The much-debated plan to let low-income kids in San Francisco hop aboard Muni for free apparently died Wednesday as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission narrowly voted against giving the plan $4 million in regional transportation funds.
The commission voted 8-7 against a motion to fund the 22-month free Muni plan, give $1 million to a two-year reduced- fare plan for low-income adults in Santa Clara County, and contribute $500,000 to an Alameda County student pass plan with a possible $2.5 million later. The vote split along regional lines with commissioners from San Francisco, the Peninsula and the South Bay favoring the program and East Bay and North Bay representatives opposed.
The MTC vote leaves Muni's $9.4 million plan, which was to start on Aug. 1, $5 million short. Municipal Transportation Agency officials declined to declare the free-fare program dead, but have said repeatedly that they can't afford to contribute any extra money.
On the eve of President Obama signing the Federal Surface Transportation Act, the Transit Riders for Public Transportation (TRPT) denounces the new bill and calls on the President to affirm his administration's commitment to environmental justice and transit riders by rejecting this bill. Known as the "highway bill," this legislation threatens public health and the environment in communities of color and systemically blocks transit riders from benefiting from the majority of this federal funding. This new version unfortunately perpetuates the 80/20 split in funding (80% for road infrastructure and 20% for mass transit) and fails to allow transit agencies the flexibility to use those limited dollars to maintain service, despite desperate need. At the same time, this bill blatantly guts the National Environmental Policy Act, which offers the only meaningful opportunity for communities to have a voice in major capital construction projects that will directly impact their lives.
Those controversial proposals were approved Tuesday by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's Board of Directors, which unanimously passed the budget for Muni, parking, traffic and taxis over the next two years.
Yet for those programs to become reality, the budget still has to clear several hurdles that include gaining the Board of Supervisors' approval.
Overall, the budget calls for spending $821 million in the new fiscal year that begins July 1, and $840.5 million the following year. That plan is projected to close deficits of $19.6 million and $33.6 million, respectively.
Big yellow school buses are disappearing as the San Francisco Unified School District reduces the number of buses and routes to contend with education budget cuts. As a result, more and more families must shoulder the cost of transporting their children to school. Recent Municipal Transportation Agency board meetings have seen an outpouring of support from political leaders, community organizations and residents testifying in support of free Muni fares for all young people.
Everyone loves to hate riding the bus — passengers complain about cleanliness, overcrowding, timeliness and inefficiency. In a piece for Salon.com, writer Will Doig argues that disliking the bus is "practically an American pastime," but buses are key to improving mass transit. Doig thinks that rather than spending money on expensive new systems like light rail or streetcars, cities should focus on making buses better.
"I think when people say that they don't like the bus," he tells NPR's Neal Conan, "what they're really saying is that they like the train better than the bus. And there are a lot of really good reasons for that."
Doig (who admits he took the subway to the studio for this interview) says the appeals of trains — design, reliability, comfort and frequency — could easily be incorporated into bus systems. And some cities are already doing that by aiming to employ bus rapid transit, or BRT.
The biggest and most effective approach is removing the bus from traffic. "If you can give it its own lane that's physically separated from cars so that even people who want to drive in the bus lane are unable to, that's the key, and you'll be zipping through the city in no time," says Doig.
Doig explains why buses have an image problem and the things cities around the world are doing to improve bus transit.
The movement to make Muni free for San Francisco youth is gaining traction.
According to an activist group, proposals to be advanced at an April 3 hearing before the Municipal Transportation Agency’s board will include a reduced monthly pass cost of $5, free Muni for low-income youth and free Muni for all youth.
Jane Martin, POWER’s political director, said the options were discussed this week with Mayor Ed Lee and MTA Executive Director Ed Reiskin as part of a two- to three-year pilot program. Thursday, Lee told a group of students that he’s working hard to lower the cost of transit for them, adding that they should avoid buying a car.
But the idea means a fare-box hit of $4 million to $7.9 million for the under-funded transit system facing a $23 million deficit. The money factor is giving the Metropolitan Transportation Agency, which runs Muni, pause while it searches for the right mix of funds and rules for the program.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) needs to vote on the proposal for a Free MUNI Youth Pass in March — or risk losing millions in transportation dollars that would improve the lives of San Francisco youth and their families. A broad community coalition led by young people has been campaigning for the free pass for more than a year, which would allow all San Francisco students to get to school, work, and to recreational and cultural activities.
At its meeting Feb. 9 in Oakland, the board agreed to proceed with a project-level EIR and the formation of a joint powers agreement (JPA) with Livermore and the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC).
Director John McPartland, whose district includes Livermore, made the motion, which was seconded by director Tom Radulovich of San Francisco.
Radulovich added an amendment that made clear the understanding that no capital improvement money for the Livermore extension would come from BART.
Directors from the older areas of BART service were worried that the Livermore project would have to tap into BART funds sometime in the future.
Directors said that BART has $30 million in reserves, which is a small sum compared to the overall budget. Further, BART faces the need for $7.5 billion in improvements for the entire current system. Much of it is for replacement of train cars that are 40 years old.
On Thursday, February 9th, TRPT will be joining a broad coalition of equity advocates in a National Call-in Day against the Federal Transportation bill H.R. 7.
Reasons to vote no on H.R. 7 (the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act) and maintain 30 years of dedicated federal commitment to supporting mass transit, creating jobs and protecting civil rights and environmental justice:
1. It would eliminate all dedicated federal funding for mass transit
The bill would eliminate the 2.86 cent portion of the 18 cent federal gasoline tax currently dedicated to mass transit and "replace it" with unidentified general fund revenue from the federal budget. The current dedicated federal funding formula of 80% for highways and 20% for transit would now be 100% for highways and roads! Transit operators would be forced to make historic cuts in service and institute massive fare increases as they cut operations costs to backfill billions in lost capital funds from the House bill.