Discount Bus Passes Discussions Continue
City officials still undecided on plan
December 5, 2006 10:25 AM
The possibility of offering discounted bus and rail passes to students and young adults was discussed during a meeting at San Francisco City Hall Dec. 4.
The meeting attracted a large crowd of students from SF State and other Bay Area schools and colleges, as well as members of the city’s Youth Commission and other activists, who listened as members of the Board of Supervisors and the Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees Muni, discussed the idea.
No formal action on the matter was taken during the meeting of the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee of the Board of Supervisors, other than looking at the likely financial impacts of offering more monthly passes at a lower price.
Financing the passes is a critical issue since mounting deficits forced Muni to cut service and raise fares in recent years. Recent estimates have the transit agency running $11.7 million in debt.
Supervisor Jake McGoldrick said the meeting served as a way of starting a dialogue with the community about the proposal.
“Today is not the end of this,” McGoldrick said. “This is just the beginning.”
All those who spoke during the public comment period voiced support for some sort of transit discount.
“Who here wants to pay $45 for a fast pass?” asked Jose Luis Pavon, coordinator of the Youth Making a Change program for Coleman Advocates.
“No!” replied many of the audience members.
“Did you honestly think anyone would say ‘yes’ to that question?” Supervisor Sean Elsbernd asked Pavon, in a deadpan tone.
Others shared experiences of walking through bad neighborhoods because they couldn’t afford the bus ride, or sneaking on without paying the fare.
“It’s really hard to pay $45 when you can hop on at State, or enter the back door of the bus,” said Lucianna Carvalho, 18, an SF State student who also serves on the Youth Commission.
At least two different proposals were brought up during the meeting: McGoldrick’s proposal to offer lower-priced monthly passes to all 18- to 24-year-olds, and an MTA-supported expansion of the Class Pass program for college students offering a transit pass in exchange for a student fee increase.
Gabe Cabrera of the Office of the Legislative Analyst prepared a report showing that a discount of 30 percent on monthly passes, or lowering the price from $45 to $31.50, would cost the city about $5.7 million annually.
At the same time, Cabrera said, the lower fares would lead to an increase of pass purchases of about 7.2 percent, or about 18,000 more sales.
“When you decrease the price of any commodity … there tends to be more purchases,” Cabrera said.
The Class Pass program offers a 60 percent discount on adult fast passes to college students, with the money coming from an increase in student fees. The individual colleges are responsible for distributing the passes.
Since the program’s inception in 2000, only the University of San Francisco has offered class passes. Other schools, such as SF State, have been reluctant to raise student fees in exchange for the discount, according to Judson True of the MTA.
True said his agency is continuing to send out letters and meet with school officials, including at SF State, where MTA officials were scheduled to talk to members of the Academic Senate Nov. 5.
Iqra Anjum, a Youth Commissioner who has been working with McGoldrick’s office on the discount plan, said the “class pass” proposal would not be accepted by students at public universities who can’t afford to pay more.
“USF is a private college in the city,” Anjum said. “The young people who can afford to go to USF can afford to get a fast pass.”
Bruce Wolfe, a former student body president at SF State who attended the meeting, said that a proposed semester fee increase of $45 in 1997, to be passed on to the MTA for student fast passes, drew heated debate from students and never came to fruition.
Supervisor Elsbernd, whose district includes SF State and City College of San Francisco, raised the question of whether a proposed increase in riders because of the discounts would increase capacity to the point where Muni would be pressured to add more routes and drivers.
“What I get a lot of from students, it’s not the cost that’s dissuading them, it’s the quality of service,” Elsbernd said. “The 28 bus, the M-Line, it really is horrendous.”
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