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After facing criticism that its high-tech workers are shutting the lower class out of San Francisco, Google won praise as the good guy on Thursday after donating $6.8 million to pay for poor children to ride public transit - among the largest private gifts to the city in history.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and a host of other community groups lauded the $3.4-million installments over two years to fund the Free Muni for Youth program, where low- and moderate-income youth ages 5 to 17 get to ride Muni for free.
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission began providing monthly free Muni passes to more than 31,000 poor children in San Francisco in March after the San Francisco Unified School District decided to cut using school buses to get children to school and costs about $3 million a year. The MTA was poised to decide whether to continue funding the efforts, and Google's gift extends the life of the program for two years. Afterward, the fate of the program is unclear.
“With this unprecedented gift from Google, we can keep this successful pilot program running for at least two more years at no cost to taxpayers or Muni riders," Lee said in a statement. "I want to thank Google for this enormous gift."
As generous as the donation is, as Mike Rosenberg from the Mercury News pointed out, Google earns that amount in one hour.
The Google donation comes in the context of a growing movement against apartment displacement and calls for technology companies to address their impact on low-income communities in San Francisco.
Community organizations have been protesting evictions and Google buses, drawing a link between rising rents in San Francico and Google’s private shuttle routes down to Silicon Valley. Many community leaders, including a vocal group of people in Chinatown, have repeatedly asked Google executives and leaders of and other technology companies to come to the table to meet with impacted communities to discuss community driven solutions to the displacement crisis such as the a campaign to repeal the Ellis Act at the state level and the San Francisco Anti-speculation tax that will be on the ballot in November. Until recently, Google didn't have to pay the city for use of the shuttle stops. Last month, the MTA board of directors voted to charge corporate shuttles a fee of $1 a day per bus stop, an average of about $80,000 to $100,000 a year.
And while many noted the $6.8 million gift doesn't solve the problem entirely, Thursday was a day for Google compliments.
“This validates both the success and necessity of the Free Muni for Youth program,” added Bob Allen, leader in the Free Muni for Youth coalition. “We need to tech companies in San Francisco & throughout the region to work with the community to support more community driven solutions to the displacement crisis.”
Google's announcement comes as a surprise to community advocates who have been fighting for more than three years to build support for this program, most recently to expand the program to include 18-year-olds, seniors and people with disabilities.
With the influx of this new money, Free Muni for Youth Coalition issued a statement calling on the SF MTA to institutionalize the program by formally amending the fare policy to include the Free Muni for Youth program.
“It shouldn’t come and go depending on donations from Google or changes in the economy," said Jane Martin from the Free Muni for Youth Coalition. "We need the program to continue during the next recession because that when our low-income families will be struggling again.”