It was an opportune time to tackle the city’s food deserts. After Hurricane Irene blew through Richmond last weekend, city officials teamed with GRTC Transit System to offer much-needed supermarket shuttles to residents of local housing projects.
So why did the buses shuttle residents out of the city? Two of the three grocery stores that GRTC took shoppers to — the Food Lion off Mechanicsville Turnpike in Henrico County and another Food Lion off Jeff Davis Highway in Chesterfield County — bypassed grocery stores in the city.
“What we did was locate the closest supermarkets that were active and operating,” says Joan Straszewski, a GRTC spokeswoman. “We knew those were the closest stores that had power.” The shuttle began picking up people at seven locations on Tuesday, but GRTC and the city extended the service through Friday, Sept. 2.
But the power was on at the closest supermarket to four of the pickups — in the Creighton, Fairfield, Mosby and Whitcomb housing projects — at the Market at Tobacco Row at 23rd and East Main streets. “We were good all week,” a store manager says. Instead, the shuttles went to the Food Lion at Mechanicsville Turnpike and Laburnum Avenue in Henrico County.
The shuttle that picked up residents at Creighton Court traveled 3.73 miles to reach the Mechanicsville Food Lion. The Market at Tobacco Row, however, is just 1.8 miles away. Straszewski says GRTC’s operations staff made the decision quickly, based on the information available at the time.
Tammy Hawley, press secretary to Mayor Dwight Jones, says in an email that the shuttles may become a new monthly service in housing projects in response to the city’s neighborhoods without nearby grocery stores. And the city plans to coordinate with GRTC to ensure shuttles take residents to city grocery stores, she writes: “When not faced with power outages and limited openings, we will be able to focus on grocery locations within city limits as part of the plan.”