Contributed by -

Joseph Okpaku

Vice President Government Relations, Lyft

For people living in lower-income neighborhoods, what is the single most determinative factor in economic upward mobility? Crime? Education? Jobs?

Not according to studies out of Harvard and NYU which found that “commuting time has emerged as the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty.”

If you’re surprised by this, you’re not alone. For most of my life, I wasn’t aware of the significance that transportation was having on my own life, let alone how transportation can disproportionately impact communities of color and underserved neighborhoods.

I first began to understand this connection as a young adult living in New York City. From relying on the dollar vans in Flatbush that offered transportation options not provided by public transit, to experiencing the challenge of trying to hail a taxi as a black man — just getting around could be a hassle if you lived in the wrong part of town.

This is why I was so excited about ridesharing when I first heard about it. I was also skeptical like many other people: Will this be another startup fad that eventually goes away? Will it actually significantly change transportation for communities of color?

Today, four and a half years later, the answer to that last question is a resounding “yes” and here’s why. For most people, owning a car is the second highest household expense, costing an average of $9,000 per year. This is absurd when you consider the average vehicle is used only 4 percent of the time and parked the other 96 percent.

Car ownership is a Catch-22 for lower-income people: if you own a car, yes, you are able to get around, but for that privilege you incur massive expenses: car payments, auto insurance, fuel, repairs, parking, and more. If you don’t own a car, you can avoid those expenses, but the trade-off is that you may depend on other less reliable transportation options, which can limit the jobs available to you or increase the time it takes to get to job opportunities.

Ridesharing helps by making car ownership optional while still allowing you to get around reliably or, if you own a car, gives you the ability to supplement your income to subsidize the cost of owning that vehicle. It is having significant positive impacts in terms of upward economic mobility not only for drivers, but also for passengers, particularly in communities of color.

For example, of the hundreds of millions of rides Lyft provided last year, 29 percent started in low-income areas and 40 percent of our passengers earn less than $50,000 per year. We also know the following about our black community of drivers and passengers:

  • 72 percent of black drivers use their driving income to support their families
  • 70 percent of black passengers use Lyft to commute
  • 22 percent of black passengers use Lyft to get to job interviews

I believe this to be evidence of the truly significant impact of ridesharing, and I also believe that we have only scratched the surface of how much ridesharing can improve the lives of diverse communities

For example, access to healthcare transportation affects 3.6 million Americans each year, many of which are minority and disenfranchised populations. In the coming years, ridesharing will transform non-emergency medical transportation, and Lyft’s commitment is to cut missed doctor appointments in half by 2020. What we have is an enormous opportunity to tackle health disparities and meaningfully improve health outcomes especially for low-income communities.

So as we assess the opportunities and challenges associated with the digital revolution, I hope we will keep in mind that economic upward mobility literally requires mobility — as in actually getting to where the jobs are — and that the discussions taking place today in our cities about the future of transportation are worth engaging in to ensure everyone has the reliable, affordable transportation options they need to get to where they’re going.

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