I'm glad to see the Mayor Newsom is looking into free bus service. It's a great idea, even if, as Leftinsfnotes, it's probably just a political ploy in an election year. And even if the Chron is already already trying to shoot it down.
When I first saw the headlines, I had one of those flashback moments; I realized that we'd already done this story, a long time ago. In fact, it was December, 1993 when the Guardian ran a cover story on the case for Free Muni. I dug it up from our archives; you can read it here.
Back then, the local economy was kind of a wreck, and beyond the environmental arguments, we wanted to make the case that eliminating bus fares would give the mostly working-class folks who ride the buses more moneny in their pockets, which would be a nice economic boost. The way to pay for it, of course, would be to tax downtown (making this a transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor, one of my favorite things in the world).
I don't think Newsom is even looking at the economic arguments, but he should.
He also isn't calling for a downtown transit tax increase to pay for this, either -- but that's the way to do it. Put the whole thing on the ballot -- free Muni, paid for by, say, a $150 million annual assessment on downtown buildings. That might even win. Would Newsom support it?