Poor kids ride free, drivers pay up

After months of battling, some parents will no longer have to worry about shelling out $2 per child each way to send them to school.

Instead, Sunday drivers will help foot the bill.

The San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency approved a proposal Tuesday to allow low-income youths to ride Muni for free. To help pay for it and other initiatives, parking meters in The City will no longer be free on Sundays.

The plan comes as a step back from the original idea of allowing all youths from 5-17 to ride free.

The test project is part of an overall budget for parking, transit and taxis for the next two years. The budget calls for spending $821 million the first year and $840.5 million in year two. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

The vote to include a pilot program for free Muni rides for youth was also unanimous, though opponents argued it could lead to an increase in Clipper card pricing and reductions in bus maintenance.

The program will cost approximately $9.4 million and run from August through May 2014. Funding from San Francisco regional transportation partners is still needed for the plan to be implemented.

Board chairman Tom Nolan said that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission would more likely give to the program under the premise that it would be for low-income youth.

“I believe the resources may well be there for providing free Muni for low-income youth. I’m not nearly as convinced the case is as compelling for middle-class and upper-class kids.”

The definition of low-income is still unsettled.

The plan also comes as a way to manage the grim financial situation the SFMTA is in, according to board director Joel Ramos.

“At this point, we’re in a desperate situation and we have to do what we have to do.”