Should the Mayor Sack Director Reiskin?

She'd need the SFMTA Board to actually do it, but Mayor Breed sets stage for Reiskin's ouster

SFMTA's Ed Reiskin, during happier times, getting a shoe shine at the new Salesforce Transit Center on Aug. 13., during lunch hour.  Shortly after that, the center was closed due to cracked beams. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
SFMTA's Ed Reiskin, during happier times, getting a shoe shine at the new Salesforce Transit Center on Aug. 13., during lunch hour. Shortly after that, the center was closed due to cracked beams. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

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Mayor London Breed has written a warning letter to SFMTA director Ed Reiskin, setting the stage for his potential dismissal, reports the San Francisco Examiner and the Chronicle.

From the letterposted online by the Examiner:

Dear Director Reiskin:

In the weeks since I took the mayoral oath of office, a number of challenges have come to light related to the SFMTA and Muni service. Perhaps most significant are service reductions that should have been anticipated and mitigated. But I am also seriously concerned about the lack of background checks performed on major construction contractors and an opaque process to select scooter pilot permit recipients.

Mayor Breed is talking about a lack of background checks because of Patrick Ricketts, a construction worker who was killed working in the Twin Peaks Tunnel. As reported in the ExaminerShimmick Construction, the contractor hired to work on the Twin Peaks tunnel retrofit, had a history of safety violations.

The agency has also come under criticism for ongoing delays in issuing scooter permits. The mayor goes on to write that “Without a dependable bus and rail system, people will choose private cars. This undermines our climate and sustainability goals and exacerbates our congestion issues. I have communicated to the SFMTA Board of Directors that I want to see significant improvements in Muni service, and in fact, in all facets of the SFMTA.”

“The SFMTA’s budget grew by $60 million last year, so I expect that conditions will improve in the very nearterm future,” she added in the letter. “To hold the SFMTA accountable, I will be tracking the Controller’s Transportation City Scorecards. The Controller monitors twelve metrics, from on-time performance to traffic congestion, and I expect to see improvement across the board.”

The advocacy community was pleased to see the mayor’s letter.

“It is encouraging to hear our mayor speaking up for the 350,000 people who rely on Muni every day,” wrote the San Francisco Transit Riders director, Rachel Hyden, in an email to Streetsblog. “She hit the nail on the head – when people can’t depend on Muni, they are forced to make less sustainable options to get around. Pulling runs and stranding riders is the perfect recipe for losing people’s trust.”

Bike advocates were also supportive of Breed’s tough stance. “We’re glad to read that Mayor Breed agrees with our members that protected bike lanes need to be delivered faster, and we will continue to hold the SFMTA accountable to ensure that happens,” wrote Rachel Dearborn, Interim Communications Director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, in an email to Streetsblog. Another bike and safety advocate close to the goings on in City Hall and the SFMTA emailed Streetsblog some more strongly worded comments (on condition of anonymity): “The SFMTA’s flip flops on projects from Upper Market, to Turk Street, to Townsend have revealed inept and spineless leadership.” Many advocates hold Reiskin personally responsible for delays because, they say, he failed to stand up to San Francisco fire department officials who attempted to block projects over access and response time concerns that were widely seen as unsupported and parochial.

Walk San Francisco declined to comment on the letter.

At today’s SFMTA Board of Directors meeting, Reiskin accepted responsibility for gaps in Muni service, which he attributed to the demands of providing replacement bus service for the summer Twin Peaks tunnel subway closure, getting the new light rail cars ready, and delays in training new drivers. But he conceded that all of these challenges were known in advance and that “we could have done a better job” at making sure impacts on bus services and staffing levels were minimized. “I fully accept responsibility.”

“We look forward to SFMTA finding real solutions to the seemingly chronic issue of operator shortages,” concluded Hyden. The advocate who commented anonymously added that past SF mayors haven’t pushed hard enough to bring bike, safety and transit improvements and that “Replacing Reiskin would be a real test for Mayor Breed that a lot of people will watch very closely.”

Reiskin started the job in the summer of 2011, after coming over from SF Department of Public Works. At the time, he was called by this publication a “bicyclist and Muni rider, widely respected by staff, supervisors and transit advocates.”

“I want to acknowledge there’s been a lot of frustration from the riders and the public,” added Reiskin at today’s Board meeting. “We will redouble our efforts… to be better serving the people of the city.”

What have you thought of Reiskin’s tenure? Where has he shown strength and where has he failed? And should he be shown to the door? Post your thoughts below.

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