Muni cash influx should go toward free youth plan

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees Muni, will be receiving $6.7 million in funds that are meant to increase productivity and introduce new riders to the transit system. The money, allocated Wednesday by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, also could be used for a pilot project that would provide free Muni passes to low-income youths in The City. This is the best use of the one-time funds.

The MTC, a regional transit planning group, denied the SFMTA funds in July for the $4 million needed to help bankroll the free Muni youth pilot project, which would run for 22 months.

There are three members of the Board of Supervisors who want the SFMTA to study other ways Muni could use the $6.7 million, such as for service improvements. The problem is that the funds will come in one lump sum. If it’s used for any improvements within the system, there is no way to know how those improvements would be sustained in the future.

By using the money on the pilot project, there will be a definite end period to the spending. At that time, it can be studied whether the free passes for low-income youths are worth continuing, and then discussions can be had about how to fund them permanently.

The price of a monthly youth pass has increased from $10 in 2009 to $22, and those passes are used by kids to get to school. At the same time the cost of Muni passes has increased, bus service offered by the San Francisco Unified School District has decreased. Muni is a service for everyone in The City, but it should especially be made available to those who rely on it in order to attend school.

Using $4 million of the MTC money to fund this pilot project will still leave $2.7 million for other improvements in the Muni system, and there should be hearings about how to spend those funds.

City officials always talk about family flight from San Francisco, especially among low- and middle-income households. Now these same officials have an opportunity to try a program that could make living in The City more affordable for some. There is no silver bullet in solving family flight from expensive urban cores, but every little bit helps. Spending the money on free Muni passes for youths will show that city leaders are serious about the issues facing low- and middle-income families and are committed to solutions to keep them in The City.

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