Muni working to enroll more San Francisco youths in free transit program 

click to enlarge Advocates who helped make Muni’s free passes for low-income youths a reality say the program needs more time. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • Advocates who helped make Muni’s free passes for low-income youths a reality say the program needs more time.

Only about half the low-income San Francisco youths eligible for free Muni have enrolled in the plan.

On March 1, the transit agency rolled out the 16-month pilot program. Agency officials estimated that about 40,000 kids between the ages of 5 and 17 would be eligible for the plan based on income levels, but so far just 22,300 have enrolled, according to agency statistics.

Jaron Browne, a community organizer for nonprofit POWER, which led advocacy efforts for the program, said there are several reasons to explain the low numbers.

Some youths may be unsure about signing up because they walk to school or take Muni infrequently and are unfamiliar with public transit, Browne said. Others may have lost their application form and were unable to track down a replacement, or thought that a deadline for the program had passed even though there is not one.

“We’re urging Muni to continue their outreach on this plan, because it’s very important for these students to realize that they can still enroll,” Browne said. “Even if they don’t take transit regularly, the point of this program is to get our younger generation familiarized with public transit.”

Ed Reiskin, Muni transportation director, noted on Tuesday that a number of applications have been filled out incorrectly or incompletely. Browne said POWER is reaching out to parents to let them know that their applications may be faulty and that they should reapply.

Supervisor David Campos, who has been a backer of the plan from the beginning, said there is concern that undocumented immigrants are reluctant to sign up for the program. He said he’s working with advocacy groups such as POWER to remind immigrants that they would face no legal barriers.

The program also could be taking time to warm up, Campos said. In 2011, he backed a three-month trial that in the beginning was underused. By the end, however, demand was exceeding the 12,000 passes available.

“These things take time to materialize,” Campos said. “I’m quite pleased that 20,000 students have already signed up for it.”

Campos and Reifskin both said the 40,000 estimate was a high projection. Campos said if the numbers remain below that figure, the transit agency would see some savings on the $6.6 million program.

Muni has already passed out 15,000 brochures about the program and posted information cards in underground Metro stations, according to spokesman Paul Rose. The agency is working with the San Francisco Unified School District on new outreach tactics, and in December applications for the program were handed out to every public school student, he said.

Similarly, the school district has posted information online about the program in six different languages and is calling parents who have submitted incomplete applications, said spokeswoman Gentle Blythe.

Youths who live in households at or below 100 percent of the Bay Area median income are eligible for the discount. That number is $103,000 for a family of four and $82,400 for a family of two.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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