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Prospective new SFMTA board member touts congestion pricing

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Former Executive Director Steve Heminger of the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission will most likely join the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors.

Heminger, who had been the executive director for the MTC for the last 18 years and retired from the MTC last March, received approvals from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Rules Committee and his nomination by Mayor London Breed will now head to the full board for a vote on Tuesday.

He told the committee that this top three priorities of his if approved to join the SFMTA board is to find a new director of transportation, safer city streets, and improving Muni service citywide.

The transportation agency’s current Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin is leaving in August when his contract expires. The last several months at the SFMTA has been tumultuous with poor subway service, mechanical issues with new Muni light rail vehicles, and an ongoing Muni operator shortage affecting bus service.

Heminger said:

“With his departure, we need to find a new leader and we need to find a new leader for a department that has been notoriously difficult to manage. Not only because of its size, but because of its complexity. I think it’s a real tall order.”

His second priority is to make sure streets are safe in The City. Heminger described the streets right now as a “a bit of the wild west” because of the number of competing uses for public space:

“It seems like every couple of months there’s a new one who are all trying to crowd onto the same space on our streets and sidewalks.”

Heminger said the SFMTA had identified good solutions to some of the challenges, including protected bike lanes and pedestrian scrambles:

“We’ve got some tested ideas now that we need scale up to deal with the size of the problem and not keep approaching it in a piece meal fashion.”

He added the transit agency can also scale up ideas such as red-carpet lanes and rapid service in order to improve Muni service.

Heminger did acknowledge some of the concerns from some supervisors about the tradeoffs when it comes to some transit projects, including the controversy surrounding the addition of red-carpet lanes in some neighborhoods:

“When you reserve space in that contested right-of-way for one use, then you’re going to impact and affect the other uses and I think we need to be careful about that.”

Supervisor Hillary Ronen asked Heminger to address the congestion problem in The City due to the amount of ride-hail app vehicles roaming the streets.

Heminger said even if The City got rid of Uber and Lyft, there would still be congestion.

He noted that New York is preparing to launch congestion pricing where drivers would pay a fee to drive in the most congested parts in the city.

While there will be talks about equity issues related to income when it comes to congestion pricing, Heminger said congestion pricing has worked in other cities around the world:

“What we’ve seen in London, what we’ve seen in Stockholm, what we’ve seen in Singapore, is that the strategy can work and that there are solutions to equity and distributional questions.”

He added that The City should pay attention to New York’s congestion pricing program to see if it’s something worth trying.

The committee received two letters against approving Heminger to the SFMTA board. One letter was from the Coalition of San Francisco Neighborhoods and another was a letter from Glenn Rogers, a landscape architect in The City.

Rogers criticized Heminger in his letter for how poorly he oversaw the Bay Bridge project.

Both editorial boards of the Mercury News and East Bay Times have been critical of Heminger citing in an editorial titled “Good riddance to Bay Area’s transportation czar,” criticizing that he had not improved transportation in region on the freeways and on public transit systems.

The editorial also called his takeover of the Association of Bay Area Governments as “hostile.”

Ronen said she looked forward to working with Heminger as she joined the MTC on Heminger’s last day and was not able to work with him on that commission:

“We have so many challenges ahead of us and I do believe that your expertise and your connections, quite frankly statewide, are going to make a difference for us.”

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