Thursday, June 4, 2009

SFMTA Executive Director/CEO Nathaniel Ford Speaks at San Francisco's Government Affairs Committee Meeting

From left to right: Susan Court, 2009 BOMA San Francisco GAPAC Chair; Nathaniel Ford, SFMTA Executive Director/CEO; Ken Cleaveland, BOMA San Francisco's Government and Public Affairs Director.

Nathaniel Ford; Susan Court

Nathaniel Ford, the Executive Director and CEO of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) spoke to members of the BOMA San Francisco Government and Public Affairs Committee (GAPAC) yesterday about what's happening at the SFMTA. Here are the highlights:

What does the SFMTA do?
  • The SFMTA is the only public transit agency of its kind in the United States. Indeed, the agency handles it all: historic streetcars, modern light rail vehicles, diesel buses, alternative fuel vehicles, electric trolley coaches and the world famous cable cars. Muni’s fleet is among the most diverse in the world.
  • In addition, the SFMTA also manages the 40 City-owned garages and metered parking lots and traffic engineering functions (including the placement of signs, signals, traffic striping, curb markings, and parking meters).
  • The SFMTA provides transit options for 700,000 riders per day in a city of 800,000 people.
What's the story on the SFMTA's recent budget issues?
  • Without question, the SFMTA budget has been impacted by the economy. In fact, it is a "moving target" according to Mr. Ford. The agency lost all of its State Transit Assistance funding (approximately $60 million) for the next 5 years, and $32 million dollars from the City's General Fund. These and other funding issues have contributed to the the SFMTA $129 million operation budget deficit for FY 2009-2010.
  • The SFMTA has a 2-year budget, which requires astute fiscal discipline and planning (by contrast, when Mr. Ford was working in Atlanta, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority had a 5-year budget plan).
  • To address the budget deficit, the agency will raise fares and fees, and reduce transit service, most directly affecting low volume routes.
How does the $129 million budget deficit impact transit service?
  • As with any reduction in service, the public perception of the impact is greater than the reality. Why? In May of 2006, the SFMTA launched the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP), which is the first comprehensive effort in over 25 years to review Muni and recommend ways to make the public transit system in San Francisco more efficient.
  • The data collected by the TEP (via ridership data, public outreach and best practices research) has allowed the SFMTA to develop proposals to improve transit reliability, reduce travel delay, and update transit routes.
  • The bottom-line is that the TEP data has allowed the SFMTA to more efficiently reduce or reallocate resources to address the $129 million budget deficit. There has been a 5% overall service reduction, although the agency has mitigated those reductions by adding 4.5% of service enhancements through the reallocation of resources. While riders may have to walk an extra block due to the reduction of bus stops, or they may have to transfer to another bus line more often, the objective of maintaining the most-used transit lines has been successful thanks to the TEP.
  • Lastly, the SFMTA has rightsized the agency by eliminating 471 positions in response to the budget deficit. Mr. Ford said he could not reduce staffing levels any further without affecting transit service and repair and maintenance of the system.
What about those expensive inter-departmental work orders to other City agencies?
  • The city’s interdepartmental work order system has been in place for decades, and until now, had not been seriously evaluated. “Perhaps it is time to take a deep forensic look at this practice," stated Ford. However, Mr. Ford added he felt that the SFMTA was receiving the services for which his agency was being charged.
What can be done to improve the customer service levels at the SFMTA?
  • The SFMTA has 5000 employees. Most of them have never had any customer service training. As such, Mr. Ford is leading an effort in to create a more customer service-oriented culture within the SFMTA for its employees and simultaneously increase employee accountability to the public.
  • There are also a significant amount of antiquated employee work rules that need to be changed, although this is a difficult task as many long-time employees are accustomed to doing things in a certain way, and aren’t likely to want to change them. Ford did state he supported the proposed charter amendment to eliminate the cap on operator salaries to give management more flexibility in future contract negotiations.
What else was mentioned?
  • The Central Subway is moving forward as planed with construction starting in 2011 and service starting in 2018.
  • Mr. Ford spoke about the SFpark and SFgo programs.
  • As of March 1, 2009, the Taxicab Commission merged with the SFMTA. You can read about that here.
We thank Nathaniel Ford for his time, and we look forward to working with him in the future.

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