San Francisco supervisors propose free Muni program to boost ridership

A pair of San Francisco supervisors are pushing for a plan to make Muni free. Backers of the proposal said it could grow the economy and encourage more people to commute on public transportation while putting more money in their pocket. 

San Francisco is a city that has long relied on transit to get people to work, school, and generally out and about. Now supervisors Dean Preston and Matt Haney want to make Muni free as part of a $10 million pilot program, paid for with stimulus funds. 

"But we also have funds at the Board of Supervisors that are specifically for stimulus and for recovery. I think there's no better way to help folks than putting money directly in the pockets of Muni riders," said Supervisor Preston.

For its part, Muni said ridership is down to about 30% of pre-pandemic levels, and "given our growing structural deficit, we welcome all the support we can get from the general fund."

The transit agency said it's unclear how the proposed pilot program will run.  SFMTA said in a statement, "We want to make Muni affordable to all San Franciscans, but we need to have a productive conversation about the best use of $9 million from the general fund."

Supervisor Preston said not only could it encourage more riders, but it could also stimulate the local economy, putting an extra $81 dollars in the average rider's pocket every month. 

"That's money that they have now for groceries they have to spend in the local economy," Preston said.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission coordinates transit throughout the Bay Area, and says even with many employees likely working remotely for years to come, a robust and functioning transit system is critical to the recovery of the local economy, particularly in San Francisco's Financial District. 

"As more people return to work, and particularly return to work in offices, transit is a critical part of that," said John Goodwin from MTC. "The return can't take place unless people are back on transit."

The legislation for free Muni is set to be introduced, next week and could be up for a vote in May. If approved, the pilot program would begin on July 1.