However, at the very tail end of 2012, "free Muni" means exactly what it sounds like. Universal, no-cost access to San Francisco's public transit system. At least, for a very limited time.
On Friday, December 28, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will be giving out free rides on all of its buses, street cars, light rails and (especially exciting if your relatives are in town for the holidays) San Francisco's iconic cable cars.
The city is offering these services for free in celebration of Muni's centennial as the oldest publicly-owned public transit system in the United States. "It's the people of San Francisco who make Muni what it is," SFMTA head honcho Ed Reiskin said in a statement, "so we want to thank them for a century of support by letting them ride Muni for free on this special occasion."
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Muni officials initially considered offering Muni rides for a nickel--the same price a fare cost when the system first opened in 1912--but that proved a logistical nightmare.
While rides on Friday will be free, the agency is scaling back service all week, due to the last week of the year also having a low average ridership. The San Francisco Examiner reports:
Agency spokesman Paul Rose countered that ridership levels drop by 35 to 40 percent during the last week of December, and that the service reduction will actually benefit taxpayers.
"Rather than having people pay for service with empty buses, we're adapting our schedule to meet the needs of our riders," Rose said.
The free rides start at 5 a.m. on Friday and run until 5 a.m. on Saturday.
Friday isn't the only time over the holidays when Muni will be offering freebies. As it does every year, Muni won't be charging for rides on the evening of New Year's Eve. Although that's less about Muni celebrating its centennial than it is discouraging drunk driving.
Need some advice on just how to take advantage of free Muni on New Year's Eve? Check out this handy guide to ringing in the New Year in style: