PHILADELPHIA — As Indego, the city’s bike share program, builds more and more stations across Philadelphia, Tonetta Graham is thrilled to see more bikes in her Strawberry Mansion neighborhood.
“To have them in your community, to be so visual in the community, [it’s] saying that, ‘this is something that I have access to as well,’” said Graham, the president of the Strawberry Mansion Community Development Corporation. She and the CDC have hosted community bike rides, bicycle basics training classes and given out free helmets to Strawberry Mansion residents young and old.
“Someone else in a wealthier community can have access to these things, [and] so do I. That inclusion [is] super important.”
The city’s bike share program is still growing; it just opened its 200th bike station in February. But historically, not everyone in Philly has embraced Indego’s bikes to the same extent. Indego and other bike-share programs around the country have struggled to bring in users from diverse racial and income backgrounds. The stereotypical bike-share rider is white, and fairly well-off.
But evidence shows that e-bikes may offer a solution. Indego’s fleet of e-bikes, bicycles with assisted motors to make pedaling easier, are becoming more popular in Philly’s predominantly Black, lower-income neighborhoods.
“I’m super excited,” Graham said.
“Everything is about to be electrified anyway. So why not the bikes?” she joked.
Waffiyyah Murray, Indego’s program manager, said that ever since Philly’s bike-share program began in 2015, building equity in transportation has been on their minds.
“We were looking at different models of how bike-share was implemented in other cities, and there wasn’t really an emphasis on equity. There wasn’t really a strong emphasis and strategy on making sure [that] bike-share systems were meeting the needs of all — regardless of income, race, ethnicity,” she said.
“Folks will use bike-share as long as it’s affordable, it’s accessible, [if] there’s proper representation [and] they see themselves represented,” she said, acknowledging that it’s still an ongoing process to get more diverse riders interested in the system.
Murray said that in conversations with their community partners, they heard people were excited about the launch of e-bikes. The fun, zip of the bikes was appealing, but so too was the ability to take longer bike trips with less effort, whether it be for commuting or leisure.
“We’ve heard from our riders of color who have used the [e-bikes]...’I’m not ready to use this to commute back and forth to work. But I would love to be able to get on the bike to get some additional physical activity. I would love to get on the bike just to ride with my friends and family,’” she said.
“Sometimes there’s a psychological barrier to getting on a bike. ‘No, that’s not for me. That’s for a white guy in Lycra.’ And I think actually the e-bike helps with those barriers as well,” said Nate Bowman-Johnston, Indego’s general manager.
“It just makes the process easier. You don’t have to be super physically fit to use an e-bike. And you get on it and you start to build that confidence... Once you ride an e-bike, it actually opens the whole [bike-share] system to people,” he said.
According to a 2022 study in GeoJournal which examined e-bike usage across the city, as Indego introduced e-bikes to its fleet beginning in 2018, everyone used them; they were broadly popular across neighborhoods. But, predominantly Black communities especially gravitated towards them.
The study analyzed three months of Indego usage citywide in 2019, using census data to identify neighborhoods that were predominantly Black and low-income (focusing mainly in West and North Philly). The study determined that for bicycle trips, not e-bikes, users in Black communities only accounted for about 22% of the city’s total trips, while predominantly white, affluent neighborhoods accounted for 78% of trips.
But things changed when it came to e-bikes — for the same period, users in Black communities took about 34% of the city’s total e-bike trips. That means there was a greater relative e-bike use in these communities.
“Our [low-income] pass holders who are utilizing the system, they’re utilizing e-bikes almost twice as much as classic bikes,” said Bowman-Johnston about today’s ridership. He confirmed that Indego has been noticing a similar trend to the GeoJournal study, and said that Indego plans to add nearly 700 more e-bikes to its fleet this year.
“It’s happening,” he said.
At any of Indego’s stations, riders can use their Indego keycard, mobile app or a kiosk at the station to check out an available bike. Then, once you are finished riding the bike, you can return it to any Indego station’s open dock.
You can distinguish between e-bikes and regular bicycles most easily by their color: e-bikes have a white frame, standard bicycles have a blue frame.
For a standard Indego 30 day pass, users pay $20 per month for an unlimited number of bicycle rides under 60 minutes. For this standard pass, using an e-bike cost an extra 20 cents per minute.
It’s not exactly cheap. But for anyone with a Pennsylvania ACCESS card, discounted passes are available. Those passes are $5 per month for unlimited bicycle rides, and 7 cents per minute for e-bikes.
“One thing I was adamant about [was], we’re not putting these bikes in our community [if] we can’t afford to ride them,” Graham said. “Discounted usage was super important [to me] because now it continues to open the access up even more.”
There is still a ways to go before bike-share becomes a dominant mode of transportation in Philly, though.
Near one of Indego’s newest stations that opened in North Philly several weeks ago, local residents hadn’t noticed very many people checking out bikes.
Jeff Thomas, an area resident and bicycle rider, remained optimistic. “It is still cold out. I think people will ride when it starts to get warm. And you can use them off your ACCESS card,” he said.
Graham is working to convert more of her neighbors to become e-bike riders, using outreach through the Strawberry Mansion bike ambassador program. She said some people are concerned with their safety while riding bikes through the city, or they may not even know how to ride a bike altogether. But as people gradually open up to using bikes more regularly, Graham said that just having more bicycles and Indego stations around is an important reminder that their community matters.
“It lets us know that we’re not forgotten. I think one of the attitudes that residents have is that there’s so much attention paid to places like Center City or the more wealthy, established communities in Philadelphia,” she said.
“So when you see bike-share stations in Strawberry Mansion, you [say], ‘oh, wait a minute,’
“Everybody’s gonna get a fair shot at this.”
Oh yeah, and trust me, the low-income community will trash these bikes into oblivion.
Racist article. As a white guy, I'm offended!!
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