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Lyft wants to be a better neighbor

The ride-hailing company is setting up a $50 million fund called Lyft City Works to pay for projects like discounted rides for the homeless and better bike infrastructure–and a series of local councils who will help them direct the money.

Lyft wants to be a better neighbor
[Source Image: mawais/Blendswap]

As Lyft hurtles toward its IPO, the ride-sharing company is also preparing to strengthen its toehold in cities. Through a new program, called Lyft City Works, the company will set aside either $50 million or 1% of its profits per year–whatever is larger–in transportation and equity initiatives across select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

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“This will not be a cookie-cutter program,” says Anthony Foxx, Lyft’s chief policy officer and the former U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Instead, in each city, Lyft will identify local nonprofits and activists working on specific issues that Lyft can support. That might include services for low-income or homeless people, for whom discounted Lyft rides and bike-share memberships might be beneficial, or sustainable transportation groups that are pushing for better bike and scooter infrastructure.

But even though how Lyft City Works will roll out will vary by context, it has three overarching pillars, Foxx says. One is providing transportation for people who need it most. “We have, in the past, offered free and reduced-price rides to people: medical patients, low-income seniors, veterans in transition, victims of natural disasters,” Foxx says. “These are things that we want to tie together, operationalize, and scale.” In Los Angeles, where Lyft City Works will launch, the company is working directly with the city’s homeless services program, A Bridge Home, to offer rides to both homeless people in need, as well as the program staff. The company will also be making Lyft bike and scooter passes available to low-income families.

The second pillar revolves around ramping up transportation infrastructure. Foxx says Lyft will work with local governments, transit agencies, and nonprofit organizations to identify gaps in transit networks, and how Lyft’s products–be it shared rides, bikes, or scooters–might fill them. In Los Angeles, Lyft will be working directly with Investing in Place, a local organization that advocates for better transit options for low-income communities, to “expand bike and scooter programs more thoughtfully,” Foxx says.

It’s worth noting, however, that Lyft funding won’t guarantee safety infrastructure, like protected bike lanes, to support the expansion of their bike and scooter programs. The scooter company Bird, for instance, had promised cities a subsidy for building bike lanes that they quietly dissolved earlier this year, and it’s an important reminder that the promises of tech companies don’t always align with local transit and planning agencies, and at the moment, Lyft does not have a concrete plan for working through this infrastructural process.

The final pillar revolves around Lyft’s sustainability commitments. “Lyft has a desire to be a part of a clean energy future,” Foxx says. As a part of this, Lyft is working to up the share of electric vehicles in its fleets and push for more use of its shared-ride program, as well as bikes and scooters. Lyft’s sustainability efforts, like offering drivers discounts on rental EVs, and purchasing carbon offsets to neutralize the environmental footprint of its operations, are pre-existing efforts, and including them in Lyft City Works is less about introducing anything new as it is focusing attention on these efforts might make it a more effective lobbyist for local climate action, Foxx says. That will be something the company takes a more active roll in under Lyft City Works, though what specific initiatives it will support remains to be seen.

“Every city is different, and every community’s needs are different,” Foxx says. To account for that, Lyft will create councils–made up of local advocates, elected officials, Lyft drivers, and community members–who will guide where the Lyft City Works funding goes. Given that one of the main concerns on drivers’ minds at this point, as evidenced by large protests across California earlier this week, is raising driver pay, it will be interesting to see if the establishment of these local councils encourages the company to move on implementing higher wages. “We want to hear from our drivers,” Foxx says, and the councils will be another avenue for fielding input.

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Lyft has experimented with offering free or reduced-priced rides for people in need, rolling out connected transportation services, and trying to green its operations. What this program aims to do is bring Lyft into closer conversation with the communities it affects, and establish a funding pool so Lyft can act faster on the demands they hear from the councils.

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About the author

Eillie Anzilotti is an assistant editor for Fast Company's Ideas section, covering sustainability, social good, and alternative economies. Previously, she wrote for CityLab.

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