Ed Reiskin looks to future as San Francisco transit chief

The new director of the sprawling agency that sets transportation policies in The City had some reassuring words Thursday for anyone concerned that he’ll be in over his head due to his lack of transit experience.

“I’m a fast learner,” said Ed Reiskin, formerly director of San Francisco’s Department of Public Works. “Give me a month and I’ll be well-versed in all these things.”

Reiskin was formally introduced Thursday as new chief of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni and oversees walking, bicycling, driving and taxi policies.

Reiskin vowed to focus on overall agency management and to rely on his staff for its expertise.

“There is already a lot of transportation and transit expertise within the department,” Reiskin said. “I think that the MTA board saw the need for someone with management and leadership experience and someone who can engage the workforce to realize the vision of the MTA.”

Agency Chairman Tom Nolan called Reiskin a gifted leader who understands the politics and dynamics of San Francisco government.

Reiskin said he didn’t know how his hiring will affect the agency’s executive staff, many of whom were recruited by his predecessor, Nathaniel Ford.

Interim Director Debra Johnson, an unsuccessful applicant for the permanent position, was unable to attend Reiskin’s hiring announcement due to a prior appointment, Nolan said. Transit Director John Haley, who also applied for the executive director position, said he was looking forward to working with his new boss.

Reiskin said he plans to meet soon with members of the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents about 2,000 Muni operators.

The union and the SFMTA recently completed three months of contentious labor negotiations, capped by an independent arbitrator’s approval of the contract. The union has sued in federal and state courts to stop the contract.

Local 250 Secretary-Treasurer Walter Scott said he hopes Reiskin has an open mind and is willing to work with the union for the betterment of San Francisco.

While Reiskin lacks experience leading a transit agency, he has plenty of experience as the customer of one. He said he hasn’t owned a car in 20 years, and mostly bikes or takes Muni to get around San Francisco.

Consequently, he said he knows he has taken one of The City’s toughest jobs.

“The MTA is a great challenge, but on the flip side of that is opportunity,” Reiskin said. “To play a pivotal role in helping this agency would be very important to me.”


Meet Ed Reiskin

  • Age: 44
  • Born: Chicago
  • Residence: Lower Haight
  • Family: Wife, three kids ages 6, 13 and 19

Ed Reiskin sounds off on SFMTA’s issues

Budget problems

“I don’t see general increases in fares and fines as a viable means to balance the budget. The agency has to be creative on the revenue side, and that could be wrapping advertisements on buses or selling T-shirts with the Muni logo. We also have to take a long, hard look on the expenditure side and find out where there are operational efficiencies.”

On-time performance metric

“It’s in the charter, and I don’t want to be too presumptuous about this, but I don’t think it’s what people care about. I don’t think people know about the schedule, let alone what it is or whether we adhere to it. They just want the buses to show up on a regular basis.”

Repairing relationships with operators union

“I’m going to talk to them, not just their leadership, but to the operators, and the folks at all the other unions. I don’t want [SFMTA headquarters] to be seen as some distant ivory tower issuing edicts from afar. I want to be about engaging folks, and hearing what’s important to them.”

Central Subway

“I fully support the Central Subway. I look forward to moving this project forward and securing a full funding grant agreement with the federal government later this year.”

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