A proposal to give thousands of low-income public school students free Muni passes is on its way to the SFMTA Board for approval after the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday. It followed a passionate show of support from dozens of speakers at Monday’s City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee hearing.
“We need to make good on the promise that we made to our low-income children and their families, and we need to do that as soon as possible,” said Supervisor David Campos, who sponsored the resolution along with six other supervisors. “We believe that this approach is the most expeditious way to implement a program whose funding has already been approved and set aside by the MTA Board of Directors.”
If the program is approved, about 10,000 low-income students would receive free passes from March to May. A proposal approved last February led the SFMTA to allocate the money for student passes discounted at $10, but distribution and access to student data presented logistical challenges.
“The intent was to provide a discount Muni pass to our San Francisco youth with the easiest access possible,” said Chris Armentrout, the San Francisco Unified School District’s (SFUSD) liaison to the Board of Supervisors. A long-term program to establish the Lifeline Youth passes for sale at the original $10 price is expected to start next year, he said.
The SF Youth Commission, which has campaigned for discounted youth passes for several years, was the force behind both proposals.
The commission was created by voters “to advise [the Board of Supervisors] on the unmet needs of San Francisco’s Youth,” according to Director Mario Yedidia. Thirty thousand of the city’s 58,000 public school students live on incomes low enough to qualify for free or reduced lunches – an “exceedingly high” and growing number, he said.
Long-distance school assignments and recent school bus service cuts have made transportation increasingly difficult for students. “There are no such things as neighborhood schools anymore,” said Joy Sun, District 4 Youth Commissioner and a student at Lowell High School. “We all have to bus to school, and all school buses in high schools are mostly cut right now.”
Secondary public school students determined by an application process to be in the greatest need and living below 130 percent of the poverty line would be eligible to receive monthly passes, said Armentrout. Passes have already been distributed to roughly 2,000 homeless and transitional youth, a process which faced fewer hurdles than the rest of the program.
“This is not just an issue of students trying to get to school, but it’s also an issue of criminalizing our youth,” said Beatriz Herrera, an organizer for POWER, which advocates for free transit and was represented by many speakers from disadvantaged communities at the hearing. “A lot of them have friends who have been ticketed – not just once but many times. It’s really sad that they’re avoiding Muni agents and police officers just trying to get to school.”
Several speakers, as well as Campos and all the supervisors on the committee, voiced the need for the future expansion of discounted transit passes to students and youth beyond the SFUSD system.
SFMTA Local Government Affairs Liaison Janet Martinsen voiced the agency’s support for the resolution and said the Board of Directors will hold a hearing on approving the program at their next public meeting March 1.