SF supe looks into making Muni free for schoolkids 

Even though The City is eight months behind on its promise to offer discounted Muni passes for low-income students, some city officials are contemplating even bigger plans: offering free Muni rides for all schoolkids.

For people under the age of 18 it costs $20 a month for a pass to ride Muni, which many students use to travel to and from school. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees Muni, had budgeted this fiscal year $1.4 million to subsidize half-price youth passes for low-income students, but ran into problems implementing the program known as the Youth Lifeline Discount Fast Pass.

Supervisor David Campos called on the agency last week to not let the money go to waste and proposed that MTA simply give away free Muni youth passes for low-income students for the last three months of the school year. He is also studying making Muni free as early as next year for all students in the San Francisco Unified School District on a permanent basis.

“This is a step in making sure that public transportation is accessible to students in our public school system,” Campos said.

Campos and MTA officials are planning to release an analysis next month looking at what other cities are doing such as New York and Chicago. New York City allows students three free transit card swipes per day.

MTA officials were unable to provide figures before deadline on how much money the agency would forego if it made Muni free for kids. MTA sells about 18,000 youth passes per month, which brings in about $360,000 a month during the school year.

Administrative and other costs associated with the agency’s selling youth passes could partially offset the revenue hit from switching to a free-ride system for youth.

Campos’ exploration of a free Muni for youth comes as the school district is planning to slash its own school bus service by 50 percent next year, as it struggles to close a deficit.

The Youth Lifeline Fast Pass program has yet to be implemented due to such challenges as figuring out how to make the passes available to students citywide, “ensuring cash payments can be made in a secure manner, and identifying adequate staffing to administer the program,” according to a resolution Campos introduced.

Cutting costs for youths to ride Muni has long been advocated by the city’s Youth Commission. “Young people are the most deserving of it,” said commission chair Leah Lacroix. “For us [Youth Lifeline] was a place to start and hopefully expand throughout the years.”

By the numbers

$.75: Youth fare for one trip
$2: Adult fare for one trip
$20: Cost of monthly Muni fast pass for youths ages 5-17
$60: Cost of Muni-only monthly pass for customers ages 18-64
18,000: Estimated number of youths purchasing youth passes each month during school year

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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