Indego, Philadelphia’s official bike share program, touts on its website that it’s “your best way to get around town.” In that line, I found a challenge.
The communal bike program kicked off in 2015 and now has 1,000 bikes in rotation at more than 130 cycle stations around the city. It’s a tres Euro and super environmentally friendly program, in theory—but, six years and one pandemic into the program, it was time to see how it fares in reality.
MORE FROM OUR MYSTERY SHOPPING ADVENTURES
So, I set out to determine just how great Indego really is, in the latest in our Mystery Shopper series, where we secret-shop city services and report back to you. Here, what I learned.
Method 1: Purchasing a Pass Online
- I go to the Indego website and hit the big “Buy a Pass” button in the top right corner.
- I select the cheapest option—a $12 Guest Pass that grants you 24 hours of access to an unlimited number of 30-minute bike rides. This, for me, was the first red flag. Why so complicated? Why not just give me 24 hours of straight riding-time? I will give bonus points, however, for not hiding away the less-appealing bits (“15¢/minute for rides over 30 minutes”) in fine print, but instead putting it in large type, smack-dab in the middle of the page.
- I create an account and put in a credit card number. A fairly simple process.
- I download the app, sign in, and get accosted by a mass of blue and green markers on a zoomed-out map of Philly: Bike locations.
- I choose a station: Clicking on any marker will tell you how many docks, classic bikes, and electric bikes are available at that moment. My station of choice was at the corner of 33rd and Dauphin.
- To the bikes!
- Once arrived, I see a line of blue and white bikes. At the station I chose, there were nine bikes locked into the nine docks. They seemed to be in fairly good condition—minimal grime, no scratched paint, etc.
- I open the Indego app, and tap on the station on the map and hit the “Unlock Bike” button. You can choose from all of the bikes at the station, and once chosen you have about 10 seconds to yank the bike out of its dock before it locks back up again. But no fear! If you fumble this maneuver, you can just use another one of your unlimited rides to re-unlock it.
- I select an electric bike (for an additional, but totally worth-it fee of 15¢ per minute) from dock #4.
- I enjoy a brisk ride around the neighborhood before realizing, on this cold morning, my fingers were going numb and my 30 minutes were almost up.
- I return the bike to a different dock—you can drop them off anywhere—making sure to listen for the three beeps that signal the bike has successfully locked.
Time Spent: About 6 minutes for the sign up.
Result: Indego account activated, bike acquired, ridden, and returned.
Takeaway: While I’m not sure I would call it the best way to get around town (mostly because of the whole pedaling at 17 miles-per-hour through city streets with unpredictable traffic and even more unpredictable pedestrians things), I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of the whole transaction.
Lightning Bolt Rating: ⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡
(I would have taken away points for the bizarre 30-minute rule, but, if you read on, I later discover some of the rhyme and reason behind it. So, I have been gracious and overlooked this small detail.)
Method 2: Purchasing a Pass at a Bike Location
- I skip through the first five steps of the last method and instead begin by going directly to the bikes. (This would ordinarily require either previous research or a lucky happening-upon of an Indego station.)
- Now I circle back to step 4, pause in the middle of it to do step 3, then return to finish step 4. And then hop back down to step 7.
- On this go, I experience a few more roadblocks: The first bike I chose had a front tire so flat it may as well have not been there. The second had a dead battery, and I’d be damned if I was going to pay an extra 15¢/minute for a normal bike! This is where I started to see the logic behind the unlimited 30-minute rides—you can take out and return as many bikes as you want. It’s a fail-safe of sorts. I should never have complained.
- Finally, after two disappointments, I have my Goldilocks moment with the just-right third bike.
- Steps 8 and 9 exactly as above.
Time Spent: 12-ish minutes.
Result: Bike acquired (with a little difficulty), ridden and returned.
Takeaway: While my personal experience differed from trial to trial, I don’t blame the method for the difficulties I encountered. The blame falls more upon the neglectful upkeep of the bikes. Overall, though, I found Indego to be very user-friendly on their website, app, and in real life. It’s a great resource for the city and an excellent, eco-friendly alternative to public transportation.
Lightning Bolt Rating: ⚡⚡⚡
Special thanks to the students of Meg Cohen Ragas’ and Anne Gerbner’s high school journalism class at Germantown Friends School.Photo by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia