Google has agreed to donate $6.8 million over the next two years to help fund free Muni passes for low and moderate income students, Mayor Ed Lee’s office announced today.
“This validates both the success and necessity of the Free Muni for Youth Program,” Bob Allen, a leader in the Free Muni for Youth coalition said in a press release issued by POWER, a community group involved in the fight for free transit. “We need tech companies in San Francisco & throughout the region to work with the community to support more community driven solutions to the displacement crisis.”
The Google donation comes in the midst of a growing tension between the new tech workers moving into the city and long term residents who are being pushed out because of rising rents. The tech buses carry 35,000 workers a day down to Silicon Valley and they have become a focal point for the growing divide in San Francisco. Community leaders have pressed City Hall to be more proactive in stopping evictions and in making the internet giants invest in San Francisco.
Gloria Chan from Supervisor David Campos’s office said the donation has to be considered in the context of residents being displaced. She called it a good first step but added that the students being helped with free Muni passes are also among those being driven out of the city.
Manuela Esteva, a Latina Mission resident, POWER member and leader in the Free Muni for Youth coalition, said in POWER’s press release that she is still facing 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.”
POWER’s press release added:
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.”