The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) needs to vote on the proposal for a Free MUNI Youth Pass in March — or risk losing millions in transportation dollars that would improve the lives of San Francisco youth and their families. A broad community coalition led by young people has been campaigning for the free pass for more than a year, which would allow all San Francisco students to get to school, work, and to recreational and cultural activities.

The coalition has done the hard work and advocacy to identify the necessary funds to pay for this program. The moneys identified for this initiative comes from a broad range of city, county and regional sources that are specifically designated to improve the region’s air quality and address climate change, improve mobility for low income communities and communities of color and make transit for youth more affordable. But these funds are competitive and will not be available indefinitely.

The coalition has also carefully analyzed areas of potential cost savings (MTA’s capital budget, “work orders” that other city agencies charge MUNI for providing services and overtime costs) that would allow MUNI to put more service on the street.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this campaign is leadership role that San Francisco’s youth has played. The campaign started in response to the doubling of the MUNI Youth Pass price, the drastic scaling back of yellow school bus service, and an economic crisis that has fallen hardest on San Francisco’s working families, especially those that rely on public transit. But it is also rooted in a civil rights vision: all San Francisco young people should have equal access to school, after-school programs and all the opportunities the city has to offer.

From delegation visits with elected officials and decision makers, to generating widespread awareness of the campaign through social media to helping develop an education component that will build the next generation of MUNI riders, San Francisco youth have made it clear that the cost of MUNI should not and need not be a barrier to their education and their future. No youth in the city should have to choose between going to school and risking a $100 ticket because their parents cannot afford the cost of a youth pass.

At a time when so much of the national and global political debate is focused on the politics of austerity and what we can’t or won’t do to invest in our future, a broad coalition of community-based organizations, advocates and elected officials in San Francisco has created a vision and a plan for a better transit system for our youth. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the School Board, the Parent Teachers Association Board and the Youth Commission have all passed resolutions supporting Free MUNI for Youth. The MTA board and Director Ed Reiskin have expressed their willingness to make this a reality.

It’s time now for MTA to act and vote on the proposal in March in order to secure funding sources identified by the coalition while they’re still available and move this initiative forward. San Francisco’s youth can’t wait for the future they deserve any longer.

Bob Allen is the Transportation Program Director at Urban Habitat. Sign the petition in support at www.peopleorganized.org.