Mayor London’s Breed’s pick to join the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors was approved Wednesday by the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee, but not without supervisors venting out their frustrations with the transit agency.

Breed announced her nomination of Amanda Eaken last month who will bring her expertise of working as a director in transportation and climate change for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group.

Ching Wong/SFBay

Amanda Eaken, director of transportation and climate at Natural Resources Defense Council, listens to public comments during a Board of Supervisors committee hearing on her nomination to the Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, September 19, 2018.

Eaken, who lives in the North of the Panhandle neighborhood and regularly takes the 5-Fulton and 5R-Fulton, said the key issues she would begin working on included improving Muni service, public outreach to residents about projects, and making sure district supervisors work with the SFMTA on transportation-related issues.

Eaken said on Muni service challenges that affected service over the summer:

“I believe the agency must operate on a model of continuous improvement especially with recent service challenges. I believe it is incumbent upon the agency to thoughtfully and non-defensively to examine what has gone well and what we could be doing better and strive to always improve.”

Public outreach with the SFMTA staff over the years on small, medium and large projects have either been a hit or miss over the last number of years.

There are times, for instance, some residents are informed of projects, and there are times they are surprised to hear about projects in their neighborhood, Eaken said:

“As anyone who has been to a MTA board meeting can attest, individuals and communities continue to feel as though their input is devalued and priorities are ignored.

Eaken added:

“We need to do a better job making sure projects don’t take people by surprise and community members feel they have an opportunity to participate in the decisions that affect them.”

A number of topics were discussed by Supervisors Norman, Ahsha Safai and Catherine Stefani, who all sit on the Rules Committee.

Some of the topics included safety on Muni vehicles, on-time performance of Muni and accountability.

Ching Wong/SFBay

Supervisor Norman Lee listens to Amanda Eaken, nominated to the Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors, at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, September 19, 2018.

Yee asked Eaken what was the biggest issue facing the SFMTA currently. One issue Eaken said was the transit agency’s dismal Muni on-time performance which sits at 57 percent:

“That’s worse than a failing grade.”

Eaken said she would improve the stat by looking to data and analyzing the root causes of delayed Muni vehicles.

Ching Wong/SFBay

Supervisor Ahsha Safai listens to Amanda Eaken, nominated to the Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors, at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, September 19, 2018.

Safai, who has criticized the transit agency and wanted to split agency up with a ballot measure, said:

“I honestly don’t know where to begin.”

It was a response not to directed toward Eaken but to the current issues of the SFMTA.

Safai said Eaken had stellar credentials to be on the board but said the current way the SFMTA interacts with city officials is “fundamentally flawed” and wanted to know how Eaken could shake up the transit agency:

“Why would you want to be part of system that is failing? Do you really believe you can make change there because there’s a lot of people that  have come before this committee that believe they can make change at that agency?”

Eaken said she can hit the ground running immediately because of her work background and bring a sense of urgency on a number of issues the SFMTA currently faces.

Safai also asked if the SFMTA was managed well, and Eaken responded:

“There’s room for improvement.”

One of the issues that supervisors felt needed improvement was better communication with their offices during the community outreach process, said Stefani:

“If we push back on the MTA in terms of asking for the community outreach or asking for that work to be done, we are then cast in a light that is not always true.”

Eaken agreed again that the SFMTA needs to improve working relations with supervisors and explore new options of outreach to residents, rathern than relying solely upon the traditional community meeting that some residents feel is not effective.

Back on Muni, Safai asked Eaken what the main issue is with the transit agency.

Eaken gave one example of what she recently learned from transit officials in that the transit division and training division are both separate from each other.

The training division may go at their own pace but the training division’s pace may not keeping up with the number of operators needed to drive Muni vehicles, said Eaken:

“To me, that’s just one of those delivery chain challenges if we know about we have to fix it.”

The nomination of Eaken will be up for a full vote by the Board of Supervisors next Tuesday.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to jerold@sfbay.ca or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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