Free Muni plan in limbo with regional agency declining to fund project 

click to enlarge Stalled: In an 8-7 vote, the MTC denied $5 million in funding to offer low-income youths free Muni rides. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Stalled: In an 8-7 vote, the MTC denied $5 million in funding to offer low-income youths free Muni rides.

The forward momentum of free Muni rides for The City’s youth, an idea passionately championed by advocates during the past two years, came to an abrupt halt Wednesday.

By a razor-thin 8-7 vote, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the region’s lead transit financing agency, declined to dedicate $4 million for Muni’s plan, effectively stalling the movement for the foreseeable future.

About 50 students and youth leaders chanted slogans of defiance after the meeting, prompting the arrival of several police officers at the agency’s Oakland headquarters.

“I’m very disappointed in today’s decision,” said 17-year-old Kyron Covington, a student at San Francisco’s City Arts and Technology High School. “But we’re still going to fight — this isn’t going to get thrown in the back of our minds.”

After weeks of prodding from grass-roots groups, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, approved a 22-month pilot program in April to provide free transit rides for The City’s 40,000 low-income youth passengers. Yet approval was contingent upon the agency receiving funding from the MTC, with San Francisco contributing another $4.4 million.

Now, with the MTC neglecting to fund the project, the plan stands in limbo.

“We’ve made it clear that we don’t have the additional funds to put into this program,” said Muni spokesman Paul Rose, adding that the agency was disappointed in the MTC decision. “But we’ll work with our board and The City and the MTC to see what options are available now.”

The proposal rejected by the MTC also included $1 million for Santa Clara County and $500,000 for Alameda County to operate similar programs.

Bill Dodd, an MTC member representing Napa County, said there aren’t enough regional funds to support a sustainable program for low-income youth fares.

“We have incredibly more needs than we have money,” said Dodd, one of eight members to reject the plan. “There is not the money now and there is not going to be the money in two years.”

San Francisco supervisor and MTC commissioner David Campos, who led the free Muni youth movement, said a regional working group could be established to find a sustainable program for free or discounted youth programs.

“I’m certainly disappointed in the vote, but this is not over,” said Campos. “The fact that it was such a close vote tells you that there is a strong commitment on the commission that this is the right approach.”

Jaron Browne, an organizer of POWER, the most vocal of the grass-roots organizations backing the plan, said there is still $5 million in regional funds available for the project in the future.

“We have to restrategize and figure out how we can move forward,” Browne said. “But this is absolutely not the end of this effort.”

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Will Reisman

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