BART deputy general manager Bob Powers speaks with Daisy Avalos, acting manager for the Muni Transit Assistance Program, as BART officials consider creating a similar safety program before a ride along in the Bayview District on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner) BART deputy general manager Bob Powers speaks with Daisy Avalos, acting manager for the Muni Transit Assistance Program on Sept. 24, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

BART board appoints new agency leader, who will go on rider ‘listening tour’

Thursday morning the BART Board of Directors is scheduled to vote on their new leadership in a closed session, according to their public agenda.

UPDATE 7/25/19 9:05 a.m.: BART has a new leader: Bob Powers, the agency’s former deputy general manager.

Behind closed doors at the BART Board of Directors Thursday meeting, elected directors cast their votes to appoint Powers, who has worked for the agency since 2012.

Powers takes over at a challenging time for the agency. An expected fleet of new train cars promises to solve sardine-can packed commutes but has been reportedly delayed in their delivery. The agency is also grappling with millions of dollars lost due to fare evasion, as well as public blowback for hostile fare gate design meant to curb those cheats.

BART Board of Directors President Bevan Dufty announced Powers’ appointment to a room packed with expectant — and jubilant — BART staff.

In closed session “the board voted to appoint Bob Powers manager,” Dufty said, simply. “The vote was unanimous.”

In his first words to staff as general manager, Powers signaled an upbeat tone for BART’s future.

“My number one commitment moving forward as general manager as BART is to ensure customers come first and our employees have the tools and the support to do the job, and to do the job safely,” Powers said. “But we have a problem. Our low customer satisfaction numbers are unacceptable. We can do better. We will do better. And we must do better.”

To alleviate those problems, Powers said, he will go on a “listening tour” to hear opinions from BART riders and BART staff. He said he will be in stations, riding trains, in BART maintenance shops, on social media and anywhere BART touches to hear from the public and his employees.

Powers also committed to increasing staffing for the BART Police Department and ensuring an unarmed ambassadors pilot program moves forward.

Taking questions from reporters after his speech, Powers said he welcomes an impending independent oversight officer, which was mandated with the passage of the Bay Area transportation funding measure known as Regional Measure 3. Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Harriet Richardson as BART’s first inspector general in June.

“I think it’s important that we have an independent look at BART’s books. I’m not afraid of that,” Powers said.

When asked if he approved of BART’s controversial new fare gates, from a pilot program — which many in the disability community said posed a physical hazard — Powers said he is “not in a position” to comment on that fare gates’ success. Powers said he wanted to see data on the fare gates before casting judgment.

“I’m an engineer,” he said, “and I wait for data to come in.”

The board also voted on the terms of Powers’ employment: He will be paid $385,000 annually, will be owed a 12-months severance for involuntary termination except in the case of death or gross misconduct, and will net a $30,000 pension plan. His predecessor, Grace Crunican, made $395,000 at the time of her departure.

The original article follows.

BART may have a new leader by Thursday morning.

The agency, which is facing challenges from a delayed “Fleet of the Future” train purchase, a war on fare-cheats and frequent rider-stressing delays, general manager, Grace Crunican, retired this month.

But Thursday morning the BART Board of Directors is scheduled to vote on their new leadership in a closed session, according to their public agenda.

That decision has come down to a single candidate, sources said.

Bob Powers, the current interim general manager, is the final candidate to lead BART, sources with knowledge of the vote tell the San Francisco Examiner.

While some negotiations for his leadership have already taken place, the BART board’s vote Thursday is expected to make it official. The public agenda leaves open the possibility for the vote to stalemate or otherwise be tabled.

“Announcement of Appointment of General Manager, if any,” the agenda reads, in a cautious message.

BART spokespeople declined to verify Powers is the final candidate. BART Board of Directors President Bevan Dufty also declined to comment.

Yet Powers has been expected by some in BART to become its new leader for quite some time.

Powers has spent years building up his experience and reputation at BART. He served as assistant general manager in its planning, development and construction division starting in 2012. In 2017, he became deputy general manager, according to his LinkedIn page.

Though Dufty declined to comment this week, when Powers went on a field trip with Dufty and other BART board directors to research security practices on Muni buses in late 2018, Dufty told the Examiner that Powers was future leadership material.

Powers is a licensed professional engineer and formerly served as deputy director of Seattle Department of Transportation and division chief of transportation with the City of Baltimore Department of Transportation, according to his biography for a speaking engagement at a rail industry conference.

When asked if she would vote for him, one BART board director representing San Francisco, Lateefah Simon, said she would “not spill the beans” on her vote, up or down, for Powers.

However, she said, “I like Bob. As the interim I’ve worked very well with him. And as the assistant general manager I had a great relationship with Bob.”

The person who will lead BART next must have “an intimate understanding of where this district needs to go,” Simon said. “Bob, in some ways, he reminds me of a baseball coach. He’s going to bring you along, he’s going to cheer you on. He’s honest, he’s tough, but he has a hearty sense of humor.”

She added, “He works around the clock. If I’m texting him at 2 a.m. he’s texting me back,” and “He’s visionary and practical, really nuts and bolts. When we’ve had hard conversations. He concedes when he’s wrong and pushes back when he believes he’s right. I like that leadership style.”

The previous general manager, Crunican, has spoken highly of Powers’ efforts.

When she announced her retirement in April, Crunican said “Under the leadership of Bob Powers, plans are developing to regularly measure ourselves against the best (transit) systems in the world.”

BART directors and other Bay Area officials lauded Crunican for leading BART’s bond measure effort, which is funneling $3.5 billion rebuild BART infrastructure.

Crunican further praised her leadership team, including Powers, as “joyful and bold and hard working. They are customer-focused and have made operational changes that have translated into cleaner stations, almost universal Clipper Card usage, good relations with labor unions for several years and communications systems that stay ahead of our mobile customers, just to name a few.”

The vote for BART’s new general manager is expected Thursday morning at its 9 a.m. meeting.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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