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Embattled SFMTA Chief Ed Reiskin Stepping Down Following Chronic Muni Breakdowns

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Amid a rising tide of discontent over the state of San Francisco's public transportation system, transit director Ed Reiskin announced Monday he will be stepping down from his position in August.

In a letter to his staff, Reiskin said he would be leaving the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency when his contract runs out in August.

"The employment agreement I have with the SFMTA Board of Directors ends in August and it's become clear that this is the right time for a change," he wrote.

"I will continue to give my heart and soul to this job up to my last day," he added.

"Clearly it is time to make a significant change, that's what we're proposing," Mayor London Breed said at a press conference Monday. She put Reiskin on notice in August of 2018; Monday she announced the city will conduct a national search for a new leader of the SFMTA.

"I think it's important that we do a comprehensive search that we seek the best and brightest," she added as the city continues to grow, "we need to simultaneously invest in public transit invest in infrastructure invest in the future of San Francisco."

Breed echoed the sentiment that the agency is underfunded, when asked about providing additional funding she said  "the city is always giving Muni more money there's a need for more drivers a need for more trains."

SFMTA's annual budget is $1.2 billion, its expected to go up to $1.3 billion in 2020. Reiskin's salary was reported at $406,000 in 2017. Operators start out at $22/hour.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai says the agency is too top heavy and is in need of more transparency.

"People are frustrated, they want to see change they're demanding it. It's incumbent upon us to make that change," Safai said.

Criticism of the city's transit system escalated last week when an overhead wire splice -- the connection point for transmitting electricity to power the San Francisco Municipal Railway's light rail vehicles -- was torn down by a train traveling outbound from Powell to Civic Center station. The broken wire became tangled in the top of the second car of a two-car Breda train, damaged components on the top of the train, and shattered windows.

The overhead infrastructure damage was more extensive than expected and Muni Metro subway service in downtown San Francisco was disrupted for much of the day.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin told KPIX 5 Saturday he has spoken to several other supervisors about changing SFMTA in such a way that it is more responsive to the public.

"Things happen when you have a complex system, things do break down," Peskin said. "But it seems that the cascading number of events and the way they've handled it with the media and with public officials, has left a lot lacking."

It wasn't just the long delays on Friday that prompted the discussion. Earlier in the week it was the doors on the new trains after a woman got her hand caught in one, dragging her down below the platform. Incredibly, she survived.

Then, there was the shear pin situation; the pins which are supposed to connect two train cars together. At least two of the pins have broken off, prompting officials to stop doubling up new train cars altogether.

On top of all that, a whistleblower told KPIX 5 that he was pressured to pass people who are unqualified to operate on the railways. He says it's putting public safety at risk.

In a blog post, SFMTA blamed "decades of underinvestment" for chronic infrastructure failures.

In a Tweet on Friday, Mayor Breed said, "Yes, we need to invest in Muni and our system. Yes, we need to expand and improve our fleet. But what happened today and this week is unacceptable."

"This is not a funding problem," Peskin countered. "It's, frankly, a leadership problem.

Union President Roger Marenco said the same thing Monday, "There's plenty of money out there it's just being mismanaged," he said.

He says Reiskin stepping down won't solve Muni's problems, "We're still going to have safety problems pertaining to LRV 4s, we're still going to have drivers being assaulted, late service, we'll still have a shortage of operators that's not going to fix anything," Marenco said.

Breed says she'll be looking for a visionary with experience in a major metropolitan area.


Susie Steimle contributed to this report.

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