June 22, 2021 (sfchronicle.com)
In a rare exercise of her veto power, Mayor London Breed shot down legislation that would have allowed all San Franciscans to ride Muni for free between July 1 and Sept. 30.
The Board of Supervisors approved the program last month, despite opposition from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni. Breed warned that she intended to veto the program immediately after it passed.
But Supervisor Dean Preston, who introduced the proposal, said Monday that he isn’t backing down: “If we have to go to the ballot to win fare relief for riders, we will.”
The fare-free Muni proposal passed the board 7-4, just shy of the eight votes needed to override a mayoral veto. Supervisors Rafael Mandelman, Catherine Stefani, Myrna Melgar and Ahsha Safaí voted against it.
Breed said in her June 18 veto letter that she appreciates the intent to “encourage public transit ridership,” but said eliminating fares would increase the transportation systems’ woes.
“SFMTA must focus on restoring service lines and improving reliability, so that San Franciscans can count on Muni to be safe and reliable as our city reopens and our economy recovers from this global pandemic,” she wrote.
Breed’s veto comes as the city’s transit agency struggles to recover from the pandemic. According to a recent Chronicle analysis, ridership and service levels have plummeted to some of the lowest in the country. Even though the city fully reopened last week, Muni still plans to run at about 70% of its pre-pandemic levels due to its long-term structural deficit.
It also comes as the mayor and progressive supervisors, including Preston, clash over a number of initiatives — including police funding, the use of millions of dollars in transfer-tax funds and relief for small businesses.
The three-month pilot program would have cost the city $12.5 million to back-fill the revenue lost from Muni and paratransit fares. Supporters of the pilot said it would offer relief to low-income riders most impacted by the pandemic, and also give the city an opportunity to collect data on how such a program could work long-term.
The agency — which already offers discounted passes for seniors and extremely low-income riders — still would have collected voluntary fares from people who wanted to pay.
But Breed said she does not support subsidizing those “who could afford to pay.”
In an April 30 letter to the board, she also warned that she would “not support any further supplemental budget proposals” until she unveiled her balanced budget in June.
Preston told The Chronicle in a text last month that Breed’s office had not reached out about the pilot, “nor provided any feedback whatsoever to our proposal.”
“It’s disappointing the Mayor would veto a fully funded free Muni pilot when people need it most,” Preston said in a text Monday. “I look forward to continuing to fight for free public transit and improved service for all San Franciscans.”
The mayor’s decision also comes as free public transit becomes increasingly popular around the country. Other large cities, such as Kansas City, Boston and Fresno, have either implemented or explored fare-free public transit in recent months.
But Breed said San Francisco should not eliminate fares at a time when “ridership will naturally increase” as more commuters head downtown. Instead, Breed and Supervisor Melgar introduced a $2 million proposal this month to make Muni free for those 18 and younger, between July 1 and June 30, 2022.
“Coming out of this pandemic, I know many more people are struggling,” Breed wrote. “If we want to put money in the pockets of our most vulnerable residents, let’s invest in programming that targets them, not temporarily subsidize those who could afford to pay.”
Trisha Thadani is a City Hall reporter for The San Francisco Chronicle. She previously covered work-based immigration and local startups for the paper’s business section.
Thadani graduated from Boston University with a degree in journalism. Before joining The Chronicle, she held internships at The Boston Globe, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and was a Statehouse correspondent for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.VIEW COMMENTSTop of the News