Muni funds set battle for free low-income youth rides

Gil Riego Jr./Special to the S.F. ExaminerPulling back? Several supervisors and other city officials have resisted using MTC funds for free Muni passes for low-income youths

A $6.7 million allocation to Muni has set up a fight over whether the funds should be used to provide free passes for low-income youths.

On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission unanimously approved allocating $6.7 million in federal funds to Muni. The money can be used to finance any improvements needed for the transit system, but advocates for the free passes say the money should go there.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Supervisor David Campos, an advocate for the free youth passes and an MTC commissioner. “Hopefully this will get all nine Bay Area counties thinking about implementing this program.”

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees Muni, conditionally approved the plan in April if the MTC agreed to provide $4 million in funding. But the MTC rejected funding for the 22-month pilot program in July, curbing the plans.

This time, the $6.7 million allotment can be used to finance any improvements needed for the transit system. San Francisco supervisors Scott Wiener, Mark Farrell and Carmen Chu have acknowledged the advantages of a free youth fare program, but said improving the quality of Muni service is more of a necessity.

“Right now The City needs to have a transit system that is reliable before implementing programs that are fluffy for our community,” MTC Commissioner Scott Haggerty said before the vote.

Supporters of free Muni passes for youths have noted that the cost of the youth Fast Pass has increased by 120 percent since 2009 and that the school district is cutting school bus service in half.

Leaders from POWER, an organization that supports the free Muni effort, are encouraging Muni to implement the program to make it easier for low-income youths to get to school. The rest of the funds from the grant could then be used to improve other areas of the system.

“There have been times when police gave me a ticket because I couldn’t afford the Muni fare for me and my child,” said Anali Padilla, an organizer from POWER. “I would feel a lot of relief to know that my children won’t have to worry about that.”

ccopeland@sfexaminer.com

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