Kids, teens will soon ride Muni for free


Paolo Acosta, 17, has big plans after high school. The Balboa High School student told us when he's older he wants to "actually become a CEO of my own company."

However, right now, money is so tight Acosta says he often struggles to find bus fare.

"Sometimes it's hard to even think about breaking $1. And sometimes it's just thinking about do I want to pay 75 cents for a short ride?" said Acosta. He told us when he doesn't have the money he chooses to "either walk or, I do, I take the risk."

The risk he's talking about is the risk of sneaking on without paying. That's something he says other kids do too now that more and more of them ride Muni to school, instead of a yellow school bus.

"Because of budget cuts over the last five years, we've cut back on transportation, yellow bus transportation," said Richard Carranza, the San Francisco schools superintendent.

It's a problem that led to a movement and a movement that led to a victory.

"Probably the best grassroots effort I've seen in my dozen years in government," said Ed Reiskin, the San Francisco transportation director.

Reiskin announced the transportation board voted unanimously to give free bus passes to low and middle income kids under 18 -- starting on March 1. It's a 16-month pilot program using $1.6 million in regional grant money. It marks a milestone in a two-year campaign led by Supervisor David Campos.

"We have to make it so that families can afford to live in San Francisco and what better way than to make sure that kids have the opportunity to get to and from school," said Campos.

But not everyone's celebrating the new pilot program. The activist group Rescue Muni is among those who believe the free passes are not the best use of precious grant money.

"Anyone who's ridden on Muni has noticed missed runs, poor service, and that money could go to improve those," said Mark Ballew, a Rescue Muni board member.

And what about the kids?

"The responsibility falls on the school district. And they should have the funding to fill in the need for students who need to get to class, but can't afford to take the bus system," said Ballew.

But San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim disagrees.

"Our infrastructure is our young people. You are the foundation of the city, and so we are investing in our young people, and that is investing in our infrastructure," said Kim.

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