San Francisco, CA

Kids ride free on Muni starting Aug. 15 after Mayor Breed vetoed pilot program making Muni free for all

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By Ian Firstenberg

(SAN FRANCISCO) The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (Muni) will launch its expanded Free Muni for Youth program on Aug. 15, one day before the district fully reopens classrooms for the fall semester.

According to a notice posted to their website, fares for everyone under 19 will be free.

"No application or proof of payment/Clipper card will be required to ride Muni vehicles with the exception of Cable cars. Simply get on the bus and ride," the agency wrote.

Youths who have already enrolled in the more limited, income-based program can use their Clipper cards for free cable car rides. According to SFBay's Jerold Chin, Muni transit fare inspectors will not request proof of payment from youths who look under 19, but those over 16 years old are encouraged to carry student ID or another form of age verification.

Last month, Mayor Breed and Supervisor Myrna Melgar announced the expansion of free Muni access with a $2 million budget to jumpstart the program.

Melgar's resolution in support of the additional funding, co-sponsored by supervisors Dean Preston and Matt Haney, was introduced at the June 29 board meeting.

The Free Muni for Youth program dates back to 2013 when city officials established a 16-month-long pilot program for low-income youth. Initially, families were required to complete an application and meet specific income requirements.

Melgar noted that the expansion helped support working families and eliminate some institutional barriers.

“In 2013, we were able to roll out a free Muni for low income youth program. That program, while great, did present barriers, especially for the lowest income youth whose parents had to submit documentation that they sometimes didn’t have or because of language barriers or were intimidated to do these things. That will no longer be the case for a year."

In May, the board of supervisors voted to approve an ordinance and $12.5 million funding allocation to make Muni free for all residents for three months as part of a pilot program. However, Mayor Breed quickly vetoed the ordinance and funding request.

According to Breed's office, there was a lack of evidence supporting the claim made by the ordinance's co-sponsors, supervisors Haney and Preston, that making Muni free would increase ridership. It was a rare example of the veto power exercised by the mayor.

Preston noted his staunch support for the ordinance, saying that he would take the issue to the voters if need be. He explained that such an odinance would provide crucial help to San Francisco's workers struggling to recover from the economic hardships brought on by COVID-19 related health restrictions.

“If we have to go to the ballot to win fare relief for riders, we will," he told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Notably, Supervisor Melgar voted against the three-month pilot program that would have made Muni free for all residents.

“SFMTA must focus on restoring service lines and improving reliability, so that San Franciscans can count on Muni to be safe and reliable as our city reopens and our economy recovers from this global pandemic,” Breed wrote in a June 18 veto letter.

This comes on the heels of dwindling ridership for Muni as the agency continues to struggle. Despite San Francisco's reopening in mid June, Muni was still running at 70 percent of its pre-pandemic level due to its long-term defecit.

According to an analysis of public transit ridership by the Chronicle, Muni's ridership declined sharply and has not yet recovered. While other public transit agency's around the country, like New York's subway system and LA's metro system, have slowly climbed towards pre-pandemic levels, Muni's ridership has remained low.

Crucially though, Muni instituted the most extreme pandemic level cuts to service. Officials like Haney and Preston pointed to the vast cuts as the main driving factor of the low ridership.

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