Should Nat Ford Stay or Go?

493881338_713f942877.jpgSFMTA Executive Director Nat Ford and Mayor Gavin Newsom. Flickr photo: SFist

At yesterday’s Rules Committee meeting at City Hall, as first noted by the Examiner, there was some banter between Supervisor Chris Daly and MTA Board Chair Tom Nolan about MTA Executive Director Nat Ford. They seemed to indicate he was looking to leave the agency.

Daly:  “In your next term, you may have to hire a new general manager or two or three. Can you
tell me about what you are going to be looking for as an MTA
commissioner for the next Muni general manager? I like Nat Ford. But I think Nat Ford is looking elsewhere."

Nolan: "Well, I have thought about that, in terms of succession planning. I’ve asked him not to do it on my watch. I think he’s done a terrific job. He brings a lot of skills into it in a whole series of areas. And I think what I would like to do  in terms of preparation for it is talk to a lot of people that I respect in the industry about what it really takes."

He added, "I’d like to get somebody like him. I’m not sure how we would proceed with that. We have thought about it. We have talked about it. I’ve spoken to the Mayor about it as well."

It’s no secret that Ford, who was appointed to the post more than three years ago by the Mayor, has been considering other opportunities. The Chronicle reported on rumors he was being looked at for a post in the Obama administration and was approached about the recently-filled executive director position at the Los Angeles MTA.

What do you think Streetsbloggers? Should Nat Ford stay or go? If he does depart, who would be the best person to fill his shoes at the MTA?

  • Peter

    go. gone. fired. out on his ass. dude should have been relieved of his duties a long time ago. he’s presided over an agency run amok – an agency which only felt it necessary to recently, finally appoint a safety director — after the injury and slaughter of so many innocent people.

    if he resigns quietly then maybe we won’t prosecute him for gross negligence.

    Nataniel Ford has been and continues to be a disaster for MUNI and for mass transit in San Francisco.

    Good riddance. Let someone else appoint him to steer _their_ agency into disaster.

    I, for one, doubt he’s going to be able to find work elsewhere. Except for the rotating-door-of-do-nothings at the top of most big-city transit agencies, i’m _sure_ he wouldn’t be employable at all. People seemingly want to give Ford credit for something. For what? For being appointed to head one of the biggest transit agencies in America, and succeeding in doing absolutely nothing for three years, except defer maintenance, increase employee dissatisfaction, preside over (some would say ‘direct’) a disastrous safety record, financial malfeasance, etc.?

    On second thought, maybe we do need to prosecute him. Him and his boss.

  • Seth A.

    True.. there hasn’t been anything “big” done at Muni over the last 3 years, but there’s been a lot of work done behind the scenes to try to turn the Muni ship around after decades of poor management. I see major accomplishments on his watch being nextmuni and the TEP. The TEP is not just about rerouting bus lines, but it’s also about auditing everything that goes into operations: from communications to inspections.

    Few of us understand how complex it is to effectively and efficiently run Muni.. there are so many divisions, modes, and departments, not to mention a culture of entitlements and turf wars. Muni always gets cajoled by political interests to pursue “big” projects and it distracts the focus and resources on fundamentals such as improving the communications system or streamlining bus stops.

  • theo

    major accomplishments on his watch being nextmuni and the TEP.

    And Translink. Ha!

    If Ford leaves, the biggest worry is that Newsom might not pick a replacement who’s committed to putting the TEP in place. They put a lot of work into that, and I realize that the economy is making it difficult to implement all the recommendations, but it’s the best chance in 20 years to significantly improve Muni. No way we’re getting to Prop E 85% reliability without it.

  • There are good parts of the TEP, poorly executed parts, and whole parts left undone.

    Beware whenever anyone says they want to be sure the TEP becomes reality.

    The MTA was able to get 88% reliability on the 1 California line using existing tools of putting the DPT to work keeping the lanes clear for busses and without risking a ADA lawsuit for the removal of stops that places additional burdens on senior and disabled San Franciscans.

    There is no rocket science involved and no special authority is needed for the MTA to do its job as empowered by charter.

    My concern is that Ford’s leadership style tends towards the authoritarian and is done with an eye towards professionalizing a department that is not short on slackers. But in a public agency, that has a chilling effect that is also detrimental to public confidence.

    Ford has also treated charter provisions as if they do not exist, in that like John Rahaim at Planning, believes that he works for the Mayor rather than as head of an agency expressly granted political independence by the voters because of Mayoral and Supervisorial meddling.


  • They haven’t put the TEP into effect yet, so aside from some of the measurements they’ve put in place (part of putting the plan together meant finding out how it was used, and since it wasn’t being tracked they had to start collecting data first) almost everything is left undone.

    Parts of it will certainly end up poorly executed, as far as I know there’s nothing in it had been fully funded even before the city and state started the latest round of fund raiding.

    It cost $168,000 over 3 months to get the 1-California from an 81% on-time rate up to 88%. At that rate it would take about $6 billion/per year to bring all of Muni up to 88%, plus whatever additional vehicle, staffing and maintenance costs it would take to provide 100% vehicle and operator availability, since during the test they would borrowed from other lines.

    And that was the real point of the test, all the politicking and big numbers aside: to find out what it would take to get to 85% rather than waiting for it to magically happen if “85%” is repeated often enough.

  • The TEP was supposed to offer up policy recommendations in three areas: 1) network realignment, 2) capital program and 3) labor reform. To this point the TEP has only produced (1), touched on some of (2) and abandoned (3) even though labor reform was the pro quo to Prop A’s wage floor quid.

    The MTA could easily impact the riding experience of most riders if the treatments used for the 1 California experiment were applied to the most delayed, most used lines, which would cost much less than $6b.

    I’m getting about $53m eyeballing it, $168K per quarter per line = $672K per year per line, times 80 lines – $53,760,000, less than $6b by only several orders of magnitude and not at all out of the affordability range were such a project prioritized as the voters demanded in 1999.

    If the premise of the TEP is that we can increase the effective deployment of capital by increasing speeds, and in order to do so, the MTA needs to cut service over there to make it better and faster over here, then the MTA has to prove in concept that they can assemble the pieces on the board to make that happen.

    I would also raise questions about labor issues at the DPT wing of the MTA, and whether rethinking how DPT kept transit lines clear would make that end of the operation more efficient.

    Since the MTA had been specifically empowered by the voters in 1999 to deploy the DPT to make Muni run faster and haven’t, then I’d really have to question the institutional commitment of the MTA to use the TEP to do anything but screw the transit dependent in order to lure the transit choice riders, in effect, bringing to the MTA the kind of gentrification for which the Planning Department has become famous.


  • Next month the SFMTA board will be presented a revised plan for the network realignment that should fit within the current deficit and could start to go into effect within months.

    You’re right, I did something wrong on my calculator and got $6b, but regardless, the money isn’t there and it doesn’t matter how many times you say voters mandated something if there’s no money to make it happen. Or, as what’s happening now, we do approve money and other agencies raid it for themselves.

    Prop A’s labor reform would have been more extensive, but the Board of Supervisors meddled with it under union pressure before it went on the ballot.

  • CBrinkman

    I had hoped that Michael Burns could improve Muni, I hoped that Nat Ford could improve Muni. As a lowly little bus rider (actually I ride my bike most of the time – it’s more reliable)it’s mystifying how certain things can be so ignored. I have some faith in the TEP idea, but am losing hope that any implementation will occur. I set my life up so that I can ride my bike to work; I pity the people who don’t have that option. Relying on Muni to get to work on time must be horrible, and it especially impacts the workers with the most to lose from being late.

    Should Nat Ford go? Would the next head of MTA be any more effective?

  • Prop A was the quid to the union, replacing a wage ceiling with a wage floor, and there was no pro quo, as in labor rules, coming from the Mayor at contract negotiation time which was part of the Prop A deal.

    Of course, Newsom reneged on all of those deals when he decided to raid the $26m from Prop A to fork off to other agencies. How do politicians expect to cut deals if they’re just going to screw over their counterparties?

    I was under the impression, having sat through 18 months of TEP CAC meetings, that moving vehicles faster would save Muni money. TO what extent has the MTA’s decision to not use the DPT to clear the way for transit cost the agency money?

    In any event, the voters approved $26m to fund TEP improvements and the voters approved Prop E which gave the MTA the power to use the DPT to clear the path for Muni. That would provide 1/2 of the dollar amount needed, if the 1 California line pilot project is a generalizable case study, to provide DPT clearance services on ALL 80 LINES.

    If the scope of such an expenditure were scaled down to only provide clearance to the radial lines, then the price would drop even further. If motorists got wind that there would be hefty fines for blocking Muni, then that would generate revenue and discourage blocking, reducing the cost of enforcement.

    We elect candidates who pledge to do the right thing by Muni, we pass ballot measures to that effect that offer up more money and protect existing set asides, yet at the end of the day, we end up getting fucked over and again no matter which mayor, no matter which MTA chief.


  • NoeValleyCat

    Having lived in Atlanta for almost 20 years, I knew that Nathaniel Ford was the wrong person for the job from the start. Atlanta’s BART-like MARTA system is a sad joke to most residents of the ATL.

    If SF ever wants to get serious about MUNI and making it a reliable system for its owners (the citizens of SF), then we need to hire someone with a proven track record of accomplishing goals. How about someone from a system that works? Like New York. Or London. Or Paris.

    Honestly, I’m amazed that city gov’t would consider a candidate from anywhere else in America.


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