It’s easy to get cynical about corporate social-impact programs, but sometimes they just make sense. Take the latest do-gooding efforts by Lyft. The company notes that the ability of poor people to find or hold down a new job can depend greatly on their access to reliable transportation—and here Lyft has something concrete to contribute.
The ride-hailing company says it’s working with services organizations such as Goodwill and United Way, in roughly 35 markets in the US and Canada, to provide free or discounted Lyft rides to and from job training programs, job interviews, and the first three weeks of employment (or until individuals receive their first paycheck).
The company will focus on a range of communities that stand to benefit the most, including veterans and disabled people. Lyft sees the opportunity to make a difference—a 2015 study at Harvard found that commute length is one of the strongest factors in moving Americans out of poverty, with shorter commute times equating to more economic mobility. According to the company’s own research, 44% of Lyft rides start or end in low-income areas.
Since its IPO earlier this year, Lyft appears to be doubling down on social impact strategies. This latest pledge is part of a broader commitment to providing more access to transportation, whether that’s providing the recently homeless and newly employed with subsidized rides to their jobs or working with public agencies in Detroit and Washington DC to provide affordable rides for late-night workers. In May, the company said it will commit $50 million a year to help improve cities via transportation and sustainability programs.
Despite efforts to brand itself as a mission-driven company, Lyft’s reputation has been increasingly under fire. Critics say the company has fallen short in responding to allegations of sexual harassment by drivers, and it has been accused of discriminating against people with disabilities by not providing wheelchair-accessible vehicles in the Bay Area. Meanwhile, new legislation in California will likely force many gig-economy companies there to reclassify independent contractors as employees. The bill known as AB5 was largely seen as targeting Lyft and its ride-hailing rival Uber.
That may help explain why Lyft is doubling down on community-minded initiatives and efforts at winning public support. (It also may point to how the ride-hailing company is hoping to align with an ever more purpose-driven workforce.)
In an increasingly regulated climate, other transportation companies also are starting to work more closely with communities and local governments. Recently, Uber noted that its dockless e-bikes could provide access to low-cost transportation throughout cities. Once banned from operating in the streets of San Francisco, Lime announced this week that it has been permitted to bring its scooters back—and, this time around, it will be offering cash payments for the unbanked and local jobs providing a living wage and benefits. It even promises to bring “flexible opportunities for homeless and at-risk individuals to earn and make a difference in their city.”
Public relations stunt or not, it’s arguably better when businesses contribute something to society and are not just focused on greed.