Passengers wait to board the 27-Bryant Muni bus at Cyril Magnin and Market streets on Thursday, July 19, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF won’t find new Muni leader before current director leaves

Ed Reiskin, the city director in charge of Muni, bike lane planning, street design and parking enforcement officers, is on his way out.

Ed Reiskin, the city director in charge of Muni, bike lane planning, street design and parking enforcement officers, is on his way out. That much is known.

But when he leaves, San Francisco may not have a leader ready to replace him, transportation officials revealed this week.

That’s according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors, who met for the first time to plan their search for a new SFMTA director, Tuesday.

As a quasi-independent agency, the SFMTA Board of Directors ultimately hires the new SFMTA director, who oversees San Francisco’s streets.

Muni operations are perhaps the most demanding responsibilities on the plate of the SFMTA director, which is partly behind Reiskin’s announced August departure. After a string of tough turns for the agency, including last summer’s service meltdown, a reported culture of harassment, broken train doors on Muni’s new $1.1 billion future fleet, and more, Mayor London Breed ordered the SFMTA to search for a new SFMTA director by August.

While the SFMTA directors are staring down that deadline they’ve already noted that meeting it isn’t realistic.

In an email sent to the SFMTA Board of Directors in late May, which was obtained by the San Francisco Examiner, SFMTA board chair Malcolm Heinicke revealed “we do not expect this process” to be finished in time for Reiskin’s departure, leading the board to appoint an interim director.

That director may serve until at least Nov. 1, a date the SFMTA board committee set as an “aspirational” goal for hiring a new leader.

Until then, that interim director — perhaps another SFMTA manager, or perhaps hired from outside the agency — will likely inherit all of Muni’s myriad woes, at least temporarily, and will have to ensure the trains and buses keep moving during what some expect to be a tough transition.

However, some fixes for Muni’s recent pains are already on the way thanks to Reiskin, the current director, transit insiders have publicly noted. Mayor Breed is already revamping SFMTA’s human resources department to improve the culture of harassment that has been reported by employees, and SFMTA Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum has revealed fixes for Muni’s door issues, as well as other mechanical fixes.

In fact, SFMTA board of directors at Tuesday’s meeting think the biggest problem ahead of them in finding a new director is not necessarily Muni — it’s BART.

“I had a wild card I wanted to talk about,” SFMTA board director Steve Heminger told staff gathered for the meeting. “BART is searching for a new director right now,” he said.

Those gathered perked up in surprise and sudden understanding — with BART General Manager Grace Crunican also announcing her impending retirement, that means SFMTA and BART would essentially be seeking leaders at the same time, possibly even competing for candidates within the same pool of people.

Another issue that might preclude SFMTA from attracting candidates is the same old song in any Bay Area industry: housing.

Heminger offered that SFMTA may want to look into securing housing deals for any potential director in their search.

“If we don’t hire a Californian I think that’s something we need to get our arms around,” he said.

Ultimately, SFMTA board director Amanda Eaken added, whoever they find to be the next leader of SFMTA has to be ready for an uncertain future.

In recent years, SFMTA has been faced with the advent of driverless cars, dockless bikes, e-scooters, and even pogo sticks, all demanding new ideas and new regulation.

“This is not just a transit agency. That’s the lion’s share of the work, but it’s not just transit,” Eaken said. “This person needs to be a visionary, needs to be a leader, needs to help San Francisco’s transit system evolve into the future.”

Whom that might be is up to those directors to decide.

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