Error message

Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in menu_set_active_trail() (line 2405 of /home/customer/www/

Free Muni for all youths

Submitted by News Desk on Wed, 04/18/2012 - 10:56am

Big yellow school buses are disappearing as the San Francisco Unified School District reduces the number of buses and routes to contend with education budget cuts. As a result, more and more families must shoulder the cost of transporting their children to school. Recent Municipal Transportation Agency board meetings have seen an outpouring of support from political leaders, community organizations and residents testifying in support of free Muni fares for all young people.

Although the needs of low-income families are the most critical, the Free Muni for All Youth Coalition has advocated for free fares for all youths, regardless of income, to:

(1) Attract more youths of all income levels to use the bus, thus helping us reach our climate goals and avoiding the stigma that Muni is just for poor kids.

(2) Help middle-income families who are struggling with the cost of living in San Francisco.

As the city has seen with our lifeline pass for low-income adults, income verification systems are expensive to administer and often so arduous for the applicants that many in need never get the benefits for which they qualify. Our policies are geared toward the needs of low-income people but benefit all transit riders as a public good.

It is disingenuous, however, to suggest that the only way to fund free Muni for all youths - the total cost of which is less than 1 percent of the Muni budget - is to cut funding from bus maintenance. Based on data from both the MTA and the County Transportation Authority, our coalition research has shown that there is enough money to fund both free Muni for all youths and make the investments the MTA has planned to keep the system running. As Muni riders and advocates ourselves, we would never support taking away funding needed to improve the system!

Budget shortfalls in the past few years have forced the MTA to balance the budget by cutting system maintenance and increasing fares - even for seniors, people with disabilities and youths. Now, maintenance needs are being pitted against the needs of children. This conflict is reflective of larger challenges we face as a city in building the transit system we need.

The most obvious challenge is that, although the MTA has managed to put forward a balanced budget for the next two years, the city still needs to raise millions of dollars more in new revenue to fund Muni before 2014.

A second challenge is that the MTA lacks the independence it needs to make the system more efficient. Our coalition has identified efficiencies in work orders and capital projects that could save the agency millions of dollars. In one glaring example, the MTA budget, rather than the police budget, now is paying for the police motorcycle unit.

A final challenge is one of shifting our thinking. Rather than balancing the budget on the backs of children, we need to start including transit-dependent riders in decisions about our transit system. We need to start embracing ideas that will bring more riders onto Muni.

Should the political will to make transit free for all youths not be present now, then providing Muni to low-income youths would still be a huge victory for our city. To make it work, we must determine an income eligibility threshold that will not exclude working families and develop an application process that will not be overly burdensome on parents or exclude undocumented immigrants. Students have a responsibility to get to school, and we need to meet our responsibility to get them there.

Juana Teresa Tello and Angelina Yu are community organizers.