,FILE PHOTO: A sign marks a rendezvous location for Lyft and Uber users at San Diego State University in San Diego, California, U.S., May 13, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo
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(Reuters) -Uber Technologies Inc and Lyft Inc are spending millions of dollars to provide drivers with access to COVID-19 vaccines and offering tens of millions of free or discounted rides to vaccination sites for people in communities that lack access to transportation and healthcare services.
The effort is both public-spirited, and self-interested.
Ride-hailing demand is ramping up throughout the United States from pandemic-induced lows, but drivers are still slow to return to the road, slowing the companies' efforts to rebuild revenues.
Lack of transportation is a major hurdle to healthcare equity and vaccine access, and studies show fewer options for medical care in low-income and Black communities, which are frequently poorly served by public transit and have lower car ownership rates.
At Uber, a large team of employees has started calling thousands of drivers who left the platform over the past year, asking them what they need to return, Uber U.S. and Canada Head of Driver Operations Carrol Chang told Reuters.
The company is trying to address drivers' main concerns - safety and earnings - through mask mandates, a vaccination partnership with Walgreen's and $250 million in pay guarantees and incentives.
The Walgreen's partnership has allowed Uber to distribute unique codes to more than 240,000 drivers in several states, including California, Illinois, Virginia and New Jersey, allowing them to book a vaccination appointment at the pharmacy chain.
Lyft said it is emailing drivers when they become eligible for vaccination in their states. The company requires masks and offers pay incentives and promotions in select markets.
Julia Paige, Uber's director of social impact, who is in charge of the vaccine rides program, said that in her conversations with company management "I really tried to show people that there are times when doing good is good for business."
While Uber has not disclosed the costs of the largely self-funded vaccination programs, analysts estimate the roughly 10 million free and discounted rides the company has promised will cost $50 million to $100 million.
Lyft said its vaccine rides are paid for in partnership with corporate sponsors, including JPMorgan Chase, Anthem Inc and Target Corp, and private donations.
Officials in Chicago, New Orleans and Jersey City, New Jersey, and nonprofit groups working with the companies said the rides have allowed thousands of people to get vaccinated who otherwise likely would not have gotten a shot.
"There's a huge swath of people sitting on the fence about this vaccine, and only if they have access to it they'll get it done," said Tamara Mahal, leader of the Chicago health department's vaccine operation, which has partnered with Uber to offer free rides to 5,000 people.