Ride Sharing for Food Access

(Sent to municipal leadership 6/17/2015)
Dear Mayor Gillum & City Commissioners,

While we were unable to attend Wednesday’s hearing to consider an ordinance on transportation services, we’d like to offer a perspective that may not have been voiced at the meeting.

Affordable ride sharing is fast becoming an expected element of any 21st century metropolis, and certainly a capital city. It is likely a necessary service for the safety of Tallahassee’s college students needing to get home after a night of too much fun and the residents they might encounter on the way. These concepts we’re sure you heard.

Affordable ride sharing also holds potential for expanding fresh food access among residents without personal transportation who do not live in walking distance to beneficial options for food retail (something other than a fast food restaurant or convenience store). Such is the situation for many residents in neighborhoods predominately of color. Tallahassee’s southern and western neighborhoods are USDA-designated food deserts. Central and northern pockets of the city also carry a secondary level of that designation.

The Frenchtown market was started to address food access issues while providing low-barrier market entry to encourage entrepreneurship. Toward that end, the market is the only one in the area to have centralized EBT access and a SNAP match program. More than 40,000 people in Leon County receive SNAP benefits (formerly food stamps). With an easier, affordable way to access the Frenchtown market, they could double those benefits, significantly expanding their food budgets and capability to purchase fresh food.

The volume of SNAP expenditures for Leon County represents more than $65 million annually, a small fraction of which would be a boon to the local farmers and entrepreneurs who vend at the Frenchtown market. Currently, the vast majority of that money gets spent at chain stores and leaves our city’s economy, rather than continuing to circulate locally the way it would if spent at the farmers market.

While the bus is an option for getting to the grocery store or farmers market, coming home on the bus with arms full of grocery bags – or taking the bus to multiple food shopping locations – is an impractical experience. Taxis are often too expensive to serve the need.

For these reasons, Frenchtown Heritage Marketplace (FHM) is looking into transportation support for area residents who could benefit from the SNAP access and SNAP match program offered by the farmers market. Ride sharing platforms, like Uber, present a viable option.

Additionally, Uber’s business model provides income potential for residents with personal transportation that taxi services cannot offer. In fact, one resident of a local public housing community who participated as a researcher on our current USDA grant project is an Uber driver. The platform presents interesting possibilities for peer relationships that support food access in low income neighborhoods.

Please consider moving Tallahassee forward, expanding options for residents rather than limiting them. Ride sharing services hold potential that we have yet to explore. They could have a significant impact on elements of livability for the city, like personal health, that have likely not been considered. Resist any pressure to regulate us into the past and exclude us from innovation.

Let’s see what this thing can do. Thank you for your consideration.