A new transportation task force being convened by Mayor Ed Lee will focus on fixing Muni’s woes while also seeking to address larger transit issues facing the Bay Area, according to the mayor and people expected to serve on the panel.
Lee has made fixing the agency one of his priorities, but he wants the cures for Muni to include a regional bent. The creation of a new task force — announced during his State of the City speech in late January — will identify regional transportation priorities and funding mechanisms that could pay for those improvements, the mayor said during an interview with The San Francisco Examiner.
Lee said he wants the task force to explore major infrastructure improvements outside of Muni’s purview, such as a long-discussed idea to create a BART turnaround station in the South of Market area where trains could make a quick loop back to the East Bay.
Tom Radulovich, BART’s board president, said the downtown turnaround idea isn’t being explored by the agency anymore.
“We have a $6 billion hole that needs to be filled in the next 10 years just for basic system needs,” Radulovich said. “If Mayor Lee wants to pursue the downtown turnaround, we’re all for it — he just needs to find the money for the plan.”
Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association and considered a prime candidate for Lee’s task force, said the group should focus on making Muni’s busiest lines faster and more efficient. That could mean more transit-only lanes or traffic signals that prioritize buses.
“We need to look at capital investments that make Muni work better day in and day out,” Metcalf said. “There is a whole spectrum of mostly small, high-payback investments that we should investigate.”
Supervisor Scott Wiener, another expected member of the panel, said he appreciates the need for regional integration since he sits on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area’s long-term transit planning agency. However, he said the main goal of the task force should be seeing through Muni’s internal reforms, patching up its structural deficit and purchasing new equipment for its beleaguered transit fleet.
Each person Lee mentioned as a candidate for the task force conceded in interviews that Muni will need voters to approve new funding such as a vehicle license fee, a general bond measure or another tax-based initiative.
With both BART and Caltrain also considering putting similar measures before voters, it’s important for the task force to reach out to those agencies and come up with a regional game plan that could be most successful with Bay Area residents, said Tom Nolan, chairman of Muni’s board of directors.
“Mayor Lee knows that there are other major issues facing the region,” said Nolan, another candidate for the task force. “Which is why he created this body with an emphasis on Bay Area-wide solutions.”
Outside of Wiener, Metcalf, Nolan and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, Lee hasn’t announced any other names for the task force, which he’s expected to finalize in the next week or so.
While several advisory bodies have been crafted in the past to fix Muni’s shortcomings, Lee has a history of getting results from such panels. Similar groups helped push through major reform plans for public pensions, the payroll tax and affordable-housing measures.
“If Mayor Lee were not the person convening this, I would be very pessimistic,” Wiener said. “But his track record has shown that he knows how to take on these intractable long-term disputes.”