SF Youths Protest Costly Muni Ride to School while Sunday Parking is Free

IMG_1547.jpgSan Francisco high school and college students, most wearing orange shirts protesting Muni cuts, pack the Board of Supervisors chamber on Tuesday. Photo: Michael Rhodes

If the MTA Board approves budget solutions being presented by staff on Friday, the price of a youth monthly Fast Pass will go up to $30, regardless of family income. But members of San Francisco's Youth Commission say there are better ways to close the MTA's $16.9 million end-of-year budget gap.

A more equitable option, they argue, would be to extend parking meter enforcement hours.

"The city has a Transit First policy in which it's supposed to promote public transportation and bicycling and other modes of transportation to counter personal driving use, and this increase goes counter to that," said Nicholas Quesada, chairman of the city's 17-member Youth Commission and a senior at School of the Arts High School.

Members of the Youth Commission and other young Muni riders made that point in force at yesterday's Board of Supervisors meeting, calling on the supes and the MTA Board to reject an increase in the youth monthly Fast Pass price.

They're sympathetic to the MTA's budget situation: After all, the state has taken $179 million from the agency over the past three years. But Leah LaCroix, an SF State student who chairs the Youth Commission's Planning, Land Use and City Services Committee, said new revenue options can't be taken off the table just because they are politically difficult.

"I know this may be really hard, but I would support increasing the time of parking meters," she said. "Things like that would get it off the backs of the youth."

IMG_1541.jpgSupervisor Eric Mar snaps a picture of the Board of Supervisors chamber filled with youth protesting Muni fare increases on Tuesday.

Quesada, who commutes to school by the 44 or 52 from the Excelsior district, notes that while the youth Fast Pass cost would be making a 300 percent increase from its price less than a year ago, not everyone has shared the burden equally to balance Muni's budget, and he thinks most San Francisco youths would support extending parking meter hours in the evenings or to Sundays instead.

"A lot of us take public transportation to and from school. I think that's kind of a suburban thing: When you turn 16 you go out and try to get your license. I don't have my license. I can get by on a bicycle and the bus."

For 70 percent of public school students in San Francisco, getting to school means taking public transportation. A year ago, that meant purchasing a $10 youth-specific monthly pass - still pricier than the free school bus ride many other municipalities offer, but with a lot more freedom to move about town sans parental chauffeur. That price would go up to $30 if the MTA Board approves staff recommendations this Friday. In that case, a family with two adults and two kids would pay $180 a month for Muni passes, or $120 if their income qualifies the parents for the $30 Lifeline pass.

Extending parking meter enforcement hours could pay for a youth low-income discount pass, which currently doesn't exist, said Youth Commissioner Hillary Liang, a sophomore at Lowell High School and a Chinatown resident. "I think a lot of other people I know also support this," she said. "Many youths want to focus on their studies instead of taking a part-time job just to pay for the transportation to go to school."

The MTA hopes to raise about $4 million annually by increasing the price of monthly Fast Passes for seniors, youths and people with disabilities by $10. That's on top of a $5 increase already set to go in effect in May. Extending parking meter hours per an MTA staff study last year could bring in more than twice what the discount Fast Pass increase would net.

Advocates for parking reform have long cited another benefit of increasing parking meter enforcement hours: It might actually be possible to find a parking spot on Sunday afternoon. Quesada made that argument on Tuesday as well.

"People will move their cars and maybe drive less and take more public transportation, increasing the revenue to Muni. So, it seems like it'd be a win-win."