An oasis in the food desert

Lyft teams up with grocers to offer discounted rides to grocery stores

In 2009, a Tulane University study reported that 2.3 million Americans live more than a mile from a grocery store and do not own a car. In these "food deserts," lugging a week’s worth of groceries onto a city bus isn’t always practical, raising the costs of acquiring good nutrition.

For its Grocery Access program, ridesharing service Lyft has teamed up with grocers and nonprofits in a dozen cities to make fresh groceries more accessible. Those living in specific neighborhoods deemed as food deserts can get a discounted ride to a participating grocer.

In cities like Baltimore — where the Baltimore Sun reports about one in four people in the city live in a food desert — those living in designated parts of the city can take a Lyft for $2.50 each way to stores including Safeway, Giant, Aldi and Harris Teeter. The pilot program will run through April, after which university researchers will determine its effectiveness.

According to Lyft’s website, there is plenty of anecdotal proof that it just might be an element of the solution. Lyft reports that in Washington, D.C., where the program ran in early 2019, some 400 families took more than 5,000 Lyft rides to grocers over six months — and cut the amount of shopping commuting time in half. For grocery stores that operate under missions of bettering the health of the communities they serve, the program is a new way to address an all-too-common problem.

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