SFMTA Board’s Final Vote Expected to Grant Free Muni for Low-Income Youth

With backing from the Board of Supervisors yesterday, free Muni for low-income youth may finally come to fruition if approved by the SF Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors on December 4.

Favor from the SFMTA board seems likely, since it already approved the agency’s share of the funds for the program in its two-year budget in April, and SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin proposed a plan to a Board of Supervisors committee on Monday that would pay for a 12-month pilot program and help fund Muni vehicle maintenance.

The SFMTA’s original funding allocation was contingent upon matching regional funds from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which initially rejected a $4 million grant for the program, but recently voted again to award the SFMTA a $6.7 million grant.

From there, the debate at the Board of Supervisors has centered on whether or not those funds would be better used for under-funded Muni vehicle maintenance. The board voted 7-4 yesterday to approve a resolution favoring youth passes, with the opposition led by Supervisor Scott Wiener, who has stood out as a transit advocate on the board. On this issue, he has ardently called for prioritizing vehicle maintenance above free youth passes.

From the SF Examiner today:

Supervisor Scott Wiener failed in his effort to derail the pilot program. Wiener argued, along with supervisors Carmen Chu, Sean Elsbernd and Mark Farrell, that all of the funding should go toward Muni service, which has suffered through decades of neglect…

Backers of the program say it makes sense since youth ridership appears to have fallen off following an increase in the cost of a Muni Fast Pass from $10 to $22 per month. The agency sold 18,410 youth passes in October 2010 but just 11,502 last month. A monthly Fast Pass for adults is $64.

Supervisor David Campos, who has long promoted free Muni for all youths, said Wiener was presenting a false choice between the two needs. “You can maintain the system and still provide accessibility to low-income families and kids in this city,” Campos said.

But Elsbernd said when it comes to budgeting, free Muni should not be the priority.

“The priority is making sure that the youth who need to take the bus to school actually have a bus that is on time and clean and can get there,” Elsbernd said. He added that he was “disappointed” the agency would approve the program, calling it irresponsible.

“As they go forward to the electorate saying, ‘We want to raise parking meters, we want to raise more taxes,’ and this program is on the books?” Elsbernd said. “Good luck.”

Under Reiskin’s recommended plan, outlined to the Board of Supervisors’ Government Audit & Oversight Committee on Monday, the agency would split the MTC grant, using $1.6 million for a free youth pass pilot program and $5.1 million to rehabilitate Muni light-rail vehicles, according to the SF Public Press. The SFMTA board is expected to hear the details of the plan at its meeting on December 4.

That wraps up our coverage today, Streetsblog readers. Enjoy the holiday and we’ll see you back here on Monday.