikes. As of January 2018, 357,000 people live in the area of 23 square miles covered by Indego bike share stations.
Indego is recognised as a national leader in the fields of bike share equity and community engagement, and its work with the BBSP has led to the development of new equity-focused strategies that are being replicated across the country. While Indego has made great strides in promoting user equity, there is still room for improvement, because member demographics do not yet fully reflect the demographics of the area covered by the programme.
The city of Philadelphia is looking to grow the service, doubling the current system to more than 250 stations by 2024. It aims to do this by improving the service in the current network and adding stations in a further 15 square miles of the city to increase transport equity.
However, increasing bike share equity is dependent on greater affordability. While a monthly Indego pass is normally USD17, Indego provides a USD5 Access Pass to low-income residents. A cash payment option is available for those who feel uncomfortable with, or do not possess, credit cards. Interestingly, only 32 percent of bike share systems nationwide have any kind of low-income pass, says a National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) report, and Philadelphia is among the pioneers. Still, Indego does charge a USD1,000 fee for lost or destroyed bikes, which might deter some low-income users from using the bikes.
While some bike share programmes are reluctant to provide cash options, fearing that people will not return the bikes (since they cannot be easily charged), Waffiyyah Murray explained that “we don’t have a huge issue with people not returning bikes”. Even seemingly lost bicycles “end up coming back eventually”. In a user survey conducted by Indego, cyclists gave a wide variety of reasons for using Indego, the most common ones being mobility, value, greater health, and benefiting the environment. “I have a bike that I love, but for getting around town the flexibility of being able to take an Indego and leave it there is just a no-brainer. On top of that, USD17 a month is less expensive than having even a cheap bike stolen on average every three years, leaving aside maintenance costs,” said Nate P, a Philadelphia resident who uses Indego frequently.
This case study was written by Julia Schnatz
Public Confidence Good
The public has been supportive of Indego since it was first implemented, as is evident from the ever-increasing number of users, the positive media coverage, and the demand for more bikes as well as electric and dockless bikes.
By popular demand, the city of Philadelphia decided in November 2018 to introduce e-bikes to the Indego bike sharing system, as well as partnering with different communities to combat the equity problem in bike sharing. “It demonstrates how multiple communities can be engaged to make a strong and lasting impact. Prior to its launch, Indego faced two concerns: 1) where the bikes would be placed; and 2) whether the bikes were accessible to all city residents, not only those in economically secure areas like Center City.”
The city of Philadelphia actively engaged the community in answering these questions and formalising strategic partnerships. City officials made a significant effort to involve many different communities:
- Two hundred bikes were placed in low-income neighbourhoods
- The city hired neighbourhood ambassadors to show residents in underserved communities how to use Indego and to inspire them to do so 
- They partnered with arts programmes to create murals in low-income neighbourhoods, showcasing and promoting the bike share scheme
- Seven months before Indego’s launch, city officials crowdsourced opinions to “help ensure the programme would address things residents actually cared about”.
Two other partners are the BCGP, which is leading the outreach efforts by managing the street team and Indego ambassadors, and Temple University in Philadelphia, which conducted a focus group with low-income people to gauge their opinions on the proposed system.
An excerpt from an interview by People for Bikes with MOTU’s Aaron Ritz, bicycle programmes manager, and Cara Ferrentino, manager of strategic initiatives, indicates the success of the multi-community approach. “Ferrentino says that at the Indego launch event, someone commented to her how nice it was to see a bike share launch that featured people beyond ‘the bike crowd.’ Dozens of local groups were there, representing workforce development programmes, community recreation centres, religious groups and health initiatives. ‘It felt authentically Philadelphia,’ says Ferrentino.”
To bring greater awareness and recognition to the “Invisible Riders” in Philadelphia, i.e. low-income cyclists “who pedal the streets at daybreak... the BBSP and the Garces Foundation teamed up in late August and again in November to host two cycling workshops for the Spanish-speaking community. The goal: to engage in conversations about safely riding on the streets and knowing your rights and duties as a cyclist.”[11
Stakeholder Engagement Strong
While the current organisational stakeholder structure is complex, it has been serving Indego’s vision well for the past five years. The wide range of partners provides Indego with a diverse range of expertise, including leaders in bike share operations, community engagement, and sponsorship fundraising.
Based on the findings of a 2009 bike share feasibility study, the city of Philadelphia started building support and funding for a bike sharing system. The Bike Share Working Group was formed to evaluate business models and develop a business plan. The Working Group includes the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU), the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia (BCGP), the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.
Since the 2009 study, Philadelphia has been garnering support and funding for the bike share programme. It formed the Bike Share Steering Committee, as well as an advisory group to undertake the updated business plan. The Bike Sharing Advisory Group consisted of representatives from large potential stakeholder organisations, including Liberty Properties Trust, Comcast, IBX, GlaxoSmithKline, and the University of Pennsylvania.
The city developed a business plan in 2013 that was essential for bringing stakeholders together and creating the momentum to establish Indego. Indego’s vision was developed through input from its staff and from stakeholders at city hall, sponsors at IBX, and Indego’s operating vendor, BTS. An additional source was a survey on the use of Indego and the public’s attitudes towards it.
Besides consulting with representatives at a municipality level, Indego has worked hard to speak with low-income and minority residents and provide bike share stations where they are most needed. They have crowdsourced citizens’ opinions on potential locations for docking stations to narrow them down to the 60 most used. Citizens were able to provide feedback on locations, applying a number of criteria such as whether the location is convenient for a bike share, is safe at night, and is the best location available in the area.
To engage citizens from all parts of society, Indego has provided monthly low-income plans through private funding, cash payment options, and lessons on bike safety. Even without a smartphone or a credit card, it is possible to rent a bike from Indego stations. Indego, together with the BBSP, has added innovative community classes that help people develop bicycle and digital skills.
Political Commitment Strong
In June 2008, Philadelphia’s city council voted in favour of a resolution requesting the city administration and the deputy mayor of transportation and utilities to commission a study to provide recommendations for setting up Indego. This study gathered information on location, usage and demand for bike stations for the entire area within the city limits of Philadelphia, and further explored the various business models applied to this kind of programme.
On 25 February 2010, the feasibility study voted on by the city council was released. The study suggested a first phase deployment of 1,750 bikes in the central districts of the city. In December 2012, the city council voted a USD3 million contribution to start the programme, at the request of Philadelphia’s then-mayor, Michael Nutter. A strategic business plan was released by the city of Philadelphia in August 2013, prepared by Toole Design Group LLC and Foursquare ITP.
After a request for proposal issued in October 2013, Philadelphia announced on 24 April 2014 that BTS had been selected to plan and operate the system, while B-cycle would provide the bikes, the stations, and the technology platform. The platform’s launch was then planned and implemented for Spring 2015, with 60 stations and 600 bikes.
Clear Objectives Strong
The vision, mission, values and goals of the Indego initiative were stated in the 2018 Indego Business Plan Update, which was developed under CONNECT, the city’s Strategic Transportation Plan. Indego’s objectives were clearly stated from the start in four categories: opportunity and access, equity, health and safety, and finances and transparency:
- “Opportunity and access – Indego should increase personal mobility in Philadelphia and provide people with better access to destinations throughout the city. Indego should offer high-quality and reliable service and integrate as an extension of Philadelphia’s public transport network, while ensuring the programme is cost-competitive for all users.
- “Equity – Indego should provide a service that is inclusive, accessible and affordable for all users. Indego should improve access for low-income communities, encourage cycling among all age groups, and reduce non-financial barriers to entry for minority and low-income communities.
- “Health and safety – Indego should provide a safe mode of transport that promotes active and healthy living. Indego should foster active lifestyles and improve access to fresh foods and green space, while also promoting a culture of safety among bike share users.
- “Finances and transparency – Indego aims to be financially sustainable, transparently operated, and accountable to the public. Indego’s performance and effectiveness should be clearly communicated to stakeholders and the public.”
The vision behind Indego was to create an equitable and community-oriented bike share system, adopting best practices from established systems while pioneering new outreach and pricing strategies. Experiences of bike sharing systems in Boston, Denver, Miami, Minneapolis and Washington, DC were used to evaluate a possible bike sharing system in Philadelphia.
Indego’s creators looked at a number of criteria by way of comparison, such as the budget and the contract structure applied in other cities. The Philadelphia Bike Share Business Plan also drew on evidence about sponsorship from cities around the world. “As Philadelphia’s bike share programme will rely on a predictable and steady stream of sponsorship funds..., the sponsorship contract should be tied to stable performance measures. Contracts with penalties for not meeting ridership or membership targets will expose the programme to greater risk as the operator is not fully in control of meeting these measures. For example, in London, Barclays... reduced its contribution to the bike share programme by GBP1.5 million because the system had failed to meet certain targets.”
Indigo’s creators conducted a review and analysis of the methodology used in the Bike Share Working Group’s 2009 feasibility study. The study found that the processes used to determine feasibility – heat map analysis, population analysis, and a review of existing conditions – were sound, and were the same as the ones being used in current feasibility studies. However, due to the lack of available US data on bike sharing programmes at that time (most bike share programmes are relatively recent), the study was based on out-of-date assumptions about equipment costs, projected revenues, and expected usage.
To create an equitable, community-oriented bike share system that would best suit cyclists in Philadelphia, the BBSP reached out to a number of communities in the city to gather insights about cycling patterns and attitudes towards bike sharing. “Equity for bike share begins with ‘a lot of research, a lot of surveys, a lot of meetings,’ and community outreach, finding out ‘how people feel about cycling,’ said [the BBSP’s Waffiyyah] Murray. While many programmes ‘skip the outreach part,’ or engage in only cursory meetings, extensive communication is ‘so important, especially when you’re engaging” neighbourhoods that ‘have historically been underserved for years.’ This counteracts historical experience in which people may feel that officials simply don’t care. ‘Don’t just talk,’ said Murray, ‘work to engage,’ so that ‘everybody feels included’.”
Even though Indego is one of the ten most heavily used bike share systems in the country, its main feasibility issue is financial. It is handicapped by its relatively small size and modest revenues, which in turn impede its objective of transport equity. Currently, with regard to accessibility and demographic representation, Indego covers only a small portion of Philadelphia, and is smaller than bike share systems in cities like Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, DC. One of Indego’s key weaknesses is its high operating costs and limited funding. Indego relies on private funding to support reduced-price memberships, but funding and right-of-way constraints have limited the pace of its expansion.
In fact, Indego’s launch in 2015 was only possible because IBX, Indego’s largest funding partner, guaranteed over USD2 million per year in support of the programme. It is only their ongoing support that allows Indego to serve as many Philadelphians as they do. Programme expansion and community engagement were paid for by other funding partners. There was philanthrophic support in the form of grants from organisations such as The JPB Foundation and the William Penn Foundation, and public sector funding from the city of Philadelphia and federal and state funds for additional capital investments. The fact that Indego relies exclusively on private and not-for-profit funding for its operations partly insulates the programme from external financial challenges.
Accessibility is another feasibility concern, also resulting from its relatively limited funding. The programme currently covers only a small part of Philadelphia and lacks a sufficiently diverse demographic. A larger system would benefit from serving more destinations, especially because many of the neighbourhoods adjacent to the existing Indego system boundaries are lower-income neighbourhoods with accessibility challenges. These represent the types of places that might benefit most from the bike share programme.
Indego is a public programme owned and managed by the city of Philadelphia, and maintained and operated by BTS. Revenue supports the programme's operations and expansion. Its funding is solely managed by The Mayor's Fund for Philadelphia. This structure also ensures that programme funding is transparently managed and exclusively earmarked for bike share.
Indego’s operating structure is composed of a wide range of organisations in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors. The Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability (oTIS) oversees Indego from a business perspective, while the city of Philadelphia leads the initiative. It provides strategic direction for Indego and collaborates with other city departments on initiatives that interface with it. The city of Philadelphia manages operating and other contracts and is the programme’s financial steward. The oTIS also leads Indego’s grant strategy to identify and secure public grant funding.
The remaining partners can be broken down into two broad categories: operating partners who share responsibility for running the programme; and funding partners and financial brokers who provide financial support for the programme.
Indego defined a set of performance metrics to track the attainment of goals and objectives at the outset (see Clear Objectives above). The metrics use data already collected by the city of Philadelphia and BTS, and target either year-on-year improvement or parity with the service area’s underlying demographics. The data used is made publicly available to further encourage research into bike sharing platforms and systems. 
The principal metrics are:
- Opportunity and access – average daily downtime of bike docks; the average cost and average number of trips per bicycle per day; and population and employees reached within one square mile of the station.
- Equity – the share of riders below 22 years of age and above 55; and bike share trips originating or ending in locations that have a poverty rate of greater than 30 percent.
- Health and safety measurements – annual numbers of miles cycled using Indego; the number of crash incidents; and the percentage of cyclists using Indego for their health or for exercise.
- Finances and transparency – the average monthly operating costs per dock and per bike; and the percentage of costs recovered through user fees, advertising and sponsorships.
As discussed under Stakeholder Engagement, a wide range of public, private and not-for-profit sector organisations are working together on Indego. It receives programmatic support from the BBSP for outreach activities targeted at low-income communities, those with limited proficiency in English, and communities of colour. This is done by bringing together marketing, outreach, education and community engagement programmes.
The BBSP is a partnership between the city of Philadelphia, the BCGP, the NACTO, and PeopleForBikes (PFB), and is funded by The JPB Foundation. The partnership’s mission is to develop and disseminate strategies to increase bike share use among low-income citizens and communities of colour. Indego’s relationship with BBSP is unique in the bike share industry, as this nationwide initiative is embedded within the oTIS. Most importantly, the contractor’s incentive to spend money on marketing was aligned with the goals and objectives of the programme.