Mayor Breed ‘watched Reiskin undermine Ed Lee.’


Muni director Ed Reiskin last week penned a letter to Mayor London Breed pledging that service will improve over the next 90 days. “Behind each of these targets,” he promised,” is a plan to achieve them.”

Perhaps these plans were stored beneath the transit agency’s prior plan to backfill lost service during the summer’s Twin Peaks tunnel closure by haphazardly siphoning buses and drivers away from core Muni lines — and failing to tell anyone this was happening, even the office of the mayor.

Improving Muni’s performance following months of abysmal service due to a self-imposed kneecapping is a bit like improving your home life after evicting the alcoholic arsonist you earlier invited to live with you. It’s kind of what you’re supposed to do. It’s also a nifty way for Reiskin — whose own performance as Muni boss was essentially given a “no confidence” rating by Mayor London Breed — to make his case that he should stick around for, at least, another three months.

That may register as something of a feat after Breed’s recent blistering letter listing the shortcomings of Reiskin’s department. “Perhaps most significant are service reductions that should have been anticipated and mitigated,” she wrote.

“But I am also seriously concerned about the lack of background checks performed on major construction contractors … ” Well, that makes sense. A man died, after all, and, it turns out, Muni never did its due diligence regarding his employer’s safety claims.

Breed then went on to decry “an opaque process to select scooter pilot permit recipients.”

Well, huh. You’ve got a situation in which Muni executives, despite loads of lead time, couldn’t devise a solution to a non-emergency tunnel closure that didn’t wreck transit service citywide and ruin daily commutes for hundreds of thousands of riders — and then didn’t tell anybody what they were doing. And, to boot, Muni never checked on the safety record of a contractor hired to repair that tunnel — prior to a worker being crushed to death.

So, you’ve got all that … and scooters.

Now, scooters aren’t an insignificant issue. They’re something that gets people very excited and, for the companies involved, this process represents a potential massive windfall (or, if the city locks them out, the loss of one). But it’s odd to group them alongside the largely self-induced meltdown of an entire citywide transit system — which that system concealed from the people and our leaders — or a lack of vetting of a construction company whose employee was subsequently killed during a deadline-sensitive project.

The inclusion of scooters in the mayor’s letter was seen as something of a tell by multiple City Hall observers. When Mission Local asked if the mayor’s push to dislodge Reiskin from atop the Municipal Transportation Agency was due to his mismanagement and secrecy regarding citywide transit service or his antipathy to ride-hail companies and venture capital-backed scooter outfits, we were told, “it’s both.”

Mayor Breed, one source continued, “watched Reiskin undermine Ed Lee” by “failing to meet with TNCs” — Transportation Network Companies like Uber and Lyft — on the terms Lee would have preferred. Muni’s transit meltdown, says another source, “is being used as the beard for more general displeasure with Reiskin.” Even transit officials sympathetic to Reiskin claimed that his hardline tactics with TNCs haven’t helped San Francisco — refusal to engage with the companies has, in essence, left them to their own ends.

And, far from being “opaque” on the scooter licensing process, as Mayor Breed put it, the city has been rather overt about some details that evidently displeased Uber and Lyft — which are both making forays into the scooter business. On May 1, the MTA board unanimously approved a motion regarding scooter permitting, making an applicant’s “past experience including compliance with applicable law and its efforts to ensure compliance of its users with applicable laws” a factor in the process.

That was the subject of this excellent Chronicle article, which ran months later, on Aug. 17. This story, notably, shared inside information from unnamed MTA sources and others on the as-yet-unreleased permitting decision, indicating that Uber and Lyft’s extensive resumes of blowing off San Francisco rules were weighing them down in their quest to begin operating scooters here. (And not just Uber and Lyft: The same could be said for the companies that deposited thousands of scooters around town earlier this year, sans permission).

For those with skin in the game, these are anxious days. Muni has received no fewer than 36 public records requests this year about scooters and the scooter permitting process — with many, Mission Local is told, coming from participants in that very process hoping to essentially read their competitors’ homework. So this Chronicle article  — and the questions asked during its reporting — induced no small amount of consternation among the companies that figured they were unlikely to receive the city’s Golden Ticket scooter permits. These outfits employ a bevy of former City Hall workers and fellow travelers of Mayor Breed who, purportedly, made their displeasure known to their erstwhile colleague’s office.

“Right now, for Uber, Lyft and everyone on their payroll, Reiskin is a bad department head for them,” notes a longtime city politico. “Because he says no to them.” 

Breed’s letter to Reiskin, chiding him over his “opaque process,” was delivered three days after the Chron article’s publication.

Moving San Franciscans safely and efficiently around town is not rocket science. It’s bus science. And yet any notion of simplicity evaporates, and quickly, when one factors in the politics of this situation.

Ed Reiskin is just one man, and so he can either be MTA director or cease being MTA director. Those are the only options. And yet, city officials who may well want Reiskin gone, tout de suite, following the summer’s transit debacle could reluctantly find themselves of two minds: They may make their way into his corner if he’s perceived as the man who’ll say no to Uber and Lyft. It will be interesting to see who, if anyone, stands up for the besieged MTA boss when the supervisors filter back into town this week.

But while Reiskin is but one man and can only stay or go — and nobody we spoke to anticipated he’d be here when Breed (likely) wins re-election in 2019 — the question of how to best deal with the city’s unfolding transportation quandaries isn’t going anywhere. 

Reiskin “is under attack from the private sector,” said one city official. “Pretending they don’t exist is not an appropriate response. He’s just not willing to face the future.”  

But that figures to soon be irrelevant. Rather, what’s relevant is how much longer San Francisco’s new mayor desires this city’s transit future to be of one of Ed Reiskin’s choosing.