City officials in Decatur, Georgia have partnered with Publix to test out a free electric shuttle that drives shoppers to the supermarket following the closure of a downtown Kroger location.
The “Baby Kroger” located in downtown Decatur closed on Dec. 2 due to declining sales and negative profit over an extended period, according to Kroger. When the closure was announced, many Decatur residents were upset about the news.
“This makes downtown Decatur a food desert,” commented one concerned resident on the announcement published on Decaturish.com.
But Decatur dwellers weren’t without access to a grocery store for long, as the free supermarket shuttle program began roughly a month later on Jan. 16.
“One of the most desirable attributes about Decatur is its almost universal walkability,” said Shirley Baylis, business development manager for the City of Decatur. “And with the recent closing of Kroger on Commerce Drive, there was no longer a supermarket within reasonable walking distance for our residents, especially seniors who may be less likely to have access to their own vehicles.”
The experimental 90-day pilot program is operated by Let’s Ride Atlanta and sponsored by the Decatur Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and Publix Super Markets. Two electric shuttles run continuously from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Baylis told The Food Institute that the supermarket shuttle has been extremely well-received by the community thus far. “The residents and employees who have taken advantage of it are loving it!” she said. “They have sent emails and called to let me know how much they appreciate the pilot program.”
In addition to the five pick-up and drop-off points along the planned route to Publix, residents can also request on-demand rides from downtown Decatur. Let’s Ride Atlanta provides the drivers and electric carts, which seat 3-4 people each.
It’s too early to say if the program will continue when the pilot ends on April 18, but Baylis and her team plan to use the insights gathered from this initiative to decide on next steps.
“This initiative will help us understand who is riding, how often they are riding, and how we can move forward from here,” she explained. Right now, Baylis says “some consideration” is being given to potentially bringing back and expanding a shuttle program the city ran before the Covid-19 pandemic, which was offered to seniors only.
Alternatively, Baylis says the City of Decatur may continue to focus on the current supermarket shuttle program, “but potentially expand it.”