"Free Muni" Is Never Free

streetcar named desire.jpg
Hey, we'd desire some fiscal reality for Muni!
Things have gotten desperate enough for Muni that it's time for allusions to A Streetcar Named Desire. Imagine Muni is Blanche DuBois -- a woman/transit agency in need of a protector.

She's not getting one in Stanley Kowalski (Gavin Newsom). In the play, Kowalski marginalizes and sexually assaults DuBois. In San Francisco, Newsom siphoned funds away from Muni to pay his green advisers' lucrative salaries, and allowed other city departments to pillage the transit agency, using Muni as a city slush fund. Newsom is gone, but this is still happening.

Blanche was also done wrong by seemingly nice guy Harold "Mitch" Mitchell, who tried to lay hands on her -- because that's all he thought she was good for. Mitch is played in San Francisco by city progressives -- who can't think of anything to do for Muni other than make it put out for free.

This latest attempt to make Muni do more with less hit a bump in the road yesterday, when transit officials said it would cost twice as much as the Board of Supervisors claims it would to allow all children to ride the bus for free. If so, this is deeply frustrating -- for the rationale behind the huge cost increase was the same one that derailed Newsom's harebrained scheme to make Muni free for all.

Muni figures, rather logically, that if you make the service free for all the city's children, more children will take advantage of it. If so, you suddenly need more service to keep up with increased demand. And then you've got a problem -- because just as you're decreasing the funds going into Muni, you're demanding more service. And that's not free.

My green advisers got to get paid, too. Hiya!
That's what outside consultants told the city back in 2008, which definitively pulled the rug out from under anyone pushing to make Muni free (assuming they gave the consequences of doing so a moment's thought, or weren't just making a crass political push). You know, 2008 wasn't all that long ago. You'd think someone would have looked into this.

The people pushing to open Muni's faregates to all young people seem to have their hearts in the right place. San Francisco is the most child-free big city in all the realm. Working people are struggling to raise families here. A matter of a few hundred bucks a year would mean a lot to them.

That's undeniably true. But what's also irrefutable is that Muni is foundering financially and the proposal to let all kids ride is, at present, a looming fiscal and logistical debacle. Like Blanche DuBois, Muni depends upon the kindness of strangers. Blithely decreasing supply while increasing demand doesn't cut it.

Perhaps Blanche put this line of thinking best: "I don't want realism. I want magic!"

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Joe, it would be great if sometime you did a little bit of homework before you write opinions.  The proposal on the table is not to make MUNI do less with more.  It is to raise outside funds that are only available if there is an increase in ridership by children- that is what is done by Seattle and New York City, for instance.  Federal monies and now State monies are available to provide funding to jurisdictions that implement policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.   We should be funding MUNI more.  We should also be increasing ridership, particularly for the next generation.  The other thing that you have totally missed in your "analysis" is the impact the change to Clipper has had on the numbers of youth and seniors buying monthly passes.  Did you know that there is only one place in the entire City where a kid can get a youth clipper card on the spot?  Don't you think that is outrageous, given that just a year ago one could buy them at Walgreens and Safeways all over town? Now that is scandalous, and yet you are writing negative stuff about Supervisor Campos' very well researched and totally feasible proposal.  Come on,

Joe Eskenazi
Joe Eskenazi

Myrna --

It is an outrage that youth passes aren't more widely available, but that really is another issue.

I'm not sure how you can say this isn't an attempt to make Muni do more with less. The Board's analysis is contingent upon it.

A 5 percent ridership increase is anticipated, but the $6 million price tag assumes no additional service will be provided. Muni's estimation calls for additional buses, drivers, maintenance, etc. I'm not at all certain that the money is there from outside sources to cover this more realistic estimate of the costs of allowing every San Francisco young person onto the bus.

Pushing more kids onto buses that are already full during school commute hours strikes me as something of a cruel gift. Those buses are already packed. You'd now be free to get on a bus that has no room for you.

Adding more riders while taking away money and stagnating service levels is a recipe for misery. It may well accomplish the laudable goal of narrowing the gap between rich and poor -- but do so by making things worse for everyone.





Actually, the lack of access to MUNI by youth under the present system is not a wholy separate issue - in fact the reason that POWER and Coleman Advocates have been able to organize so many kids around the issue is that people are feeling purposely shut out.  MUNI estimates that 25% of its ridership are youth and seniors.  Since the switch to Clipper, the number of youth and seniors loading fastpasses onto the card has fallen by over 75% for youth, and even more for seniors.  Now that is a serious loss of revenue entirely of MUNI's doing.  They blame the MTC , but the truth is they have the flexibility to do it differently. Because it's so difficult to get a fast pass now, there are lots of anecdotal evidence of kids stranded skipping the fare and an increase in the criminalization of kids for doing so, particularly on some lines.  All that would go away if it were free.  MUNI is underfunded now and additional buses are needed now already - true - we should fund MUNI properly and quit raiding their budget - also true.  But it should not come at the cost of access or increased ridership, which we must do for the kids of SF, and the earth.  Best, M


Instead of 'Free MUNI' , how about 'Free Wally! ( D. Campos , et al ) and release them into San Francisco Bay..

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