Lyft Leads The Charge In Social Initiatives As It Tackles Access In Food Deserts

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My relationship with grocery stores has been an interesting one. Last year around this time, I was living in Washington, D.C. balancing a journalism internship and two part-time jobs, both of which were in grocery stores.

There was no shortage of grocery stores in my Cathedral Heights neighborhood in the northwest section of the city. Within 5 miles of my home, I could locate a Giant and two Whole Foods grocery stores. If transportation ever became a problem, Instacart was only a few clicks away.

Harlem is hardly any different. I can pass nearly a dozen fruit carts on my way to the grocery store and there are about three other stores within blocks of my house, making my access to fresh produce and food considerably easier than those in other cities who may be in the middle of food deserts.

Food deserts are areas that lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables, farmers markets and groceries stores. These areas tend to have an abundance of quick marts that are stocked with processed, sugary foods and have adverse effects on the health of people in these communities.

Although food-tech startups like Instacart are a benefit to those living in food deserts, but Lyft wants to lead the way in providing at-risk communities with fresh food. Lyft announced the pilot version of its Grocery Access Program in December. The program charged $2.50 flat rates for Lyft Shared rides to help people in Washington, D.C. get to and from select grocery stores.

Last week, Lyft announced that it is expanding the program to more than 10 cities across the nation. Chicago and Detroit have some of the largest food deserts in the nation and are Grocery Access Program’s next stops. If people utilize the program, it will be one of the most impactful initiatives that Lyft has had to date.

More than 2 million people in the U.S. currently live in food deserts and by providing cheap rides to grocery stores, Lyft is enabling communities to have more control over their long-term.

Lyft and Uber have recently been neck-and-neck with their initiatives and offerings, but the Grocery Access Program adds more nuance to Lyft’s mission. The ride-sharing giant has made it clear that it wants to be known for more than solving transportation issues, it wants to make a social impact.

The company has also been developing its Lyft City Works program, which works to “improve city life through grassroots transportation initiatives.” Lyft commits at least $50 million each year to the initiative that helps people get access to transportation, assists cities in building out their infrastructure through bikes and scooters, and developing eco-friendly methods of transportation. The Lyft City Works program currently provides free and reduced-price rides to medical patients, low-income seniors, veterans in transition, and victims of natural disasters.

It will be interesting to see Lyft’s next move with its Grocery Access Program. If Lyft plans for a grocery version of Uber Eats, it could prove to be beneficial for shoppers living in food deserts and the company. For now, Lyft should iron out all of the kinks with its current program before biting off more than it can chew.