Advocates See Hopeful Future with Incoming MTC Chief Therese W. McMillan

Therese W. McMillan. Photo: MTC
Therese W. McMillan. Photo: MTC

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Therese McMillan will take over the helm of the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) on March 1.

From the MTC’s statement, release Wednesday:

McMillan is no stranger to the Bay Area or to MTC, having worked for 25 years as a member of the Commission staff, and for more than eight years as MTC’s deputy executive director for Policy before her 2009 appointment by then-President Barack Obama to serve as deputy administrator of the Federal Transit Administration in the U.S. Department of Transportation. McMillan subsequently served as Acting FTA administrator from March, 2014, to March, 2016, before taking the position as L.A. Metro’s planning chief in April, 2016. During the final five years of her original MTC tenure, McMillan also was an instructor of transportation funding and finance in the Transportation Management Graduate program at San Jose State University’s Mineta Transportation Institute.

“I am excited to return to the Bay Area, and to all its beauty and opportunities,” said McMillan in the prepared statement. “One of my primary goals is to make the Bay Area’s transportation and housing opportunities attainable to all people who reside across the Bay Area. Tackling this challenge will take vision. It also will require new and innovative partnerships among Bay Area communities, service providers, and leaders across government and the private sector. Working with the Commission, I will strive to lead MTC forward as an extraordinary visionary and partner.”

Streetsblog checked in with safe and livable streets advocates throughout the Bay Area to hear what they hope McMillan, who will replace Steve Heminger as ED, can accomplish. Here’s a sampling of their thoughts and recommendations:

Beaudry Koch, co-founder of Seamless Bay Area

We want the MTC ED to step up as a true regional leader. First, she should propose and commit to a bold and inspiring vision for a seamlessly-integrated, customer-oriented, outcomes-driven transportation system, and radical and direct honesty over the investments and governance reforms needed to get us there. This was sorely lacking from the prior leadership.

We think this work should start with integrating fares, schedules and wayfinding. These are the most basic “table stakes” to qualify as having a world-class transit system: a rider should be able to move across the system without being punished financially, getting stuck at transfer points, and struggling to physically find their way.

…we think the MTC ED should then turn to restructuring capital planning in the region: this should be based on regional outcomes–moving a certain number of people to destinations in a certain amount of time, for example–not just based on the preferences of local politicians and individual agencies. The previous leadership was all too often an enabler of projects with dubious regional value.

Tom Radulovich, Executive Director, Livable City

The region has over two dozen different transit agencies, and the cracks between them definitely show–fares, services, schedules, and connections are poorly coordinated between agencies, and sometimes within agencies. MTC should engage the Clipper consortium, made up of MTC and representatives of the regional transit operators, to work towards a seamless transit network for the region–coordinated fares, including eliminating transfer penalties for transit trips involving more than one agency; timed meets between lines at transit hubs; and taking the region’s lifeline transit obligations seriously by eliminating physical and temporal gaps in service to provide more equitable transit service. Whether it’s one transit agency or 26 shouldn’t matter; the goal is to make the experience seamless for the transit user. Regions around the world are able to coordinate services between multiple transit agencies, and even between public and private ones; the Bay Area can do it too.

To do what needs doing, MTC will have to overcome its historic aversion to planning. MTC has been much more comfortable in the role of banker and deal broker, but we desperately need a regional transportation plan. Stapling two dozen transit agency plans and nine county transportation plans together and calling it a regional plan hasn’t sufficed. Local governments and transit agencies have a lot of autonomy, so MTC planning must be collaborative, but it must also be rigorous, demanding public value for money from grantees, and bringing the best transportation practices to a region that is curiously backward.

Stuart Cohen, Executive Director of TransForm

Therese has her work cut out for her! One of the most urgent needs will be to help lead the charge on pushing the Committee to House the Bay Area (CASA) Compact forward.

We think there also needs to be a major focus on how we get away from widening hundreds more miles of highway in the Bay Area. With a climate catastrophe upon us and big financial shortfalls, we must look at making much better use of our existing roads instead. Luckily, MTC has already agreed to look at a seamless regional express [bus] network and that would be done by converting general purpose lanes instead of widening… It would be great if Therese can champion these out-of-the-box ideas, since the toolkit in our existing box is absolutely failing us.

Ratna Amin, SPUR’s Transportation Policy Director

We hope MTC’s new leadership will develop a compelling vision for the future of the transportation system that excites the public. Succeeding at this will require further integration of land-use planning and transportation investment. Now is the time for MTC and ABAG to not only create a newly merged governing board, but also to lead on collective challenges such as climate adaptation, fiscal sustainability, and our inequitable growth pattern.

Brian Wiedenmeier, Executive Director, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition

For too long, bicycle infrastructure projects have not gotten the attention and support they deserve regionally. We look forward to working with Therese McMillan in her new role at MTC, beginning with securing funding to bring the dream of a bicycle and pedestrian path on the Western span of the Bay Bridge to reality.

Meanwhile, advocates such as Rachel Hyden, Executive Director of The San Francisco Transit Riders, say McMillan is just the person to get it done

We’ve heard nothing but good things about Therese McMillan, including from the people she worked with at L.A. Metro. She brings with her a wealth of public transportation administration experience as well as the experience of L.A.’s Measure M. (Measure M was a benchmark public transportation funding measure which is transforming L.A.’s transit infrastructure.) We’re excited for the opportunity to work with her towards a rider-focused, integrated public transit system in San Francisco and across the Bay Area.

Jeff Tumlin, Principal at Nelson\Nygaard, agrees

She has a deep understanding of the mechanics of the region’s most powerful bureaucracy and how to partner with the federal government, even in this administration. She’s a master mechanic of the bureaucratic engine – an essential skill for tapping MTC’s potential.

She’s motivated by service, not ego, money, or positional power. The MTC director has more control over the region’s economy, quality of life, social equity, public health, CO2 emissions, air quality, and future growth patterns than anyone else.

Is there a common theme for McMillan from the advocates and analysts? It seems so, and perhaps Koch summed it up best: “You know what needs to be done, you have all the legal authority you need to get started, and we’re here to help in any way we can.”

What would you tell McMillan to focus on? Leave your answers below.

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