muni_generic.jpgA San Francisco Board of Supervisors committee voted today to recommend against a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency proposal that would give free Muni passes to youth.

The proposal is part of $6.7 million awarded to the SFMTA as part of Transit Performance Initiative funding from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission that also would include service reliability improvements.

However, SFMTA’s proposal to use $1.6 million to fund a free Muni pass program for youth has come under criticism by some city lawmakers.

During today’s Government Accountability and Oversight Committee meeting, Supervisor Scott Wiener cited Muni’s the poor performance record and the $420 million in differed maintenance to vehicles.

“For decades, we as a city have severely under-invested in Muni,” Wiener said. “There’s always a reason for diverting money away from investing in Muni. Politicians, interest groups and others can always think of great ideas for using Muni maintenance vehicles and other operational money for a purpose other than making Muni more reliable.”

The proposal will now be heard by the full Board of Supervisors but the committee’s recommendation will be to disallow the free pass program.

Muni vehicles are operating on-time 60.8 percent of the time, which is 24.2 percent below the mandated 85 percent stated in Proposition E, according to the SFMTA. Prop. E was passed in 1999.

“There’s always a great reason and money then gets diverted and Muni and the riding public suffer,” Wiener said.

The MTC awarded SFMTA with the Transit Performance Initiative funding last month, giving the SFMTA $6.7 million for improving reliability and increasing the ridership of the transit agency, but leaving it up to the agency to determine what programs it will be used for.

“There is no more effective way to achieve these goals than a system that’s in good shape, that’s reliable, and on which people believe they can depend,” Wiener said.

“These funds should be dedicated 100 percent to improving Muni’s deteriorating reliability by maintaining, rehabilitating, and purchasing Muni vehicles and improving Muni’s operations.”

SFMTA’s proposal would use $1.6 million to fund the first five months of a 22-month free youth Muni pass pilot program.

“I don’t see this as an either or,” Ed Reiskin, SFMTA director of transportation, said. “We have ridership goals, we have the other goal of… productivity. We’re trying to use these dollars to address both.”

The remaining 17 months of the youth pass program would come from the fiscal budgets beginning in 2013 and 2014, according to Reiskin.

This plan did not sit well with Supervisor Sean Elsbernd.

“I’m just so surprised and this was a surprise to learn today, you’re budgeting for 12 months when you only have five months in hand,” Elsbernd said. “We don’t know for sure how much we’re going to get from the MTC next year. I find that borderline irresponsible. I’ve never seen that.”

Reiskin sees the program as a way to get some of the youth ridership to return. Since October 2010, SFMTA has seen a 40 percent dip in youth riders, based on the sales of youth Muni passes.

The cost of a youth pass more than doubled in recent years and in 2009 went up from $10 to $22.

“I think you need to stop and look at what’s been overlooked,” a senior handicapped man said during the open forum. “Youth can’t work. Seniors and people with disabilities can get access to some money sources… The fact is youth don’t have that access to money.”

Eventually Reiskin hopes Muni could move into a need-based system, rather than one based on age.

“We have a fare structure right now that offers discounts primarily based on age, not based on need, which really doesn’t make sense,” Reiskin said.

The motion for recommendation passed 2 to 1, with Supervisor David Chiu voting against it.

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