Huge Crowd of Seniors, Disabled Tell MTA: We Deserve Free MUNI!

by Andrew Szeto on April 2, 2014

At the April 1st SFMTA Board meeting, community members came out in mass to support expanding free MUNI service for seniors and people with disabilities. Additionally, people urged the Board to increase funding for bicycle and pedestrian safety and hold to its commitments to Vision Zero.

At the meeting, the Board quickly approved the $6.8 million gift from Google to cover costs of running the widely successful free MUNI program for the city’s low- and middle-income youth. According to a Budget and Analyst report released in February, the Free Muni for Youth pilot program has enrolled 31,262 youth, or around 78.2% of those eligible. The program currently only serves youth ages 5-17, and many at the hearing called for the expansion of the program to include 18-year-olds, some of whom may still be in high school.

“We ask you to make [the program] permanent, and to have 18-year-olds included because they are low-income students too,” said Darnell Boyd of POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights).

Additionally, SFUSD student Damian Williams said that many students with disabilities would be left out, as the program doesn’t cover the 115 students who are between the ages of 18-22.

A representative from Supervisor David Campos’s office urged the Board to include 18-year-olds and to “not wait until November.”

The budget proposal provisionally includes of low-income 18-year-olds, seniors, and people with disability. Funds for these additions would be contingent on the transportation ballot initiatives the MTA hopes will pass in November.

Over 120 senior residents from the Community Tenants Association came out to the Board hearing to advocate for the expansion of the free MUNI program to seniors and people with disabilities. Commenters argued that giving free transportation access to seniors would allow them to get to doctors appointments and to see family.

Many seniors and people with disabilities are also in poverty. “We know that seniors and people with disability on SSI have an extremely hard time making ends meet,” said Tony Robles of the Senior Disability Action. “Giving them a break on transportation by making free MUNI available is going to free up the little money they do have.”

Commenters also drew upon the link between increased access to public transit and the MTA’s goals of reaching Vision Zero and mode shifts. Seniors and people with disabilities are more likely to be injured in traffic accidents, and, without access to free public transportation, many have been forced to walk more and farther.

As reviewed yesterday, the budget proposed does not seem to adequately reflect its commitment to providing the funding needed to increasing pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

“It’s disappointing that we haven’t any funding commitment to emphasize or to actually help us to achieve Vision Zero,” said Nicole Schneider, Director of Walk SF. Schneider said that $564 million is spent each year in pedestrian injury costs, and the current allocation of $3.4 million to pedestrian safety is just not enough.

Youth with the Chinatown Community Development Center echoed the concerns about pedestrian safety funding and Vision Zero, pointing to the high number of pedestrian fatalities last year.

The meeting brought together the concerns of the greater transportation advocacy community.

“I want to commend the transit advocacy community for the successful and appropriate focus on equity and affordability,” said Leah Shahum, Executive Director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “I hope that walking and biking are included in that equity lens.”

“Unfortunately, we know that folks in underserved communities, both neighborhoods and especially elderly and children are most often those injured while walking,” Shahum continued. “I ask you to bring not only walking and biking into the equity lens, but to bring it into the safety lens.”

The MTA Board will hold a budget hearing next week on April 9th at the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance committee meeting. The MTA will vote to approve the budget on April 15th.

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