Free Muni service for low-income San Francisco youths finally gains approval

S.F. Examiner File PhotoOff track: Supervisor Scott Wiener said new grant funding should go toward Muni upkeep

S.F. Examiner File PhotoOff track: Supervisor Scott Wiener said new grant funding should go toward Muni upkeep

After two years of ups and downs, The City’s low-income youths and their families and advocates can finally take a deep breath, relax and enjoy the moment.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board of directors accepted $1.6 million in regional grant funding that will clear the way for a 16-month pilot project to provide free Muni service to 40,000 low-income youths. The program is scheduled to begin in March.

“Not only does this address the immediate needs of getting our youths to schools, but it makes a strong statement that our local transit agency values young people and their families,” said Supervisor David Campos, a vocal advocate of the program.

The program was originally approved by Muni directors in April, but that authorization was contingent upon the agency receiving $4 million from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the region’s lead transit financing agency. The MTC rejected the request in July, leaving the program in doubt.

When $6.7 million in regional money became available in October, many local lawmakers — notably Supervisor Scott Wiener — argued that all those funds should be used for shoring up and maintaining Muni’s beleaguered fleet.

But Tuesday, Muni directors defied those wishes, instead deciding to dedicate $5.6 million to rehabilitate light-rail vehicles.
Jaron Browne, a community organizer for POWER, one of the leading organizations that pushed for the youth program, said there were times when the effort appeared doomed, but advocates stayed committed.

“We weren’t willing to accept that it wasn’t possible, and that hope and courage really paid off,” Browne said.

Despite Tuesday’s outcome, opponents of the program have plenty of ammunition — considering Muni’s woeful performance over the past few days.

An electrical shock to the system’s light-rail network shut down underground service at 6 p.m. Monday. Just before that, an F-Market streetcar struck and injured a wheelchair-using pedestrian. The victim’s condition as of Tuesday was unknown. Both the incidents resulted in major delays.

On Sunday morning, flooding at the Church Street station halted service for several hours. And on Saturday night, a pedestrian was killed at the Mission Rock stop on the T-Third Street line, although it’s still unclear if a Muni vehicle was involved, said transportation agency chief Ed Reiskin.

“I’m very concerned with our system needs, and in the end, the bulk of this funding expenditure is going toward maintenance,” said Malcolm Heinicke of the board of directors. “We feel that we made a commitment to the free Muni program before and this is our way of maintaining that obligation.”

The board of directors also moved forward with a study about bringing up Central Subway tunneling equipment at a derelict theater on Powell Street. The agency originally proposed to extract it on Columbus Avenue, but that plan drew opposition because of its construction impacts in North Beach.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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