Lyft seeks partners with community leaders, investors to expand grocery access program pilot

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty / seb_ra
Source: Getty / seb_ra
The rideshare service Lyft is looking for capital investment and community partners to improve access to affordable, nutritious food by expanding an ongoing grocery access program that it is piloting currently in Washington, DC, with the non-profit Martha’s Table.

“The vision set out by our founders when Lyft was established in 2012 was to improve people’s lives with the world’s best transportation, and that manifests primarily in three ways. The first is sustainability, so 100% of Lyft rides are carbon neutral. The second is developing transportation infrastructure and safety, mostly around our multi-mode investments like bikes and scooters, and the third, and reason we are here today, is providing free and discounted rides for people who need them,”​ Kate Glantz, Mid-Atlantic head of marketing at Lyft, told attendees at the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit in Chicago earlier this month.

She explained that one way Lyft is delivering on the third prong of its mission is through its Lyft Grocery App and a partnership with Martha’s Table and others in Washington, DC, to offer $2.50 flat fare shared rides to and from every grocery store in Washington, DC’s Wards 7 and 8, which are notorious for being not only food deserts but also transportation deserts.

The problem

“Eighty-one percent of DC’s food deserts are in Wards 7 and 8,”​ where there are only three grocery stores to serve 160,000 residents – most of whom live more than a mile from any of the supermarkets, said Glantz.

She explained that “most families and residence in these communities rely on what is available to them in the nearby corner stores and we know those options are insufficient because they lack a variety and nutritional value.”

The result is communities of people who are interested in healthy food and desire to change to healthy habits, but who lack the opportunity and options for making change, she added.

The solution

By offering low-cost, subsidized shared rides to and from the grocery stores in these communities, Glantz said that Lyft hoped to reduce the time and financial burden it takes to grocery shop, empower families with more choices and compile key learnings and identify sustainable funding so the company could scale the program wherever there is a need.

The local non-profit Martha’s Table helped Lyft onboard hundreds of residents in these communities to pilot the grocery access program. To evaluate the impact, the partners conducted a simple baseline survey and then tracked aggregate ride data and trends, said Lindsay Morton, director of healthy markets at Martha’s Table.

“In the baseline we identified that 63% of participants have already been going to the grocery store at least one time. We also touched on the fact that about a third of program participants struggle with some level of food security or difficulty accessing fresh fruits and vegetables … because of cost,”​ Morton said, adding, “We also found that 34 minutes was the average time for participants to travel to or from the grocery store and almost half – 44% -- had already been using ride share to get to the grocery store.”

But for many other residents in these communities the cost of a rideshare is a luxury they could not afford without help from the pilot program, she added.

At the half way point through the six month pilot program, “the results so far are really promising and encouraging,”​ Glantz said. “We are seeing the average person is taking about two trips a week, which is what we intended – a round trip every week. And the commute time has been halved.”

A need for investors

Lyft currently is subsidizing the cost of the program, which averages about $4.60 per ride, and while that amount is ‘relatively affordable for the super benefits,”​ is it is not sustainable by Lyft alone, Glantz said.

“We are committed to scaling this program. We are working with our social impact team and others to figure out how this would look as a national program”​ or in a “hyper local way, such as the model that Lindsay and I implemented in DC,”​ Glantz said.

Either way though, she said, the program will need both financial support and support at the community level by a champion who has the respect of the community and the “cultural competency”​ to direct those in need to the service.

Morton echoed Glantz’s commitment to the program and said that Martha’s Table is “calling on all of our champions both locally in DC and nationally to see that this program continues.”

The urgency expressed by both women is reflected the program’s early success, which Glantz said, “is truly working.”

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