Supes Should Rethink Kids' Free Muni Rides

There's a world of difference between standing in the cold desiring a streetcar and A Streetcar Named Desire. But, thanks to San Francisco's ongoing drive to ensure those streetcars are more crowded and arrive less frequently, the gap between this city's transit reality and Tennessee Williams' melodrama is narrowing.

In our local presentation of Streetcar, the role of Blanche DuBois will be played by a streetcar. And a light rail vehicle. And an articulated bus. In fact, Blanche will be played by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Blanche is a woman/transit agency who needs a protector. But she wasn't getting one from Stanley Kowalski, the role in which a smoldering Marlon Brando acquainted America with the nuances of the Napoleonic Code and the white T-shirt. Here, that will be handled by Gavin Newsom. In the play, Kowalski marginalizes and sexually assaults DuBois. In San Francisco, our erstwhile mayor siphoned Muni funds to pay his advisers' lucrative salaries, and allowed other city departments to pillage the agency, using Muni as a city slush fund. This is still happening.

Blanche was also done wrong by seemingly nice guy Harold "Mitch" Mitchell, played by Karl Malden in the 1951 film. Mitch tries to lay hands on Blanche, because that's all he thought she was good for. He's played in San Francisco by city progressives — who can't think of anything to do for Muni other than cajole it into putting out for free.

Despite Muni's gaping budget shortfall, momentum is gaining behind persistent efforts to make it free for all children — roughly one of every six Muni riders. Supervisor David Campos, the author of this plan, says funds from multiple city and regional agencies — including Muni and the school district — will backfill the two-year pilot program's $16.8 million price tag. This cost, incidentally, does not include funds for more service to meet the predicted additional demand. Muni, however, is run about as well as DuBois ran her life — and Campos suggests the agency save money by not allowing itself to be pillaged by other city departments, cutting down overtime, and keeping capital projects from stretching years past due.

If Campos is the Tennessee Williams of the "Free Muni For Kids" plan, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd is the heckler in the back row. "This is emblematic of what government does wrong," he says. "You're expanding services while ignoring core functions and making it that much more difficult to provide them — namely, running your basic routes on time, and simple delivery of Muni service for everyone."

In the end, Muni doesn't just depend upon the kindness of strangers — strangers also have to pay. Perhaps proponents of making Muni free are inadvertently channeling Blanche DuBois: "I don't want realism. I want magic!"

 
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icarus12
icarus12

I ride MUNI maybe 3-4 times per month. Each time the same thoughts crop up:

1) Why don't we cut the number of stops by 2/3 (except up steep hills) and get speeds up, costs down, and more riders who will pay for this kind of European city type of transit? No other city I've visited or lived in has SF's stop every or every other block system.

2) Why do current MUNI riders put up with such a lumbering ride across town -- over an hour from beach to bay -- and more if one needs to transfer? Are riders inured to the inefficient use of their time by MUNI, and simply don't know how much better it could be?

3) Why are MUNI drivers often so unfriendly? No reply is the most common response to a customer's hello or thank you at the end of a ride. Surely it is not because they are not well paid or because they lack benefits, sick pay, etc. Muni drivers could be the agents of civic pride, competence, etc. Instead, they are often surly.

In any case, I actively avoid MUNI, preferring a bike, walking, taxis, driving, electric bikes, really any means I can to get places without the time wasted and unpleasantness of the MUNI system. Yet every foreign city I've lived in I've used public transit every day and liked it. Something is truly wrong here.

In any case, thank you Mr. Eskenazi for the courage to say what needs to be said. You could not be more right -- giving free rides to all persons under 18 regardless of ability to pay or importance of their trip (school vs hanging out) is just stupid when the current system does not already serve citizens willing to pay for something better and different.

"Arf!" Lemming
"Arf!" Lemming

Still they vote for this Communist , Campos...Hmm , must be a reason..

Nosebob
Nosebob

What is the need? How many kids were taking the yellow buses? How many of them were also getting free lunch (and therefore probably would theoretically also income-qualify for subsidized transportation?) How many kids live far from their schools and would face a long ride, and multiple transfers on Muni (is Muni a good transportation alternative to yellow buses)? How many kids need after school transport because there are insufficient after school slots at SFUSD? Would it be a better public good to finance on site after school programs for the kids that need it, rather than putting them on Muni while their parents are at work? If Muni gives free transit to all kids under 18, will other transit operators be expected to do do as well - can they afford it? Does the budget include estimates of the extra service/demand/maintenance these extra riders will induce? How many schools are blocks away/across arterial streets from Muni stops; and is the distance a safe route to school for unaccompanied child pedestrians? Does SFMTA have a traffic calming budget to plan and engineer a safe crossing from the nearest stop to each school?

PaulV
PaulV

They're already entering through the exit for free, much like too many apathetic adults, cramming the busses to the point of making it next to impossible to get out. When MUNI continues to automatically raise driver salaries, no matter how bad of a driver they are, it doesn't make sense to purposely allow kids to ride for free.

MrEricSir
MrEricSir

This does seem rather insensitive at a time when Muni is facing service cuts.

Ockham's razor
Ockham's razor

Kindness of strangers? Did you even look at the funding sources that were carefully identified and secured to make this proposed program possible? Or is that too much like journalism? Or maybe you could have written a piece that weighs the relative merits of giving kids access to transit (when yellow school bus service is being phased out) versus making them choose between access to education and food for their kids. Or the fact that MUNI youth pass prices have doubled in recent years. Or the actual amount of the revenue to be replaced (which again has been identified) relative to MTA's budget (about 1%).

Instead of a lazy, tortured Tennessee Williams metaphor maybe you could have done one shred of research or asked the organizers of the campaign for their rationale for the campaign. I guess not.

On njudah's comment: "these kids" are busy going to school and organizing for the campaign in their city - the Free MUNI for Youth Campaign - that will help them get there. Their families already pay sales taxes, state and federal taxes and MUNI fares. Sorry they're not lobbying in DC. However lots of transit advocates are working to kill House Bill HR 7. And your comment on the (non) connection between Sup. Campos campaign and tax funds is the stuff of Santa Claus (and embarrassing).

Joe Eskenazi
Joe Eskenazi

Dear sir or madam --

Your commentary about giving kids access to transit and the slashing of yellow bus service has merit. Yet, when all of society is breaking down, it's Muni that's being made to pick up the slack. As noted in the story, city progressives' solution in this case is to ask Muni to do more with less -- or free. That seems to be what you are pushing for as well.

Yes, I am familiar with the various one-time sources that have been lined up to pay for this pilot program. Let me re-emphasize that "one-time" -- and allow me to also re-emphasize that there are no funds allocated here to increase Muni service after increasing demand by making it free to a large segment of the population.

I did speak with David Campos and have written extensively about Muni in the past several years.

I appreciate your commitment to the plight of our city's impoverished youth. But I'd appreciate it more if you could see fit to sign your name to what you write. Until then, it's just the vitriol of strangers.

Best,

JE

njudah
njudah

A great lesson to teach the kids: Government as Santa Claus, where you just demand demand demand a freebie for yourself, others and the community be damned. Funny how you don't see these kids or Campos organizing people to oppose the US House transportation bill, which if passed would devastate all agencies significantly. Instead Campos is using tax money to pad his re-election campaign prospects ,and his desire to run for higher office. Santa Claus, indeed.

 
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