In a rare use of the mayoral veto, Mayor London Breed said late Tuesday that she would not sign off on Supervisor Dean Preston's pilot project to offer free Muni rides for three months.
As we discussed on Monday, the Free Muni Pilot program has been far from a slam dunk, with considerable pushback from SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin and some obvious dissonance with pandemic-related budget woes. Under Preston's legislation, the city would hand over $12 million in general fund money to the SFMTA to cover the cost of free Muni fares and messaging to riders from July 1 to October 1. Preston has argued that this would provide a significant economic benefit to low-income San Franciscans and frontline workers, albeit late in the pandemic.
But the SFMTA is hobbled as it is, and the Muni system is barely just beginning to get back on its feet. The Muni Metro has been largely offline for 14 months, and trains only began rolling through tunnels on May 15. And ridership remains at 30% of pre-pandemic levels, which is likely not because people can't afford Muni fares.
The Board of Supervisors voted 7-4 on Tuesday in favor of the Free Muni Pilot, and some news outlets ran with headlines that made it sound like this was a done deal. But no.
The program still would have had to face a skeptical SFMTA board, and now Mayor London Breed tells the Chronicle that she'll be using her veto power to shut this down before it gets that far. Because the vote failed to get a veto-proof eight supervisors on board — Rafael Mandelman, Myrna Melgar, Ahsha Safai, and Catherine Stefani all voted "no" — it is dead in the water.
"The mayor believes we need to return Muni to full service to support our economic recovery, especially for our lower income communities before we use precious general fund dollars to provide free rides for those who don’t need it," said the mayor's spokesperson Jeff Cretan, in a statement.
Tumlin has said that Muni would be adding back more bus and train service in August, and that by January, the system would be back to about 85% of its pre-pandemic service levels. And he expressed concerns about how well the currently limited level of service could accommodate a potential surge in riders, if a lot of people suddenly took advantage of free rides.
Preston, sounding miffed, told the Chronicle that the mayor had not previously given him any feedback on the Free Muni Pilot program.
This veto announcement came on the same day that Breed threw down the gauntlet with the supervisors, taking them to task at a press conference that was ostensibly about her downtown revitalization proposal for summertime activation events.
Referring to what she said was the Board's slow-walking and "watering down" of her Small Business Recovery Act, Breed said, "The Board has messed with the wrong mayor." She vowed to bring her proposal for small business recovery efforts — which may or may not include legislation that makes it harder for single individual to file appeals to thwart new businesses or developments — to the November ballot if the supervisors "continue down this path."
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