John G. Gloster, president of the Ward 8 Farmers Market, tries to use the free bus to draw customers to the market, in background. (Mark Gail/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Every time the empty white shuttle bus rolled up to a stop, John Gloster rushed down the steps and out the front door.

“Ward 8 farmers market,” Gloster shouted. Passersby turned and raised their eyebrows as Gloster handed out green fliers and told everyone within earshot that Saturday was the bus’s first day of operation, providing an easy way for Ward 8 residents to get cheap, fresh produce.

“It’ll take you there and bring you back for free,” the president of the farmers market said.

The farmers market’s launch of the shuttle bus — which takes a 30-minute, eight-stop loop around Ward 8 — got off to a rocky start. The seats in the air-conditioned bus remained empty most of the day.

Organizers had some early setbacks. A shipment of signs advertising the bus didn’t arrive on time. But Gloster blamed himself, too, for not publicizing the bus’s first day more.

Still, he remained optimistic. For much of the day, he used the bus as a way to inform people about the market. He darted in and out at each stop, touting the market and the bus service to inquisitive and uninterested people alike.

“This is like a dry run,” Gloster said lightheartedly.

The Ward 8 farmers market is open for business every Saturday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., with 10 vendors selling tomatoes and other standard produce, such as cherries, blueberries and lettuce. One vendor sells sweet potato cookies.

In a study conducted by the city a few years ago, Ward 8 had an adult obesity rate of nearly 42 percent and a diabetes rate of about 18 percent. Gloster said the market can help change unhealthy eating habits.

“After a while, you get addicted to eating healthy,” he said.

The market began after Safeway — the ward’s only full-service supermarket at the time — closed down in 1998, making it more difficult for residents to shop for groceries.

Gloster organized the community to start up the farmers market, which began with Gloster and other people running it themselves and selling the produce, he said. It’s since evolved. The 10 vendors sell their goods under blue and white canopies in the parking lot of the Arc on Mississippi Avenue SE, and 200 to 300 people pass through every week.

Gloster said a new market in Ward 8 will open July 9 on the east campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital, and he hopes the shuttle bus will bring people there as well.

For Gloster, the bus is more than just a way to transport people to the farmers market. “If they get off and never come to the market, that’s fine,” he said. “At least they would have explored a different part of the world that they wouldn’t have otherwise explored.”