Florida transit pilot connecting riders with healthy food

  • Author: Laurel Schwartz
  • Date: January 2, 2024

Hillsborough County, FL is making fresh and healthy food more accessible to residents in East Tampa. Following a successful pilot, the program is now a regular public service.

A few years ago, the Hillsborough County Board of Commissions ran a needs assessment. A common problem popped up: limited access to fresh, healthy food. While the closest large retail stores that sell fresh food are about two miles from where most East Tampa residents live, the Sunshine State’s heat can be dangerous for prolonged periods of time, especially when carrying heavy groceries. In Central Florida, summer temperatures can regularly feel like triple digits.

To help low income, disabled, and elderly folks get access to fresh food, Program director Jerry Stickney and his team obtained a grant from the State of Florida to run twice weekly door-to-door trips to local grocery stores.

Getting the word out

In the first month of the program, the team spread information about the program by word of mouth. Eventually, they also began advertising locally, and are continuing to do so.

Currently, the program has one vehicle with a capacity of 12 people. They have the funding and ability to increase to two busses a day and add an extra day of service to meet additional demand if needed.

Clients can book rides two to seven days in advance by phone from customer service representatives who can also help solve mobility issues beyond accessing groceries. The Sunshine Line’s buses are equipped with devices that populate the driver’s daily itinerary and destination addresses.

“Now we’re seeing 50% or higher on our capacity for every trip,” Stickney said. “It kind of all fell into place,” Stickney said.


Clients and bus operators have shared consistently positive feedback about the program. Stickney highlighted how passengers routinely express their gratitude for the service on stormy days.

“It was thundering and raining outside,” Stickney recalled. “A passenger said that if it wasn’t for the program, she would have skipped grocery shopping that day.”

Because of the program’s success, it’s been funded through September 2024 with funding from a local assistance and travel consistency fund, as well as remaining state funds. Stickney estimates that the program costs about $50,000/year. He and his team are excited to see the program grow but are also taking it week by week.

“It’s a scalable program,” he explained. “We’re starting to look at other areas throughout Hillsborough County that might also be food deserts. This is a great way to start chipping away at this issue.”

Stickney is particularly proud that the Sunshine Line has helped clients focus on accessing healthy foods, while building strong connections with bus operators.

“Our operators are seeing some of the same individuals, some new people, and building relationships,” he said. “We’re making connections with people outside of areas that would normally qualify for our daily service.”


We’d love to hear from you!

Have more mobility news that we should be reading and sharing? Let us know! Reach out to Sage Kashner (kashner@ctaa.org).

Skip to toolbar