The contentious and long-debated experiment to provide free Muni service for The City’s low-income youths is set to begin Friday.
Instead of paying the normal $22 monthly fee, more than 20,000 students between 5 and 17 years old will be able to ride for free for the next 16 months as part of a proposal that has been in the works since the beginning of 2011.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni, approved the free program last April, but only on the basis that it received regional funding. The plan appeared to be in limbo several times last year, but it was officially authorized in December after Muni received $1.6 million from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area’s lead transit agency.
A Potrero Hill mother of two who requested to use her first name only had been part of the advocacy efforts for the past two years. Claudia said she was nervous at times that the plan would never happen, but is now extremely grateful that her children will be able to ride Muni for free.
“Honestly, there were times when I could not afford the $44 for my two children’s passes,” Claudia said through a translator. “We would have to board the back of the bus and risk getting a ticket. We suffered a lot to pay for the Fast Pass, especially when we did not have enough work. This is a huge blessing for my family now.”
Claudia said her two children, who are 12 and 13 and attend A.P. Giannini Middle School in the Sunset district, will not only use the free pass to get to school, but also to explore other parts of San Francisco.
To access the free rides, students must still use a Clipper card to tag in on Muni’s vehicles. Paul Rose, a spokesman for the transit agency, said enforcement officers will make sure that the eligible youths are using the card.
Passengers without the card will be given a ticket for fare evasion, although the agency will provide a 30-day grace period at the start of the pilot program, Rose said.
He said the agency will be monitoring several aspects of the plan, including train cleanliness, school attendance, and security and safety issues. Passengers will be able to enroll in the program throughout the duration of the 16-month schedule, Rose said.