In an editorial from the SF Chronicle, they are supporting the proposal to allow San Francisco's youth to be allowed to ride Muni for free. They feel it will make it easier for students to get to school, reduce congestion, and saves money for the parents who dishes out the $22 monthly pass.
I personally think it's a horrible idea.
There's a lot of problems that underlines the notion of being "free" to our city's youth:
One of the major problems is just the cost of running such a program. The Chronicle estimates the cost to be at least $4 million to as high as $7.9 million (let's just say eight). That's a lot of money for an agency that's been bleeding in the red ever since Nat Ford ruined the agency and took a nice 300K+ "up yours" package when he was fired. Four million, if properly spent, can be used for something better for EVERYONE, and not just for the kids.
A second problem is about Clipper cards. A lot of you know about my expertise in the Clipper program, and I can tell you, this will be a big problem to give out free passes on cards. Here's three key problems:
- If the pass is implemented and they impose time restrictions or can't be used on certain days, the Clipper system cannot handle these types of restrictions. I forgot where I found that information, but I know that the pass system has to work 24-7, or the MTC and/or Muni will have to fork over a ton of money to modify the Clipper card software to handle that.
- If Muni is permitted to do time restrictions, there will be a lot of time dedicated to being flexible to those students who have school sanctioned activities; say if the pass is invalid after 4PM and their football team practice goes until 6PM, there will be a lot of paperwork and exceptions made for the changes to happen. If a student goes to night school, then what's the restrictions for that? When the pass get's shut off, they'll argue with the driver about validity, and that they can't afford to pay the fare or add e-cash to their card; this means more phone calls with Clipper customer service.
- One existing problem that will turn worse is the youth Clipper cards looks exactly like an adult Clipper card. Without a fare inspector's card reader, a bus driver cannot identify if the card is for a youth or adult. This means if a parent regularly drives their student to school or the student can easily walk to school, an adult family member could use the youth's card to score free rides on Muni until an inspector catches them. Muni's inspectors regularly targets the metro lines, so odds of getting caught on a bus is a long shot. The ways Muni can fix that is to make the card reader emit a different sound for youth cards, integrate their school ID with Clipper, or put a photo on the card. These are all expensive options, especially adding a photo because if AC Transit learned a lesson, it took a long time to get all the area's youth to get all their photos taken and make custom cards.
One bigger concern I have is conduct. Here's my two big issues:
- Remember the "Spare the Air" program gave out free transit rides for everyone? It was a success for keeping the air cleaner and more people taking public transit, but it caused a bunch of other problems from transit agencies. People decided to take public transit to just get off at the next stop just because it was "free," this meant delays on transit lines because people are too lazy to just walk to the next stop. For BART, they hated it; youth passengers caused mayhem on the system and turned into a roving hangout (including homeless folks); it reached such a boiling point that BART decided at the next future "Spare the Air" to make people pay for their rides.
- If Muni gives rides for "free" to the youth, it just lets them barge through the back door of buses and steal the seats from the rest of the honest people who boards through the front door.
Lastly, San Francisco's youth should be lucky they are paying drastically less for public transit. Here's a comparison of single ride fares for major agencies in the Bay Area:
- Muni: $2 adult, $0.75 youth (62.5% discount) with free transfer.
- Samtrans: $2 adult, $1.25 youth (37.5% discount) with no transfer.
- VTA: $2 adult, $1.75 youth (12.5% discount) with no transfer.
- AC Transit: $2.10 adult, $1.05 youth (50% discount) with additional $0.25 for one ride transfer.
For you youth advocates, be lucky Muni gives the steepest discount AND a free 90 minute transfer. Nothing is free; especially when Muni is already broke.