Board of Supes Passes Resolution Urging Free Lifeline Youth Passes

Photo: ## Hollero/Orange Photography##

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.

  • icarus12

    I was initially skeptical of the need for discounted discount-youth passes. But when I think about the elimination of many school bus routes and those students’ reliance of MUNI to get to school, I think this program makes sense. And from a financial perspective, it makes sense to eliminate yellow school busses for all but the disabled or very, very young from the SFUSD’s budget. Having the students and everybody else use a single transit system is simply a more rational distribution of resources.

  • Alex

    I’m certainly not skeptical of the need, but I’m skeptical of their priorities. It’s a good idea, but, for instance, the metro just got fucked pretty hard by a derailment at Castro station. There’s been just how much hand wringing about short runs? Perhaps they should spend more time looking at serious operational deficiencies and less on passes?

    Or, really, if they’re going to look at discount passes how about eliminating that atrocious BART surcharge?

  • Another dumb idea from a dumb supervisor and his left wing radical supporters. Naturally no way to pay for this is provided, it’s all about feel good leftist politics and the like, similar to the “youth pass ” fiasco from a few years ago.

    First, stabilize Muni revenue and take back the money that Newsom squeezed out of the department via “work orders’ and restore the gap created by the theft of funds by the state of California. THEN talk about implementing the TEP fully, and reform the workforce and cut out the waste at the top. THEN talk about “free Muni.”

  • Mario Tanev


    Apparently this is payed for by using already allocated money that were previously to be used to implement a $10 discounted pass. Apparently administrative costs were so high that they could implement a free pass for the same price. Now, I am afraid that the accounting may not be quite right and as always there will be a cost-overrun, for which the SFMTA will have to pay. I think the right solution is to simply move all Muni discounts out of the SFMTA and into the general fund. If there is no money for some discount, either the city pays or the discount is removed, without hurting SFMTA operations. SFMTA should not be providing a social safety net. The city as a whole has chosen to provide a social safety net, but it shouldn’t be paying for it by crippling public transportation in the city.

  • Aaron Bialick

    Just a little background info:

    The Lifeline Youth Pass program providing 3 months of transportation for 12,000 of the city’s public school students facing the most economic hardship costs $1.5 million.

    The SFMTA’s budget is around $800 million. The program is worth about 7/10 of one day’s operation.

  • Morton


    It may only be “7/10” of one day’s Muni operation. But it’s rather unfortunate that this should come on a day when Muni’s 1.6 billion deficit over the next 20 years came to light.

    I suppose when you’re that much in the hole, a little more doesn’t really matter.

  • Alex

    Aaron: There are better, more important uses for that money. Period.

  • Karl

    So long the Muni isn’t burdened with the BOS’ social agenda, fine.

  • EL

    Aaron Bialick (the author of this article) wrote: “The Lifeline Youth Pass program providing 3 months of transportation for 12,000 of the city’s public school students facing the most economic hardship costs $1.5 million. The SFMTA’s budget is around $800 million. The program is worth about 7/10 of one day’s operation.”

    I have 3 questions Aaron:

    1) What happens for the 2011/2012 school year?
    2) Aren’t school years usually 9 months?
    3) Is this just a one-time feel good thing?

    Using your fancy math, if this were carried over for 9 months, this would cost $4.5M, which is more than 10% of all parking meter revenue collected annually.

  • It is one thing to advocate for social benefit. It is another thing for Beatriz Herrera, an organizer for POWER, to claim that it is an issue of criminalizing the youth. Please come to your senses. It is critical for our youth to develop responsibilities and understand basic financial skill. This will serve them well in the future. It is the lack of responsibilities that criminalize them, not the lack of free pass.

  • taomom

    All these numbers assume that Muni is sacrificing selling these 12,000 children 12,000 $20 youth Muni passes. Does anyone truly think Muni is currently squeezing $480,000 each month out of families who can’t afford to buy their children lunch? Isn’t happening. To give these kids a free pass for three months will cost Muni hardly anything at all. And if we don’t give these kids a way to get to school, what exactly do you think they’ll be doing all day?

    But I happen to agree that this is bad accounting. The school district, if it assigns a child to a school outside of walking distance from his/her home, should be obligated to provide the child with a free 9 month long youth Muni pass. (Remember, this is far, far, far cheaper alternative for the taxpayer than contracting out to a private bus service.) It’s true that the money is just coming out of a different government pocket, but good accounting does aid better decision-making.

  • “this is far, far, far cheaper alternative for the taxpayer than contracting out to a private bus service” – not to mention, that no matter how much we might want to rag on MUNI drivers, First Student is measurably worse.

  • Aaron Bialick

    EL –

    From the article:
    “A long-term program to establish the Lifeline Youth passes for sale at the original $10 price is expected to start next year, [Armentrout] said.”

    And you make a good argument for increasing meter revenue.

  • Chris Miller

    …..Or the SFUSD could simply reform their Student Assignment System, to focus on actually giving students the option of attending their neighborhood school, as they have been promising to do and “attempting” to do for the past decade.  This would cut this cost and many others that are now being incurred by the current chaotic, citywide lottery system of “choice”, wherein over 30% of the parents that opt a school near their home, within walking distance are denied their neighborhood school. Children in elementary school (under the age of 11) should most certainly not be riding a MUNI bus unsupervised to school (some of which with bus transfers), under any circumstances.  As a mother, I would never be able to justify this.  It is not reasonable and makes no sense.  Also, this is in no way a long-term fix.  SFMTA budget deficits have sky-rocketed.  Yet again, another poor financial decision being made by the elected members of our city, who seem to be math and budget balancing challenged.  How about a little accountability when it comes to taxpayer dollars being spent and SFUSD student assignment policies?  This would drastically decrease the need for this spend, to begin with.  San Francisco simply cannot afford anymore bad leadership decisions that lead to larger debt.     


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