The transit agency, which oversees all ground transportation-related issues in The City, introduced its proposed $915.4 million budget for fiscal year 2014-15 two weeks ago. Its budget for 2015-16 is $943 million. Both years are a healthier outlook than was the case in recent years.
Of the dozen public-comment speakers at a hearing about the budget Tuesday, half lauded a nearly year-old pilot program that provides free Muni rides for youths 5 to 17 years old. Many speakers urged transit officials to make the program permanent and include low- and middle-income 18-year-olds.
The pilot for youths 17 years and younger attracted 31,000 riders, 78 percent of the target, and cost $2.9 million annually — less than the $5.1 million estimated, according to a report by the budget and legislative analyst requested by Supervisor David Campos that was released Tuesday. Including 18-year-olds would cost an additional $1.1 million.
Many supporters of the Muni for youth pilot also spoke in favor of adding free passes for seniors and the disabled, which would cost about $4 million annually.
Other parts of the proposed budget included generating revenue for the agency. An option to charge $6 for rides on the historic F-Market and Wharves streetcar line would generate $4.9 million. That idea received support from some riders and transit board members.
“Anytime I ride that, it’s like riding in a museum and I know that we employ people specifically to keep it in such beautiful conditions,” SFMTA board member Joel Ramos said. “I think it’s an idea worth exploring.”
In the coming months, budget priorities, such as funding for pedestrian-safety projects, will be hashed out during a second hearing March 4 followed by community meetings.
Walk San Francisco Executive Director Nicole Schneider said the budget needs more money for The City’s pedestrian strategy. The current budget proposes an average of $13 million a year for the next five years. But getting halfway to a proposed goal of eliminating pedestrian fatalities would require $115 million annually, she said.
One unknown in the budget is the fiscal impact of negotiations with the agency’s labor unions. The budget must be approved by the end of April — before the negotiations are ironed out.
“The way we had this last time around, we had to make some adjustments after the fact,” Transportation Director Ed Reiskin said. “One of the things we have to consider is to what extent we hold money back.”