Why free Muni for youth makes sense


Supervisor Scott Wiener has gone out of his way to dis the plan to let kids ride Muni for free. His oped in the Chron April 9 argued that the city just doesn't have the money ($8 million):

We need to increase access to transportation for low-income youth, but a new and expensive obligation for Muni - at a time when Muni cannot pay for its basic operational needs and is expanding parking meters and increasing parking fines - is a bad idea.

But that misses the point -- and People Organized to Win Employment Rights is mounting a petition campaign to get Wiener back on track.

The Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees Muni, failed to approve the plan the first time around, but the vote was tied with Commission Chair Tom Nolan absent, so it's still possible to move it forward. And on April 17, Sup. David Campos, who proposed the plan, and his allies will try again.

Yes, Muni is (perpetually) broke, and yes, deficits and cuts mean declines in service. But Campos has identified money to pay for the program without damaging operating and maintenance funds. Oh, and the parking meters get dragged in again:

The understandable public perception is that Muni is expanding parking meters to Sundays, adding new meters, and raising ticket prices not to pay for improvements to the system but rather to fund free Muni for all youth, even those who don't need the subsidy.

And the problem with that is ... what? People with cars ought to subsidize transit riders -- young, old and everything in between. It's really not that expensive to park at a meter in San Francisco, and now that most of them take credit cards, you don't have to carry $5 in quarters around with you. I drive a car myself, to ferry my kids around. I have no sympathy for people who pay to have a large motor vehicle in a transit-first city and don't want to pay for the impacts.

(Besides, what are all those religious people complaining about -- nobody pays to park for Sunday church anyway. They just park in the middle of the street.)

But put all of that aside for a minute and think about this: San Francisco spends all kinds of money, directly and indirectly, trying to convince people to ride Muni instead of driving. And one of the best ways to get new riders is to get kids started as transit users as soon as their parents decide they're old enough to get on the bus.

For us, that was sixth grade, when we bought my son a clipper card and told him we weren't leaving work early to pick him up (in the car) after school any more. I showed him how to find the Muni map on the web, showed him how to connect to NextBus on his phone, gave him a pat on the head (not really) and sent him off to explore the wonders of San Francisco public transit. It's worked like a charm: He takes the bus to his martial arts class, takes the bus to Cards and Comics to buy Magic Cards, takes the bus to the mall and to visit friends ... and now he knows more about the system than I do. He can navigate on his own anywhere in town -- and he loves it. It's freedom. Suburban kids have to wait until they're 16 and can get a driver's license to even begin to get that sense that they don't need parents in tow to go where they want to go.

Most of the teenagers I know in this city don't bother to learn to drive any more. They bike and they take the bus. That's a wonderful thing -- and San Francisco should do everything possible to encourage it.

And a great way to start is to invest a modest amount of money -- less than one percent of Muni's budget -- in training kids that the way to travel is by bus and train. Make it easy; make it free. Hell, half the middle-school kids who ride Muni never pay the fare anyway; they go in the back door and pocket the money that their parents gave them for bus fare so they can buy something they aren't supposed to have. It's the way of the world.

This isn't just a subsidy for kids who can't afford Muni, although that's a great thing and I'm all in favor. It's an investment in the future, a cheap step toward a future day when turning 16 isn't all about going to the DMV, and travel doesn't mean car travel -- and the streets of San Francisco are cleaner, safer, less crowded and better for all of us. Isn't that worth the money?

Come on, Tom Nolan; you're the swing vote. Make this happen.




That is such an amazing bit of make believe.

Those kids are already suffering through MUNI, the dreamers just want to make it free because they need to keep trying their experiments in social engineering. Few of their previous plans have played out as expected, one more won't hurt.

Posted by Matlock on Apr. 16, 2012 @ 11:16 am

Let's see: Mandatory composting and curbside recycling has made San Francisco the best city in America in terms of waste diversion. A ban on plastic bags has started a national trend toward reducing waste and pollution. A ban on happy-meal toys pushed a national discussion on childhood obesity (and got McDonald's to change its kids meals). And employer health-care mandate has create a model for the country.

"Social engineering" has been a complete failure.

Posted by tim on Apr. 16, 2012 @ 11:48 am

Social engineering of tearing out the streetcar rail lines and widening the streets for private autos has been a rousing success, wouldn't you say?

Posted by marcos on Apr. 16, 2012 @ 12:04 pm

Of basing policy on the progressive idea of Eugenics?

Posted by Matlock on Apr. 16, 2012 @ 9:03 pm

Meaning that you can cherry pick what you regard as a success?

Everything you cited there is trivial in the grand schme of things. Noise.

When it comes to the big issues, SF is widely regarded as being hopelessly out of touch,

Now, luckily for you and the rest of us, there is so much successful business in SF, particularly in tech, that we can afford these "luxuries" that you deem so significant. But they are byproducts of business success, not whiney liberals like you.

You cannot build a coherent political idelogy based on envy, class-based hatred and bureaucrats seeking to engineer a social structure.

Posted by Anonymous on Apr. 16, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

"You cannot build a coherent political idelogy based on envy, class-based hatred and bureaucrats seeking to engineer a social structure. "

Yes you can, it is called conservativism and it envies participatory democracy, hates the unrich and owns corporate and government bureaucrats trying to engineer a darwinian social structure.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 16, 2012 @ 12:49 pm

It isn't just the successful businesses who pay the bill but also the tourists and the wealthy residents and their tax bills. FWIW, Tim will miss no opportunity to ask that the businesses and the wealthy tax payers be made miserable. I guess tourists are more or less okay, unless they are coming for something like the America's Cup.

Of course Tim's assertion that the San Francisco Progressives have "started a national trend toward reducing waste and pollution" and "pushed a national discussion on childhood obesity" is funny. Well, it would be except that in his mind he thinks that it is true. I will admit that MacDonalds does now charge 10 cents for a toy, I'll give him that.

You notice that he left out the cell phone radiation bill for some reason. The one that accomplished nothing except costing us some convention money.

He also was strangely silent on our system of building world class mass transit by soaking motorists. How's that one working?

And ranked choice voting? We have really taken the lead on that one! Just look at the other cities lining up to follow our lead. They're out there. Somewhere. Minneapolis, maybe?

Posted by Troll on Apr. 16, 2012 @ 3:55 pm


Instead of raising grades, it creates high self esteem drop outs, bullies and thugs.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 16, 2012 @ 3:57 pm

for the children at the library. Nationwide visionary stripper truck laws to come.

Also there is a movement to change the food truck law to only 500 feet in SF, this visionary law being picked up at the state level was booed by our local progressive intelligentsia.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 17, 2012 @ 5:44 pm

highly subsidized (even extremely highly) fares for (verified) children.... ok, maybe.

free..... that's a big mistake.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

Make something free and demand becomes infinite.The rest is just tired old class warfare - exactly what has destroyed America.

Posted by Anonymous on Apr. 18, 2012 @ 5:52 pm

I think there are benefits to opting for the free rides for youth move, and while most of it is intangible and might not be seen in the short run, it is something that should be worked towards.

Posted by Thomas on May. 10, 2012 @ 12:29 am