The Muni Paradox

A new ballot measure could change this absurd concept: less management for more money

Still, Noyola said this would be a big step to finally giving San Francisco the transit system it deserves. "We're aiming to streamline it and make it more efficient while adding more capacity to the street," he said.

Martin Wachs, however, feels that's probably an optimistic assessment. What the Peskin Metropolitan Transportation Authority charter amendment would do, he said, is create an opportunity for effective change — but it won't guarantee that it happens.

"It depends entirely on who you appoint [to the MTA's Board of Directors]," he said. "If they appoint people for political reasons, with little expertise or knowledge of transit management, there's no reason things will get better."

Right now, members of the MTA's board are nominated by the mayor and approved by the Board of Supervisors. San Francisco, of course, has a mixed record when it comes to appointments — until recently, a good appointee was one who showed up at meetings. During the debate over the Peskin amendment, its biggest foe, Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, said this was at the heart of his objections: Accountability will, in the end, rest with a group of political appointees whose names nobody can remember.

McGoldrick's own proposal — to put Muni directly under city control — was the exact opposite of what transit experts recommended for increasing efficiency, but he was right to be concerned about who'll run the show. Perhaps, if the Peskin amendment passes, the next step in Muni reform will be a closer look at who gets appointed to the MTA board, to ensure that transit professionals – whose only constituents are the riders – are given the top spots.

At that point, Muni might be paradox-free, and have administrative expenses in line with its peers – more money for administrators who affect service, and a whole lot less for time spent on meetings with bureaucrats.

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