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San Francisco launches Free Muni for Youth Pilot Program

February 28, 2013

by Jaron Browne

San Francisco – Students, parents, transit advocates and city officials gathered at Everett Middle School Feb. 27 to celebrate the official launch of the Free Muni for Youth pilot program.

Free-Muni-for-youth rally 150 people City Hall steps 092011 by Bryan Goebel
A free-Muni-for-youth rally drew more than 150 people to the steps of City Hall Sept. 20, 2011. Activists said students and working-class families shouldn’t have to choose between buying groceries and a Muni pass. – Photo: Bryan Goebel
Low and moderate income youth in San Francisco age 5 to 17 will be able to ride Muni for free with a pass loaded onto a valid Clipper® card as of March 1, when the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) will begin a 16-month pilot program. Thousands of youth, parents and community members have organized for more than two years to secure the free transit passes, which enable young people to get to school, jobs and after-school activities.

“This program is a huge help for our families. We won’t have to choose between paying the rent and buying our passes,” said Claudia Bustamante, a parent member of POWER.

“The SFMTA is proud to be moving forward with this pilot to provide access to Muni for San Francisco’s low-income youth,” said Tom Nolan, chairman of the SFMTA board of directors. “This is an effort to help ensure that Muni works for everybody.”

“We are giving San Francisco’s youth a ticket to opportunity,” said Supervisor David Campos, who passed a resolution at the Board of Supervisors in 2011 urging the SFMTA to create the pilot program.

The need for youth access to transportation became more urgent than ever when the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) had to scale back its yellow school bus system and youth transit fares increased. Due to state budget cuts, the SFUSD has cut its bus service by 43 percent since 2011. The Youth Fast Pass fare increased 120 percent between 2009 and 2012 – from $10 to $22.

“The school district has been a full partner in supporting the Free Muni Pilot Program,” said SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza. “Over half of our students come from low-income backgrounds, so having free access to transportation to and from school removes a barrier to their educational opportunities. We want youth to be responsible life-long riders and to make connections to the economic and environmental benefits of public transit so our teachers are leading lessons about these topics.”

The need for youth access to transportation became more urgent than ever when the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) had to scale back its yellow school bus system and youth transit fares increased.

The SFMTA has already received approximately 20,000 applications for free access to Muni service via Clipper card. The majority of these applications came from the San Francisco Unified School District, which distributed them to all students last year. Applications continue to be accepted on a rolling basis at www.sfmta.com/freemuni4youth. An estimated 45,000 youth in San Francisco are eligible to apply for the program. A 30-day grace period for enforcement will be in place for the first month of the program in order to educate new users on how to use the Clipper card.

“Through this pilot, the SFMTA will help provide critical service for students who wish or need to make Muni their preferred means of travel,” said Edward D. Reiskin, SFMTA director of transportation. “We hope in the process to help grow the next generation of transit riders.”

The cost of the 16-month pilot program totals $8.7 million, less than 1 percent of the SFMTA’s overall budget. A broad grouping of community advocates and members of the Board of Supervisors secured funding for the youth program from a combination of local and regional funds earmarked to encourage new transit riders and support the needs of low-income communities. Funding agencies include the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, the SFMTA and the SFUSD.

“Through this pilot, the SFMTA will help provide critical service for students who wish or need to make Muni their preferred means of travel,” said Edward D. Reiskin, SFMTA director of transportation. “We hope in the process to help grow the next generation of transit riders.”

Young people in high schools and middle schools all over the city mobilized and organized an impressive grassroots effort to secure the free passes. The grassroots coalition was led by the Chinatown Community Development Center, POWER, Urban Habitat, Jamestown Community Center, the San Francisco Youth Commission and the SFUSD Student Advisory Council.

Jaron Browne, communications director for POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights), can be reached at jaron@peopleorganized.org or (415) 864-8372.

 

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