Today, for the second day running, the Indego bikeshare system’s twitter account was apologizing to users in the early morning for dead docking stations.
The gist of the problem is very simple: Indego stations are powered by a battery that charges from a photovoltaic solar panel. They have no connection to the electrical grid. For the last week or so, it has been unseasonably rainy and overcast in Philadelphia, so those solar panels haven’t been getting the sunlight they need to top off the batteries. Therefore, some stations are no longer able to last through the night, and are still dead at 7:00 when early bird commuters walk up expecting to check out a bike. With no power, the station cannot communicate with the central servers to check bikes in or out, or accept payments, or do anything else other than resemble a large paperweight on the sidewalk. The stations generally stay dead until a Bicycle Transit Systems tech comes and swaps out the dead battery for a charged one.
In a way, it’s a good thing that this problem has cropped up so soon, since it will hopefully be resolved on a temporary basis on the first bright sunny day. Long runs of overcast days are unusual for early June, but they’re more seasonal in November, when the problem is compounded by shorter days. Indego is meant to be a transportation system for all seasons. If the B-Cycle station design isn’t electrically robust enough to handle the light conditions of even the mildest Philadelphia winter, that is a design flaw that BTS has to fix, systemwide.
For what it’s worth, while I was dockblocked yesterday morning at 7:15 by the #solarsorry troubles, I was able to use Indego for a 4:00 hoagie run this morning with no problem at all, so the problem is not entirely debilitating. Like other availability problems, one of the easier ways to fix it is to proliferate more stations throughout the service area, so the next available station is no more than a couple of blocks away.