Free Muni For Kids: Soon To Become A Reality?

A rally on the steps of City Hall Tuesday drew approximately 150 people calling on San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to institute a program that would make Muni free for all San Francisco schoolchildren between the ages of five and 17.

Immediately following the rally, Supervisor David Campos voiced his support for the idea by introducing a resolution before the Board of Supervisors urging for the institution of a three-year pilot program reducing the cost of a Muni youth pass to zero.

"It's one critical step we can take to improve the quality of life for all families in the city, and to support and encourage a new generation of transit riders for our future," Campos said. He introduced a resolution Tuesday with the backing of the majority of the Board of Supervisors that intends to provide free Muni transit passes for young people by securing financial support from multiple government agencies.

The cost of a monthly Muni pass has more than doubled in recent years in response to the transit agency's budgetary woes, and it's stretching thin the checkbooks of many San Francisco families with school-aged children.

At present, it costs 75 cents for a child to ride the bus and a monthly youth pass comes to $21. The ultimate cost of the proposal would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 million per year.

Acknowledging that Muni, largely due to budget cuts at the state level, is facing a long-term budget deficit that has already resulted in the agency significantly scaling back service earlier this year, Campos's proposal also included options of how to pay for all the free rides.

He told Streetsblog one option to pay for the program could be extending parking meter hours.

"By actually generating revenues, the 7 million dollars that it might cost per year, we actually reinvest in the overall system and we make it so that parents don't have to park anymore because their kids were on transit, so they can take transit," he said. "That works for making parking available for people who really need it. That's why this is a win-win."

Campos aide Sheila Chung Hagen told the San Francisco Examiner that, outside of the parking meter funding source, the cost of the program could be offset by piecing together money from a number of different sources, such as, "Muni, the school district, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority."

After teacher and administrator salaries, transportation is the single biggest expense for San Francisco schools. San Francisco Unified School District recently slashed the number of school buses in operation from 59 to 25. High school bussing was eliminated entirely.

There is already a program in place to give low-income students discounted Clipper Cards; however, bureaucratic issues have caused its roll-out to be significantly bumpier than expected.

Despite the logistical hurdles, the discounted pass program was ultimately quite popular—demand for said passes outpaced the number the city offered.

Approximately 36,600 of the total 56,000 students in SFUSD take public transportation to school on a daily basis. San Francisco's Budget and Legislative Analyst, Harvey Rose, estimated the program would increase overall Muni ridership by 4.6 percent.