Public transit issues are complicated -- but they're not quantum physics-complicated. Politicians really could improve San Franciscans' commutes and lives if they paid attention to straightforward concepts like transit-only lanes, prioritized Muni signals, and maintenance investment. But these are not sexy issues. So, again and again, San Francisco politicians' take on Muni comes out the same: Make it free!
State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) is the latest politico to jump onto this free bandwagon, urging that all San Francisco public school students be entitled to ride Muni gratis. As Yee's mayoral campaign falters more and more, it will be interesting to see what he proposes be made free next.
Still, this isn't the worst example of pandering to the masses by disemboweling Muni's operating budget. Willie Brown
, Gavin Newsom
, and Tom Ammiano
are just a few of the pols who've proposed making Muni free for one and
all. Funny thing about cheap populism, though -- it ain't cheap.
Making Muni free would essentially do away with a quarter of its budget; the service recoups 25 percent of its operating expenses via fares. That's in the ballpark of $200 million a year.
Providing students with a free ride, however, is a more conceivable affair. Providing free passes for low-income kids for the months of April, May, and June cost Muni some $1 million.
Muni spokesman Paul Rose is currently figuring how much making rides for all public school kids would cost the system. We'll update this story when he gets back to us -- but, it warrants mentioning that a kid rides on the bus for 75 cents, a monthly youth pass costs $20, and Muni sells about 18,000 of them a month. That brings in around $360,000 a month during the school year
Of course, rather than asking Muni to do more for less (or free!) once again, a novel idea might be to sell bulk passes or Clipper Cards at a discount to schools
. These can then be given out for free, sold at a deep discount, or used to wallpaper the break room. It's up to the institutions in question.
That would make some sense. But it wouldn't deliver the populist punch of bellowing "Free Muni!" Won't somebody please think of the children?
Follow us on Twitter at @SFWeekly and @TheSnitchSF