Julie Kirschbaum has been appointed as director transit for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. (Courtesy photo)

SFMTA appoints new Muni chief lauded for ‘candor and tenacity’

Julie Kirschbaum has served as acting director of transit since October

From train doors trapping passengers to outright service meltdowns, Muni has had a rough few months.

Now the agency has permanently hired a new leader to fix that.

Julie Kirschbaum is Muni’s newest chief, serving in a role formally described as director of transit for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Kirschbaum has served as acting director since October. SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin appointed her to the role this week, the agency announced.

“I am honored and humbled to take on this critical role,” said Kirschbaum, in a statement. “While we have a lot of work to do, the steps we are taking now will help improve the system for everyone.”

She’s got her work cut out for her. Multiple news investigations have revealed trouble with the doors on the $1.1 billion new Muni trains, as well as issues with the couplers that join train cars together. An operator shortage also will keep Kirschbaum on her toes, as the agency struggles to balance service across its bus and train routes citywide.

“Over the last several months, Julie has proven to be very responsive to feedback from the SFMTA Board and the general public,” Malcolm Heinicke, chair of the SFMTA Board of Directors, said in a statement. “Julie is a transit expert and she has taken responsibility for the issues that have occurred on her watch so far. I respect her candor and tenacity and I am confident she will give it her all to bring the changes we need to make our system better.”

Kirschbaum is no stranger to Muni’s ups and downs.

She joined the SFMTA in 2007 and has more than 20 years of experience in transportation, having served as a senior transportation planner with the San Francisco County Transportation Authority before joining SFMTA to lead its Transit Effectiveness Project, which overhauled Muni routes across The City to meet the needs of a shifting San Francisco.

She also served as acting deputy director of transit, directly subordinate to former transit director John Haley, before replacing him in the acting director role when he retired in October.

Kirschbaum’s appointment also brings another woman leader to the fore in SFMTA’s ranks, at a time when sexual harassment scandals have plagued the industry. A lawsuit from Haley’s subordinate cast a cloud around the agency before his retirement in October, which some insiders said came due to pressure within the agency.

But it may just be a new day for SFMTA in terms of its internal struggles — Mayor London Breed appointed an independent ombudsperson to clean house in the agency’s human resources department and institute better systems to protect staffers against harassment. SFMTA is also seeing a surging #MeToo movement within its ranks, with staffers signing on demanding equality.

Amidst that righting of the ship, Kirschbaum will be the first woman in the role of Director of Transit, though SFMTA has shifted which staff positions oversee Muni over the years, and some of those were previously held by women.

Kirschbaum is a graduate of Brown University and received her Master of City Planning degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to SFMTA. She is a San Francisco resident.

Kirschbaum said she believed SFMTA would correct Muni’s myriad issues.

“If we remain committed to putting our riders first, replacing and expanding our fleet, continuing to invest in maintenance and ensuring our system is in a state of good repair, we will provide San Francisco with the world-class system it deserves,” she said.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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