Tuesday, April 30, 2013

San Francisco's "Free Muni for Youth" Pilot Program

Youth Supporting the Pilot Program    Source: KQED.org

As of March 1, 2013, the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA) began a 16-month pilot program to provide free youth passes to children from 5 to 17 years of age who live in San Francisco and come from low to moderate-income households. The push for free youth passes came about for many reasons. One reason is the high cost of living in San Francisco that has been pushing families out of the city.  Second, rising transit costs have made it hard for low-income households to pay fares. Finally, current budget cut to school funding has caused a lack of yellow school buses in the city, forcing kids to have to be driven or take public transit to school. 

The youth activist group called People Organized to win Employment Rights (POWER) and Board of Supervisor David Campos spearheaded the program. The pilot program is said to cost $8.7 million and will be funded by SFMTA, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the County Transportation Authority. This money will help provide free Muni service to 40,000 low-income youth. 

The powerful message I see with a pilot program like San Francisco's is that this is not based around health impacts and active living for youth, but actually based around transit equity for families with younger children. Unlike New York City, who is promoting more active lifestyles for children, San Francisco is trying to make transit more affordable for families.

An interesting fact about San Francisco's school district is that kids do not go to the school closest to their household, but rather, get placed in a lottery system and divided up among the different school around the city. This means that a child (as young as 5) could be attending a school across town from where they live. This system puts a great strain on many parents who cannot afford the time or resources to take their child to school. These parents tend to be disproportionately low-income minority residents. The fact that SFUSD cut their yellow school bus funds by nearly half places many grade school children on public transit. To add to the complexity of the issue, a youth pass is currently $22 a month, up from $10 in 2009. 

One interesting argument being made by the advocates of the program includes raising youth ridership on Muni. Numbers show that youth pass sales from gone down from 2010 to 2013, from 18,410 to 11,502, respectively. These numbers also show the real economic burden to working class families who may have more than one child going to school who need transit passes they cannot afford.

By February 2013, SFMTA already had more than 20,000 applications for free Clipper Cards (smart cards) for transit. I expect that the same youth program will be pushed on TriMet by organizations like OPAL here in Portland. I think it is definitely an interesting twist to transit equity and shows that its effects go beyond just adults, but also impacts hard working families who simply cannot provide their children safe and affordable routes to school. 

Thank you to Darwin Moosavi for editing my post. 


  1. Can't agree more about what you begin with , that people in Portland started to be pushed over and over to mid/low income house holders. which will lead in more driving or traveling time for commuters.
    check this Article that shows how Rent have rise in Portland neighborhoods.


  2. Great article! OPAL is definitely working hard for transit justice in Portland, in partnership with the Multnomah Youth Commission, the official youth policy body for the City and the County. This intentional youth-adult partnership leads to stronger coalitions and effective work related to equity and access on many levels, including age, income, and race/ethnicity.


  3. Great to see community organization around this issue. It sounds like SF has created a school system where it could be dangerous or incredibly time-consuming for kids to walk or bike to their out-of-neighborhood school. If they're committed to sticking to their current system, which negates these free (active) travel options for low-income families, then it seems to me that they also have an obligation to make transit an affordable alternative.


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