After vowing to veto a supervisor-approved ordinance and funding request for a three-month free Muni-for-all pilot, Mayor London Breed publicly indicated budget support for a one-year program that would make Muni free all youth passengers. 

Breed and Supervisor Myrna Melgar made the announcement Thursday, just two days after supervisors voted 7-4 to pass an ordinance and funding appropriation legislation to establish a three-month pilot program that would have given all Muni passengers, youth and adult, free rides as of July 1. 

Breed was quick to say she’d put an end to the initiative once it arrived on her desk, and the Board of Supervisors lacked a single supporting vote to override the mayor’s promised veto. Supervisor Dean Preston, who sponsored of the three-month pilot program proposal, tried to convince his dissenting colleagues and the mayor to change their minds. Melgar was among those who objected to the larger free Muni pilot program, joined by supervisors Rafael Mandelman, Ahsha Safai and Catherine Stefani.

Preston said at Tuesday’s board meeting:

“I urge the mayor to rise above petty politics to not follow through on a veto threat and to put money into the pockets of our Muni riders after the city has taken transit riders for granted during the entirety of the pandemic.”

He stressed that colleagues on the board who campaigned for the free Muni program should make good on their promises, reiterating that impact of the short-term pilot would be eased by lifting of capacity limits on June 15 — an issue transit officials brought up during an earlier board committee hearing.

After learning of the mayor’s veto promise, both Preston and Supervisor Matt Haney released a joint statement imploring her to at least fund a free Muni-for-youth program in her upcoming budget.

It was a compromise Breed was open to.

The Office of the Mayor said $2 million would allocated for the free youth ride program in Breed’s proposed 2021-2022 budget.

In a statement, Breed said:

“After more than a year of social distancing and virtual learning, I want to see students taking the bus to get to school and to hang out with their friends. This will not only save them money, but also hopefully foster a new generation of Muni riders.”

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency currently offers free Muni rides for low- and moderate-income youth, but eligibility is dependent on an application process and income verification. The new program is available to all youth ages 18 and under.

The agency considered the same plan last year and included funding in its two-year budget, but financial constraints caused by the pandemic prompted transit officials to scrap the idea.

Melgar suggested in a statement that a free Muni-for-all-youth program is now an ideal way to help struggling families, citing The City’s relatively quick rebound from the pandemic-driven economic downturn. 

The supervisor said:

“This removes barriers, makes for a more confident and equitable system and paves the way for a more accessible system in the future.”

Gwyneth Borden, chair of the SFMTA Board of Directors, said in a statement that Muni plays an important role in helping the City’s youth to get to school, extracurricular activities and part-time jobs:

“Our Board is committed to removing any and all barriers to opportunity and education for the City’s youngest residents.”

Youth currently pay $40 for a monthly Muni Fast Pass. Single-ride fares run $1.25 with a Clipper card and $1.50 using cash.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to jerold@sfbay.ca or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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