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Posted November 13, 2017 | 7:57 AM

All Aboard the Sunshine Line!

Hillsborough County provides door-to-door rides for elderly, disabled, and low-income residents

Mattie Lassiter gave up her car eight years ago. "It was just costing me so much in repair bills," she says.

For a while, friends drove her around in their cars. But, she says, "I'm very independent. I don't like to ask people for anything."

Mattie saw a Sunshine Line bus, and called the telephone number printed on its side to learn more. That was in 2012. The retired bar owner and financial manager has been a regular Sunshine Line rider ever since - to her doctor's office, the grocery store, the laundry, and everywhere else in Hillsborough County she needs to go.

Sunshine Line provides door-to-door transportation for more than 7,000 Hillsborough County residents. Last year its 60-plus buses and vans tallied more than 1.08 million miles, and made almost 153,000 door-to-door trips to pick up and drop off clients. It also provides HART bus passes for those who qualify.

Eligibility is based on income, age, disabilities, and whether other means of transportation are available. All Sunshine Line vehicles can accommodate wheelchairs.

Sunshine Line transports residents to medical appointments and to outings at Hillsborough County Senior Centers. As space and schedules allow, they also deliver riders to grocery stores, rendezvous with friends, and other locations.

For some riders, camaraderie aboard the buses is as important as the destination.

Juan Velazquez began driving a Sunshine Line bus in 2007. The former schoolteacher still drives, handles dispatch, and helps other drivers with whatever they need.

His clients are elderly people who no longer drive themselves, people with disabilities, low-income residents, and others who qualify for the service.

Juan enjoys helping people, and making friends. There are handshakes, hugs, and enthusiastic greetings. "You get attached to these people," he says. "For some, you're the only person they see. You get all the stories, you know?"

Photo information: Driver Juan Velazquez helps a client aboard a Sunshine Line van.