Rally held in support of free Muni youth passes

September 20, 2011 8:36:37 PM PDT
More than 50 people gathered outside San Francisco City Hall Tuesday to call for free San Francisco Municipal Railway passes for students.

The rally, organized by the People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) and other community groups, is in support of a proposal introduced at today's San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency meeting to create free youth passes for students between the ages of 5 and 17.

"We believe transportation is a human right," said Alicia Garza, executive director of POWER, saying the buses allow children "to access the resources all of us need to thrive."

The cost of Muni's monthly youth pass has climbed from $10 to $21 in the past two years, adding "an additional burden on working-class families," Garza said.

The cost increase comes as San Francisco Unified School District plans to cut back its bus service by 43 percent in the next two years.

District Superintendent Carlos Garcia said the free youth passes would help out the city's students, more than 60 percent of whom qualify for the state's free or reduced-price lunch programs because of their family's income level.

He said along with getting students to and from school, the passes would also allow children to explore the city and learn outside of the classroom.

"This city is your school, and everywhere around you is history," Garcia said.

Following the noontime rally, SFMTA Director Joel Ramos introduced the proposal at the agency's board meeting, while Supervisor David Campos also introduced a resolution in support of the proposal at this afternoon's Board of Supervisors meeting.

Campos said the three-year pilot project would require a commitment of around $7 million to make up for the potential lost revenue. The funding would come from the SFMTA, San Francisco County Transportation Authority and Metropolitan Transportation Commission, along with private contributions.

He called the proposal "doable, feasible and practical," and pointed out that New York City and Portland already have similar programs up and running.

Campos said there is definitely demand for the program. This past spring, the SFMTA and SFUSD offered 12,000 free youth passes for the last three months of the school year, and the demand far exceeded the supply, he said.

Ramos, however, cautioned that "it's going to be a long, hard fight" to get the funding necessary for the program and said the transit advocates and city officials supporting the proposal "are going to have to work together to find those resources."

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