Photo: Michael Macor / The Chronicle
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A prominent Bay Area transportation leader may join the board that oversees San Francisco’s beleaguered bus and subway system.
Mayor London Breed has picked Steve Heminger, recently retired head of the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission, to be the next board director for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. He would take the seat vacated by outgoing Director Lee Hsu.
If confirmed, Heminger would come in at a crucial time for Muni, which is suffering a driver shortage, commute-choking mechanical failures and problems with its new trains as it seeks a new chief to replace Ed Reiskin.
Breed has scrutinized the city’s transit agency as it devolved, an unwinding that began during a two-month retrofit of the Twin Peaks Tunnel last summer. At that time Muni poached buses and drivers from popular lines to run shuttles around the tunnel — a patchwork plan that caused widespread delays, highlighted SFMTA’s labor deficiencies, and left riders baffled and frustrated.
Since then, the agency has reeled from equipment problems, allegations of bullying and sexual harassment, a contract standoff with its drivers’ union, concerns about the door sensors in its new rail cars and a downed overhead wire that shut the subway down for more than 10 hours last week. These issues came to a head Monday when Reiskin announced his resignation this summer, and Breed called for a national search to find a new director.
The mayor hopes that Heminger’s expertise and institutional knowledge of Bay Area transportation will help move the agency forward.
“…His insight and experience working with transportation agencies across the Bay Area, including SFMTA, will support the City’s work to strengthen our public transportation system, make our streets safer for all users, and deliver transportation improvement projects,” Breed said in a statement Tuesday.
Heminger, 59, retired from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission earlier this year. During his 18-year tenure, he administered a $2 billion budget for regional transportation projects and helped the commission grow in size and influence. He oversaw the controversial decision in 2011 to move the MTC headquarters from Oakland to an old tank factory in San Francisco, a $218 million project that some viewed as an inappropriate use of Bay Area bridge tolls.
Heminger’s biggest transportation project, the $6.3 billion construction of the new Bay Bridge eastern span, was hobbled by years of delays and cost overruns. Opened in 2013, the span has a 525-foot suspension tower and a bike path.
He also steered the commission’s 2017 consolidation with the Association of Bay Area Governments, forming a sprawling regional body to tackle housing and land use issues that intersect with transportation.
Former employees of Heminger describe him as an intimidatingly knowledgeable official who cares deeply about public transit. His most notable innovation is the Clipper Card — a regional transit pass that works on 22 Bay Area systems.
“You have to be on your toes when you work for Steve,” said Randy Rentschler, legislative director of the MTC. He sees Heminger as a strong addition to the seven-member board, which recently took a more active role in monitoring Muni’s day-to-day performance.
Heminger could help link San Francisco’s embattled department to other transportation agencies throughout the Bay Area.
“Steve knows that whole regional territory in a way that could be a huge asset for the SFMTA,” said David Bragdon, executive director of TransitCenter, a policy foundation in New York City. He’s watched Muni’s struggles from afar, and sees the moment of crisis as an opening for new leaders to step in.
Bragdon called Heminger a “shrewd” choice for Breed.
Heminger would be the mayor’s second appointee.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Breed-picks-former-Bay-Area-transportation-czar-13811010.php.