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On hot seat, apologetic Reiskin pledges improvement

Under fire from Mayor London Breed and Muni riders, San Francisco’s transportation director on Tuesday was apologetic in regards to a shortage of Muni operators and for not doing a better job in vetting contractors for transit projects.

The mayor sent a letter to Ed Reiskin on Monday outlining the many problems the transit agency has been faced with over the summer, including a decline in Muni service citywide, and the way the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency handles its contracts for projects.

A report from the San Francisco Examiner revealed about 1,000 hours of Muni service was missed each day as a result of an operator shortage.

Complaints were surfacing on Twitter of long waits for Muni buses to arrive or missing bus service throughout the summer.

The transit agency is not meeting its city-mandated goal of putting out 98.5 percent of scheduled Muni service. In June, the SFMTA only delivered 93.3 percent of scheduled Muni service onto the streets, according to city data.

One issue causing the operator shortage is the Twin Peaks Tunnel project. While the project is on schedule for completion on Aug. 25, according to Reiskin, transit officials pulled drivers off bus routes in order to operate bus shuttles along the L-Taraval and M-Ocean View lines over the last two months.

Reiskin said at during his director’s report to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors:

“All things we knew about and should have planned better for and I fully accept responsibility for not having better anticipated and mitigated the impacts of the Twin Peaks Tunnel closure.”

Reiskin added that a number of other issues were causing the lack of Muni bus service such as a new operator sign-up and the training of operators on new Muni trains.

Breed wrote in her letter:

“But at the bottom line, Muni must be more dependable. Diminished Muni service forces people to make less sustainable trip choices and erodes confidence in City government. The SFMTA’s budget grew by $60 million last year, so I expect that conditions will improve in the very near-term future.”

The transit agency is currently converting part-time operators to full-time status and increasing the size of operator training classes.

A hearing was called by Supervisor Vallie Brown for the SFMTA to provide more details on the transit agency’s hiring practices and operator shortage.

Breed also criticized Reiskin and the SFMTA for not performing background safety checks on contractors performing work for the transit agency.

Patrick Ricketts, a signal technician who worked for Shimmick Construction, died while working on the Twin Peaks Tunnel project earlier this month when he was struck by a temporary steel beam that was supporting a brick archway.

Shimmick Construction, the contractor working on the Twin Peaks Tunnel, has had violations categorized as “serious” and “willful” at other job sites despite answering to a SFMTA questionnaire that they did not have serious violations during a prequalification bidding process.

Reiskin said:

“At the mayor’s good suggestion, the agency has changed its policy and will impose additional requirements and criteria during the bidding process and include safety criteria as well as independent verification of historic safety performance for contractors going forward.”

Coincidently on Tuesday, Reiskin was being evaluated on his job performance by the SFMTA Board of Directors during the closed session portion of its regular meeting. The evaluation happens annually.

Reiskin said after his evaluation that Breed had made no indication to him that she wanted to replace him, but said:

“She made her expectations for improvements very clear and I think that’s what the letter reflected.”

It would be up to the SFMTA Board of Directors to get rid of Reiskin, but Breed can certainly weigh in on the matter.

Breed said in her letter she would be tracking the transit agency’s metrics such on-time performance and expects to see improvements.

As of Tuesday evening, Reiskin said he was drafting an official letter back to Breed.

The public can join in with the mayor in tracking the SFMTA’s performance measures as they are available online for the public.

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