Google plunks $6.8 million in Muni farebox

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has one less funding decision for its upcoming two-year budget after Google announced Thursday it will pay for the transit agency’s free Muni for youth program for at least another two years.

Mayor Ed Lee and the transit agency said the tech company has donated $6.8 million to help fund the program, which will continue as a pilot for another two years.

Launched last year, the program provides free Muni for low and middle income students whose families earn at or below the Bay Area median income level.

Over 31,000 students between the ages of 5 to 17 have signed up for the program, said the SFMTA.

Lee said in a statement that the donation will help make continue to make The City more affordable for working families:

“Google is demonstrating with real action and real resources that they are a true partner in addressing our City’s affordability crisis for lower and middle-income families.”

The SFMTA is currently working on its two-year budget, which included deciding whether or not to continue fund the free Muni for youth program.

The transit agency said it would cost them $2.6 million to continue this program and $2.8 million the following year.

Tom Nolan, chairman of the SFMTA board, said in a statement that the donation will allow the transit agency to:

“… continue a very popular and successful program that ensures that Muni works for everyone and is one less demand for the board as we consider our upcoming two-year budget.”

Expanding the program to include 18-year old high school students is still on the table, director of transportation Ed Reiskin said during a budget town hall meeting Thursday night.

By adding 18-year-olds, the cost of the program would rise approximately by $1 million for each year.

The donation from Google comes as employees from tech companies who live in The City are being blamed for affordability issues such as rising rents and evictions.

Tech buses that shuttle employees to and from The City and the South Bay have become icons of gentrification in certain neighborhoods.

Several protests have blocked these tech shuttles, which are allowed to use Muni bus stops to pick up employees, upsetting upset many City residents. An environmental appeal has been filed with the Board of Supervisors to block the plan.

Supervisor David Chiu said the donation to fund the free Muni for youth program was a positive step for tech companies like Google to increase their civic engagement.