02/28/2013 06:26 pm ET Updated Feb 28, 2013

Free Muni For Kids Becomes A Reality

Starting Friday, low- and middle-income kids in San Francisco will be able to ride the city's pubic transportation system for free as part of an $8.7 million pilot program scheduled to run for the next 16 months.

"We have to make it so that families can afford to live in San Francisco and what better way than to make sure that kids have the opportunity to get to and from school," San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, who served as one of the driving forces behind the two-year push for the program, told ABC San Francisco.

Some 20,000 children have already signed up for the free passes.

All San Francisco residents between five and 17 years of age are eligible if their household makes below the Bay Area median, as determined by the number of family members. For a family of four, the threshold is $103,000.

Children under five already ride for free.

The new program comes in the wake of San Francisco Unified School District cutting its bus service by over 40 percent, leading to an increase in students reliant on Muni as their sole means of getting to and from school. This added expense has become a significant strain on the budgets of families already struggling to make ends meet. In recent years, the cost of a monthly youth pass has risen from $10 to $22.

"Honestly, there were times when I could not afford the $44 for my two children's passes," Claudia, a Potrero Hill mother of two, told the San Francisco Examiner through a translator. "We would have to board the back of the bus and risk getting a ticket. We suffered a lot to pay for the Fast Pass, especially when we did not have enough work. This is a huge blessing for my family now."

Initially, the program was intended to bring free, unlimited Muni access to all San Franciscans under the age of 18, but some critics balked at the expense.

Families can apply for the passes at SFTMA's website.