Description: In 2017, the Needham Community Council began supplementing its volunteer driver medical transportation program with trips provided through the ridehailing company, Lyft. Lyft rides were funded through the Needham Community Council operating budget and a donation from Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital – Needham.
In its first year (2017), the Council arranged an average of 18 Lyft rides per month. In its second year (2018), the average number of Lyft rides increased to 35 rides per month. Post-COVID-19, the program began using Lyft drivers only, because of a lack of volunteer drivers and the insurance company’s preference for Lyft drivers over volunteer drivers. In 2021, the Council provided an average of 63 Lyft rides per month. In the first five months of 2022, the Council averaged 120 rides per month. Most trips are local, and the current average trip cost is just over $11.
Once a month, the Council sends a letter to the rider with a survey, information about how much their trips cost, and an opportunity to donate. Riders with means often respond by donating back to the program. One of the notable findings from the survey was that over 60% of these riders would have cancelled their medical appointment if it wasn’t for the Lyft ride. The Needham Community Council was able to use these data to persuade their hospital partner to increase the amount of funding they contribute to the program. In addition to the funding from the hospital, the program also receives funds through donations to the Council Transportation Fund.
Impact: The Council has been able to meet a larger number of transportation requests. This in turn allowed the Council to increase its transportation offerings and open up the service to ride requests beyond medical appointments. Originally targeted for medical rides, the program has expanded to include “transportation of last resort” for residents who have significant non-medical transportation needs, such as parent-teacher conferences, food pantry, and other emergency needs approved by the Council.
Lessons learned: Over 90% of rides operated without any issues. The few issues that arose involved the following: 1) Some locations, such as large hospitals, have multiple entrances which can make it difficult to arrange rides. 2) Lyft drivers have no way of knowing if their rider has special requirements, such as accommodating riders who are blind or who are traveling with service animals. Concierge dispatch staff must individually call the driver to let them know if there are special circumstances. 3) Reaching drivers via a phone is not always possible. 4) Many program participants do not own cell phones, so concierge dispatch staff must be able to contact the receptionist or someone near the rider to relay important information, such as a change in driver, pick-up time, or pick-up location. 5) A new feature of the online Lyft reservation is a note field which they had hoped would solve some of the communication problems mentioned above. However, information in this field is not currently visible to all drivers.