On the day San Francisco’s top transit official Ed Reiskin said he would step down by the end of the summer when his contract ends in mid-August, Mayor London Breed sent a letter to the governing board of the transit agency urging them to begin a search for a new director of transportation to lead the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.
Breed said at a press conference in her office that was it clearly time for a change in leadership at the struggling transit agency:
“It was a very challenging time for the last past couple of months for our Muni riders, for our system, and I do think it’s important that we demonstrate with action that we plan to make serious change to make sure we can regain the public’s trust over some of those challenges.”
While many issues have surfaced over the last month with mechanical and safety issues with the new Muni trains, the transit agency has had other difficulties since last year.
Those difficulties were laid out in Breed’s letter to the SFMTA board, which included an ongoing operator shortage, allegations of harassment from female SFMTA employees by SFMTA managers, and just last Friday, a Muni train dragged down over 1,000 feet of overhead wiring causing transit officials to close most of the subway for nearly the entire day.
Breed said in her letter about the Friday incident:
“When the entire Muni metro system was shut down almost all day this past Friday, the everyday San Franciscans who depend on Muni to get to work, to school, and to important appointments, finally had enough, and I was with them.”
She also criticized the transit agency’s response to problems with doors of the new Muni trains, which a passenger’s hand was caught between the doors earlier this month and seriously injuring the passenger as the train dragged the passenger at the Embarcadero station:
“…The Agency seemed paralyzed and unable to respond definitively.”
The mayor had already sent a letter to Reiskin in August of last year warning him that she wanted to see improvements after the transit agency closed the Twin Peaks Tunnel for construction work, which affected bus service citywide as bus drivers as transit officials sent bus operators to drive shuttles for the affected Muni rail lines.
“At this time, clearly the change has not been significant enough and so now it’s time move enough.”
She wants the SFMTA board to a wide-ranging search for the next transit chief:
“We’re looking for someone who understands the bigger picture. It’s not just one thing that this department represents. We need a real transportation expert who understands the complexities to run a major transit system.”
It would be up to the seven members SFMTA Board of Directors to hire a new director of transportation, but it’s not to say that the mayor will not have her influence over the pick.
Directors hired Reiskin in July 2011 with support from former Mayor Ed Lee and former chair of the SFMTA board Tom Nolan.
Previously, Reiskin had worked as the director of Public Works and The City’s 311 system — both departments that Lee had previously worked at as well.
The director of transportation oversees the operations of the SFMTA, including but not limited to Muni operations, parking and traffic, taxi and accessible services.
In a joint statement by the current chair of the SFMTA board Malcolm Heinicke and Vice Chair Gwyneth Borden, both praised Reiskin for his eight years of service with the SFMTA, recognizing that the job is difficult:
“The unique set-up of the SFMTA makes the role of leading this transportation agency an incredibly difficult job. Over the last eight years, Ed Reiskin has worked tirelessly to help improve transportation in San Francisco. His leadership has earned him the respect of this board that holds him in high regard for his integrity and his passion to improve transportation in our city as we continue to grow and increasingly rely on sustainable modes to get around.”
The statement continued:
“Ed is a true San Franciscan who walks the walk and relies on the transportation system every day. Whether he is taking Muni, riding a bike, taking a taxi or another form of sustainable transportation, Ed has been a champion for making our transportation network equitable for all. The SFMTA Board of Directors cannot thank Mr. Reiskin enough for all that he has done.”
The transit agency said the board will be transparent with the public in choosing in a new leader, but it remains to be seen how much input the public will have in deciding who will run The City’s transportation agency.