Living in a Pittsburgh food desert? Lyft’s new Grocery Access Program will help you feed your family

This story first appeared in NEXTpittsburgh, which publishes Kidsburgh.

Imagine living in an underserved community with no nearby grocery store that sells fresh food. Then imagine not having any reliable or affordable transportation to reach one. Many people in Pittsburgh can.

Last year, ridesharing giant Lyft launched a program in Washington, D.C. to tackle this problem, and they’re now bringing it to Pittsburgh. The Grocery Access Program offers eight rides per month to nearby Giant Eagle supermarkets (which can cover one round-trip ride each week) for a total per-ride cost of just $2.50.

Pilot programs began on Thursday at Bedford Dwellings in the city and at Prospect Terrace in the borough of East Pittsburgh, where residents can use a special code on their Lyft app. Lyft is looking to extend the program to more Pittsburgh-area residents as they gain additional local support.

“The Mayor mentioned last week that 47 percent of the residents of our city live in a food desert, which means they don’t have regular access to fresh food and/or grocery staples,” Lyft Pittsburgh’s general manager Josh Huber tells NEXTpittsburgh. “It can be a big challenge to transport frozen goods or lots of groceries using public transportation. The Grocery Access Program allows people to get exactly what they need, when they need it. We’re excited to be part of the solution.”

Since Lyft went public in April, Huber says, the company “has been focused on being a public company for the public good. We are thrilled to use our superpower of getting Pittsburghers from point A to point B to help the communities we serve.”

According to Lyft’s 2019 Economic Impact Report, 56 percent of rides in Pittsburgh start or end in low-income communities. Food transportation barriers affect approximately 23.5 million people in the U.S., Lyft estimates. Since launching the Grocery Access Program last year and expanding it to more than a dozen cities, the company says they have provided thousands of affordable rides to grocery stores.

The Pittsburgh branch of the program was built in partnership with 412 Food Rescue, the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh and the Allegheny County Housing Authority.

412 Food Rescue provided advice during the planning stages, says David Primm, chief program & impact officer with 412 Food Rescue. “Lyft was interested in choosing different partners they could work with to start this,” he says. “So we started some of those conversations.”

Although 412 Food Rescue isn’t involved in running the pilot program, Primm says his organization is glad to see it being added to the existing resources offering transportation in underserved Pittsburgh neighborhoods and to disabled veterans. “I would love to see more of the private sector stepping up like Lyft,” he says.

The program functions as part of Lyft City Works, which the company describes as their “commitment to deploy 1% of profits or $50 million every year, whichever is greater, to help make cities more livable for everyone.”

Other cities in our region that have or can expect to get the Grocery Access Program include Chicago, Columbus, Detroit and Indianapolis.