BabyRide: Detroit's smart lifeline for expectant momsLyft partnership offers free ride-sharing service for low-income pregnant women

This story was originally posted in the January issue of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Detroiter magazine. Read more at www.detroitchamber.com/news-media/detroiter-magazine/.
Creating a “smart” city for the 21st century requires synchronizing a lot of moving parts. Mobility, one task of this puzzle, has its own complexities — logistics to allow everyone to get to their destination easily, with no one left behind. 

For expectant mothers, transportation to prenatal care is an absolute necessity, but many low-income individuals lack the personal means. To address this challenge, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, director of the Detroit Department of Health (DOH), brainstormed new methods to improve the overall health of the community and reduce infant mortality.

This past year, two DOH initiatives, one aimed at supporting expectant women, Make Your Date, and another aimed at new mothers, SisterFriends, jointly rolled out a comprehensive solution to assure that every pregnant woman in Detroit has the resources needed to deliver a healthy, full-term child. 

The BabyRide Project is a creative partnership involving Wayne State University, the ridesharing service Lyft, and DOH. The program provides transportation for expectant moms furnished by Lyft, to and from appointments with any doctor anywhere within the city limits. For these mothers, mobility equals access.

“Lyft is always looking for opportunities to improve peoples’ lives,” explained Elliot Darvick, general manager for Lyft Detroit. “Amazingly, 3.6 million patients nationwide delay medical treatment each year because they lack transportation. In low income areas, the problem is especially acute.”

The service is coordinated by a dispatch platform that allows staff at DOH to either preschedule or dispatch rides. Costs are underwritten jointly by Lyft and SisterFriends. Although BabyRide operates primarily during normal business hours, Darvick said Lyft can respond at any time, since outpatient clinics often schedule diagnostic tests after hours.

The program had a soft launch in February 2017, followed by several months of testing. The official rollout took place in September and was marked by a press conference at Detroit’s inaugural Technology in Motion (TIM) event.

Comprehensive data is not yet available, but Khaldun is eager to talk about the methodology used to measure the program’s impact. 

“We’ll be working with an evaluation partner to track things like preterm births, birth weights, age of the mother and other factors. The point is not just to give people rides, but to harness transportation to positively impact these outcomes.” 
The involvement of SisterFriends facilitates BabyRide’s assistance beyond birth.

“SisterFriends works with the mother and child up to the baby’s first birthday, so BabyRide also offers trips to pediatrician appointments,” said Khaldun.

Khaldun expects the program to continue indefinitely, and ultimately include transportation to WIC (Women, Infants and Children) appointments and other essential services. She also hopes to see it become an integrated fixture in the community.

“The crux of the program is that it’s a form of community outreach, so we want it to eventually become community-led,” she said. 

Currently, DOH is fundraising and recruiting potential new partners to aid in the program’s expansion, including service to suburban communities. The program is a key step in using mobile technology to solve a pressing societal issue. As innovative technology is integrated into autonomous vehicle development, the possibility of a driverless ride-sharing vehicle capable of transmitting the vital health information of passengers to doctors or hospitals on-route is moving closer to reality.
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