Youth Muni passes could cost $13M

A proposal to provide free Muni service for San Francisco’s youth has some serious roadblocks.

The plan would cost at least $13.2 million annually — almost twice as much as an earlier projection — and wouldn’t be compatible with the region’s Clipper card, according to an agency study.

Click on the photo at right to see the differences between the two projections.

Supervisor David Campos has requested that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, provide free transit service to every city resident between the ages of 5 and 17. Campos said the growing price of Muni’s youth pass — it has increased by 110 percent in the past two years to $21 — plus the San Francisco Unified School District’s decision to slash transportation service has made it increasingly difficult for students to get to school.

The Board of Supervisors’ budget analyst conducted a report of the proposal in September and found it would cost $7 million to operate. Muni would only have to pay $1.4 million — money the agency had already earmarked for youth discounts — and the rest of the plan would be covered by partner agencies.

But the SFMTA’s study, released last week, found that the extra youth passengers would require Muni to expand its peak-time service by 25,000 to 37,000 hours, at the cost of $6 million. On top of that, the agency would have to purchase new vehicles to deal with its capacity issues. The Board of Supervisors’ study did not factor in any service increases.

The program is designed to be based around the Clipper card, the Bay Area’s regional transit-fare card.

Under the current Clipper card setup, there would be no way to tell if a school-aged passenger on Muni was actually a resident of San Francisco.

“Providing free or reduced fares for San Francisco’s youth is a laudable goal,” said SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose. “But we have to work with stakeholders and the SFMTA board … before we can make this program a reality.”

Campos said that the SFMTA is already dealing with capacity issues, and would need to expand its service soon, regardless of the free Muni youth program. To pay for service increases, the SFMTA could reduce its overtime costs and cut down on its work orders — payments made to other city agencies such as the Police Department.

He also said that the agency could come up with a new fare program other than Clipper to provide the free service.

Tom Nolan, chair of the SFMTA’s board of directors, which governs Muni, said the free youth plan is admirable, but he’s concerned about what might be sacrificed to provide funding for the program. He said that he’s already been contacted by senior passengers who are worried that Muni service could be adversely impacted by the free youth plan.

Today, the SFMTA board will discuss the proposal to let youths ride for free. The Board of Supervisors will also vote on Campos’ resolution — which has no legal authority over SFMTA — to support the proposed plan.

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