Google to cover Free Muni for Youth program for next 2 years
Perhaps we won’t see the SFMTA pushing the F Line to $6 a ride to help cover costs after all? In what some say is a show of good faith and others say isn’t enough to address the problem of housing displacement, Google has decided to donate $3.4 million each year for the next two years to the SFMTA to cover the cost of the Free Muni for Youth program. Mayor Ed Lee is holding a press conference at City Hall at 1PM today to announce the gift.
The San Francisco Mayor’s Office is announcing today that Google has agreed to donate 3.4 million dollars each year for the next two years to the SF MTA, specifically to fund the Free Muni for Youth program providing free Muni passes to low–and moderate–income youth. The 3.4 million dollar amount more than covers the existing costs of the program and could support the MTA to expand the program to include 18-year-old students, which has been one of the central concerns of community advocates.
“This validates both the success and necessity of the Free Muni for Youth program,” said Bob Allen, leader in the Free Muni for Youth coalition. “We need to tech companies in San Francisco & throughout the region to work with the community to support more community driven solutions to the displacement crisis.”
“Free Muni for Youth is a very important program that has helped low-income families like mine struggling with the high cost of living in San Francisco, but this program alone will not stop the displacement crisis,” said Manuela Esteva, Latina Mission resident, POWER member and leader in the Free Muni for Youth coalition. “I am still facing an eviction. I may have to leave San Francisco because I can’t afford housing. This is a good step, but we need Google and other tech companies at the table with the community to really address the deep impact they are having on families like mine all across the city.”
The announcement comes as a surprise to community advocates who have been organizing for years in the community to win support for the program. Mayor Ed Lee had already indicated his support for continuing the program in his State of the City address and MTA had indicated to the community that they were hopeful that they would be able to include the Free Muni for Youth program in their next 2-year budget since current budget projections show a 22 million dollar surplus. The MTA is scheduled to consider changes to fares on March 4th including continuing the Free Muni for Youth Program and possible expansion to include senior and people with disabilities.
“Hopefully with this new cash infusion that will free up funds so that the MTA will now be able to approve Free Muni for low-income seniors and people with disabilities,” said Donaji Lona, organizer with POWER.
Given the support from city decision makers and the monetary contribution from Google, the Free Muni for Youth Coalition is calling on the SF MTA to institutionalize the program by formally amending the fare policy to include the Free Muni for Youth program. “The MTA should include Free Muni for Youth in the official fare policy.” said Jane Martin from the Free Muni for Youth Coalition. “It shouldn’t come and go depending on donations from Google or changes in the economy. We need the program to continue during the next recession because that when our low-income families will be struggling again.”
The Google donation comes in the context of a growing movement against displacement and calls for technology companies to address their impact on low-income communities in San Francisco. Community organizations have been protesting evictions and Google buses making the link between rising rents and Google’s private shuttle routes. The community has repeatedly asked Google executives and leaders of and other technology companies to come to the table to meet with impacted communities to discuss community driven solutions to the displacement crisis such as the a campaign to repeal the Ellis Act at the state level and the San Francisco Anti-speculation tax that will be on the ballot in November.