Free Muni for low-income youths hailed a success just months into pilot 

click to enlarge Youths from families at or below the median income for Bay Area residents can apply for free Muni passes. - CINDY CHEW/2006 S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Cindy Chew/2006 S.F. Examiner file photo
  • Youths from families at or below the median income for Bay Area residents can apply for free Muni passes.

Taking Muni to school might seem like the most obvious option for low-income students, but for 15-year-old Rosie Balberan, finding 75 cents wasn't as easy as it sounds.

"We didn't have a lot of change around the house and it was beginning to become a hassle to scramble up money just for the bus," the Balboa High School sophomore said.

But thanks to The City's free Muni passes for low-income youths, that has not been an issue since March. The pilot program is off to a great start in its first five months, according to recent enrollment numbers.

As of last week, some 30,000 low-income youths ages 5 to 17 are enjoying the free rides, which could potentially extend beyond the 16-month pilot that ends June 30, depending in part on its final report card. The sponsoring San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency continues to receive 400 applications per month, said spokesman Paul Rose.

Backers are encouraged by the current numbers since the transit agency originally estimated that about 40,000 youths would be eligible to participate, said Jane Martin, political director of People Organized to Win Employment Rights, a group that helped lead the campaign.

"Coming back to school this year, folks aren't struggling to pay their rent and buy food for their families and purchase Muni passes for their kids," she said. "For our youth members, it makes such a difference not being afraid of getting ticketed when they ride the bus to school."

The pilot, championed by Supervisor David Campos, is particularly helpful considering the youth fare has doubled since the recession, added Martin, whose organization is designing a workshop for youths to educate their peers on the importance of public transportation as it relates to climate change.

To qualify for the free pass, a family's gross annual income must be at or below the Bay Area median income. That means a two-person household making $82,400 a year or less would be accepted.

Prior to the pilot's launch, 40,000 youths already used the Muni Youth Pass, which gave them unlimited rides at a discounted rate of $23 per month

The pilot won't be evaluated for extension until February, but Rose said it has already accomplished a major goal and outreach campaigns continue.

"This program allows The City to develop the next generation of Muni riders and encourages youth to use public transit in San Francisco," he said.

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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