SFMTA Chief Nat Ford Top Candidate To Head D.C. Airports Authority

Nat Ford in his office at 1 South Van Ness. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Rumors about whether SFMTA Chief Nat Ford plans to depart the agency have been circulating for years now.  In interviews with Streetsblog, Ford has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to leave the SFMTA, telling us in our most recent meeting last September that he is confident about the future the agency is charting “and I’d like to be here for that future.” The latest gossip about Ford, however, is more than just a rumor.

As the Chronicle’s Rachel Gordon first reported locally, Ford appears to be the top candidate to head up the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA). Although he lacks a background in aviation, the new role would have him overseeing the Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport, among other top duties. There is some disagreement, though, among MWAA board members about whether Ford is the best candidate for the job.

SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan told Streetsblog that he met with the Mayor Ed Lee yesterday to talk about Ford’s possible departure. He said he’s been aware for “the last few months” that Ford was interested in the position. So why does he want to leave?

“I think it’s an extremely difficult job,” Nolan said. “But I think it’s really simpler than that. My understanding is that the average tenure of these CEOs in transit districts is about five years and it’s five years for him. I think that’s really basically it.”

He added: “The Mayor is very anxious, as am I, to let people know that we’ll be on top of things and that people won’t suffer because of any uncertainty or the possible departure of Mr. Ford.”

Sources told Streetsblog that the Mayor’s Office and some City Hall insiders began compiling a list of potential candidates to replace Ford when rumors about his impending departure began intensifying last year. It’s ultimately up to the SFMTA Board of Directors to name the agency’s CEO, but the Mayor is a major influence.

Ford, a veteran public transportation manager, marked his five-year anniversary with the SFMTA last month. He began his career as a train conductor nearly 30 years ago at New York’s MTA before moving on to a number of managerial positions. He was an assistant chief transportation officer at BART before being named to oversee Atlanta’s public transit system.

Transit advocates have sometimes criticized Ford for not taking more aggressive and bold action to make San Francisco a true Transit First city. In his recent State of the SFMTA report to the board of directors, Ford cited a long list of accomplishments achieved under his leadership.