New Transportation Service Helps UT Students Access Fresh Groceries
Apr 26, 2024

New Transportation Service Helps UT Students Access Fresh Groceries

Reporting Texas TV

AUSTIN, Texas – UT’s Food Security Agency launched a pilot shuttle program to help students who lack reliable transportation get to grocery stores near campus.

“(Food insecurity) is something that we all need to deal with,” program organizer Erica Howard said. “It’s not a ‘them’ issue, it’s an ‘us’ issue, and we all need to work together to make sure we all have food security.”

Student Government’s newest initiative provides students with transportation to and from the Hancock H-E-B on East 41st St. Howard and her co-director, Dat Duong, worked directly with campus Parking and Transportation Services (PTS) to establish pickup and drop off locations, secure ADA compliant shuttles and discuss other technical aspects.

“The narrative and the culture behind this is to open up the conversation within higher administration,” Duong said. “There’s a need for students for this specific problem. There needs to be more of an addressing of this issue.”

Students wait in line for free groceries provided by the Food Security Agency at the University of Texas at Austin campus on April 15, 2024. (Evelyn Martinez/Reporting Texas TV)

Formerly known as the Food Insecurity Action Team, the Food Security Agency first pitched the idea to the Presidential Student Advisory Committee (PSAC) last fall. Once PSAC approved the project, organizers met with PTS director Blanca Gamez to figure out the logistics like planning the shuttle’s specific routes and hiring student drivers.

“I think we have a fabulous relationship with Student Government], so when they come to us with ideas about transportation projects, we’re always all ears and wanting to assist them if we can,” Gamez said.

“It was just an easy program for us to say absolutely, yes, we can do this. We can help with it.”

Duong and Howard’s history in food advocacy motivated them to see this project to the finish line. Howard worked in the Texas food system for 10 years before joining the Food Policy graduate program at UT. Duong, a junior majoring in Public Health, also co-founded West Campus Collective, a mutual aid service focused on food distribution in West Campus.

“This university promises to support its students, and I haven’t seen too much passion behind this on the upper administrative side,” Duong said. “It’s all in the students. The student voice is one of the strongest voices, and that’s the voice I’ve been listening to the most.”

PTS currently offers reservations for the grocery shuttle service on its website, where students can set pick-up times between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Organizers established pickup areas at Dobie Twenty21 and Duren, two large on-campus residences on the north and south sides of the university. Users can choose their pickup locations and receive a two-hour window to shop before drivers drop them off at the same location.

Although this iteration of the shuttle services is limited to the weekends, Duong hopes it can someday run on a daily basis and include more options for students.

“At the end of the day, students should feel that they are supported, students should feel that this university has everything in place for them to succeed,” he said.