My kinda bikeshare job

After we downsized and moved to an apartment in downtown Philly, Mrs. FF and I had little room to store bikes. She has her cheapo bike locked outside in our covered parking space, but there’s no room for another bike for me.

So I decided to try Philly’s bike share – Indego. It costs $144 a year for unlimited rides for up to 1 hour per ride. I love it! The engineer in me likes the idea of bike sharing because it’s a more efficient way to use bikes. Why does everyone need their own commuter bike when we can all share? I also never have to deal with maintenance or worry about locking the bike because I always dock it at a station.

My home bike station

It comes with an easy-to-use key fob so I can walk up to a station, adjust a bike, check it out, and start riding in about 15 seconds. And there’s a bike station less than 100 yards from our apartment!

On a typical day, I pull a bike from my home station, ride to the Central Library for free books, and quickly check the bike back in. Then I can go to the library, leave, wander around the city for fun, pull a bike from a completely different station and ride some more. It’s a real sense of freedom here in the big city!

The library bike station is one of my favorites!

Indego has a problem though. Sometimes bike stations are full so riders can’t check in a bike and other times stations are empty so riders can’t checkout a bike. Indego has these cute white vans that drive around and try to balance the system by loading and unloading bikes to a station, but the vans can’t always keep up especially during rush hour. There’s an app with a map and status of the stations, but it’s still inconvenient when you can’t use a station you want.

Indego Vans help shift bikes between stations.

Indego has another solution to help with the station-balancing problem. They’ll give you points for returning a bike to an empty station and pulling a bike from a full station. If you earn 100 points, you get a free day added to your pass which is worth a grand total of 40 cents. You can earn between 25 and 100 points every time you help balance a station.

The IndeHero points I’ve earned so far.

I’ve earned over 10,000 points or $40 so far. This is a lot of work – I have to monitor stations, walk between stations, pull a bike, ride while avoiding being killed by Crazy Car Clowns*. Rinse. Repeat.

Why do I do it for such a pittance? Because it’s my idea of the PERFECT volunteer opportunity:

  1. It helps something that I truly believe in – bikeshare.
  2. I get some free outdoor exercise.
  3. I save a little money by earning points which appeals to my freaky frugal nature.
  4. It’s fun!

Part of being Freaky Frugal is figuring out what to do with your time after becoming financially independent. Everybody wants meaning in their lives. My small contribution to Indego is one way for me to find some meaning.

Really Stupid Comic #14

Thanks for reading! Do you have a bikeshare in your city? What are some of your own awesome volunteer experiences?

* Car Clowns is a term created by the great Mr. Money Mustache. It refers to people who use cars when they could be walking or biking instead. In Philly, there are a lot of crazy drivers, so I refer to them as Crazy Car Clowns.

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20 comments

  1. This is so neat! You know, we actually saw a bike share in our city over the weekend. We were cheering on my sister-in-law at her marathon run and noticed bike sharing stations in the downtown area. I saw plenty of people riding on them and going along the route to cheer people on. Pretty cool stuff!

    1. Mrs. Picky Pincher – Thanks!

      Most major cities seem to have Bikeshares now. I always check them out whenever I travel to see how they differ from our Philly system. The great thing is that the more bikes that are on the roads in a city, the more car drives expect and watch out for them, and the safer biking becomes.

  2. I’m glad you like this bike-share program and it’s working well for you! And the point system is awesome. A few years back while working in DC I was a participant in Capital Bikeshare. I used their bikes in the morning from Union Station to our office near the White House. I felt safer in the mornings only since the traffic was lighter. And it was a nice quick workout in the morning too. Finally, it was cheap – like $7 per month! 🙂

    1. SMM – Thanks for sharing!

      The Capital Bikeshare is one of the first Bikeshare systems I ever saw. Then I saw CitiBikes in NYC. I knew then that Philly would eventually get a Bikeshare because we’re sandwiched between DC and NYC and we eventually catch up. 🙂

  3. I’m in Raleigh, NC, which is a small city of about 460k. We have a bike share system centered around NC State University that is run by a company called LimeBike. LimeBike is a little different in that they don’t have docking stations. Each bike has a lock on it so riders can pick them up and drop them off wherever they happen to be. The bikes are GPS enabled so you use the LimeBike app to figure out where the closest one is.

    The no docking station idea has definite upside in that the bikes are more widely distributed around the campus, but the downside is that they can end up being left in odd places many miles away from campus. Surely Lime Bike must have a system for recovering stray bikes, but I don’t know what it is. I thought would offer an incentive system to bring bikes closer to campus, but I haven’t seen it.

    I think the great thing about all these bikeshare programs is they get more people out riding bikes so that bike riding gets more normalized, which hopefully makes it safer.

    1. Brian – Thanks for sharing!

      As a side-note, I used to live in Durham for school and Mrs. FF worked at NC State many years ago.

      I’ve seen the lock-anywhere bikeshares in other cities and I feel a little envious. But it seems like it would make load balancing the system very difficult. I assume that most bikeshares have software that can predict where bikes are going to be needed the most based on time of day, day of the week, weather, and so forth. I could be wrong though. Having the bikes spread all over the place would make rebalancing a challenge, but I sure would like to be able to lock a bike right outside my door. 🙂

      I agree with you 100% – the more bikes on the roads the safer biking become for everyone.

      1. DC is piloting lock-anywhere bikes from a couple of different companies at the moment including limebike.

        It seems to be working well for the most part (although there are so few bikes from each company that there really isn’t critical mass). But, some idiot always manages to leave a bike in the most inconvenient place like the direct middle of a busy sidewalk or blocking the ingress to a Metro station entrance. Sigh.

        We also have a pretty strong car sharing service here which is awesome!

        1. Eliza – Thanks for sharing! I never thought of the problem of bikeshare bikes being left in places that block pedestrian traffic. Not good.

          Is there some sort of plan where one bikeshare system will be selected and expanded? I’m interested to see how it evolves.

  4. This communal sharing is so great. We’re lucky enough to have a bike shed with our rental apartment, and we’ve both had our bikes for enough years that they earn their keep. But it’s so interesting how this idea of communal sharing expands beyond just one thing. For example, our local library recently started up tool sharing. Need a wrench? Walk for ten minutes, use the library card and return it on time to avoid fees. I think it’s an idea that more and more people latch onto, and the opportunities are only going to get greater 🙂 Thank you for writing this!

    1. Hi E. R. Jonas!

      I wish I had a bike shed at our apartment. We do have a carport and parking is difficult around here, so I’m thankful for that.

      I also wish our library had tool sharing like yours. That makes great sense. We do have a West Philly Tool Library, but it isn’t associated in any way with the traditional library and you have to buy a membership to use the tools. And it’s pretty far from us. I would use it though if I needed a bigger or rare tool.

      You’re right – the whole sharing economy has room to grow. Ever think how crazy it is for everyone in the neighborhood to have lawn maintenance equipment that they only use an hour every week or two? Or how about various kitchen gadgets that you only need for rare recipes? Or the fact that people own cars that are parked most of the time? Bring on the self-driving car sharing service. 🙂

  5. Nice work, Hoss! These stations are pretty prevalent here in Minneapolis. I remember when I was in Paris in 2011 marveling at these rows of pretty loaner bikes. A great trend. Now we need to get our infrastructure rejiggered to support safe cycling.

  6. I like the concept but not sure I would have the drive to look for stations to drop off the bike. We have bike share but it is only in the core downtown area so would need to move closer!

    1. Caroline – That’s the same problem we had when we lived in the burbs. Fortunately, we live in the core downtown now and we love it. It’s very – shall we say – “stimulating”. 🙂

  7. This is a really cool idea. I would be surprised if it could work in my small-town area, though, since there are mainly congested roads everywhere that aren’t very safe, and that’s it. The town wasn’t really built with any kind of public transportation or walking in mind. While on the topic of bikes, what do you think of an electric bike? Have you ever ridden one?

    1. Rybo – Yep, I think you need at least a middle-size town for bikeshare to work. It also helps to have colleges in the area.

      I’m fascinated with electric bikes. I’ve never ridden one, but I see lots of take-out food delivery people riding electric bikes. I get a little jealous when they haul ass by me as I’m pumping my bike peddles up an incline. 🙂

  8. Here in SF, bikeshare is so wide spread over here that you will see a station every three blocks in downtown. It’s a great way for people to get around the city and for tourists to bike around the top tourist attractions without the hassle of driving and trying to find a parking space.

    1. Kris – That sounds ideal!

      I’d love for us (Philly) to get that level of Bike Station density, but we have a long way to go.

  9. They have a bikeshare in Vancouver and I think it’s $99 for the year membership. It’s a great idea (minus the rainy days when no one rides it) because a lot of people are scared to bike because their bikes will get stolen.

    In Hawaii I’ve seen Biki (and they look exactly like the ones in your picture) and they charge $3.50 for a single ride and also have annual fees too. Tourists are using Biki lots from what I’ve noticed, it’s great!

    1. GYM – Thanks for sharing!

      Bike stealing is a problem in Philly as well. I wouldn’t want to leave a really expensive bike locked outside for very long. Mrs. FF who has an old, crappy, Huffy bike had her seat stolen because it was a quick release seat.

      It feels like the number of bike share systems has really grown. According to this article, the US has gone from 4 systems in 2010 to 55 in 2016!

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