Somerville extends free taxi service for low-income residents
A program that pays for Somerville residents' taxi rides to grocery stores and medical appointments has been extended.
The city's "Taxi to Health" program, which began as an emergency measure at the height of the pandemic, will continue through Oct. 31, 2024, according to an announcement.
The program grants residents on restricted incomes 12 free taxi vouchers, with the option to reapply every three months. With a voucher, recipients can take trips to grocery stores, farmer's markets and food pantries in Somerville, as well as non-emergency medical appointments in the Greater Boston area.
Ever since the program launched, every month there are more residents participating, said Lisa Robinson, the city of Somerville's director of food access and healthy communities.
Robinson said those who have benefited from the "Taxi to Health" program previously reported shopping for groceries less frequently or skipping health appointments because of their lack of a car, the high cost of a cab or long bus commutes.
"This was a great way to make progress on a goal to improve the intersection of transportation and food access," she said.
A food system assessment the city conducted in 2018 found that some residents couldn't get to grocery stores that met their food preferences, cultural needs or price points. When federal COVID relief funding first became available, city leaders decided to experiment with a taxi service as a solution to the long-standing problem that had only worsened during the pandemic.
The plan was for the program to just increase food access, but the city expanded the voucher to cover trips to health appointments following residents' testimonials, Robinson said.
The initial round of funding for the program came through a Massachusetts Development Grant. With funding secured, the city contracted with Green and Yellow Cab of Somerville to launch the program. The city will continue this partnership through 2024 thanks to additional funds from the American Rescue Plan.
Robinson said her office decided to extend the program after hearing from residents that the vouchers led to their saving money and buying healthier items.
Somerville is also exploring proposals with regional and state agencies, such as adding fixed shuttle routes and getting insurance companies to cover the cost of transportation.