Thank You, Ed Reiskin

Note: A version of this article is contained in the current edition of the Market Street Railway magazine Inside Track, reaching mailboxes now. It has been updated here.  

By Carmen Clark, MSR Board Chair and Rick Laubscher, MSR President

Ed Reiskin, a daily Muni rider, on a Milan tram
(Courtesy San Francisco Chronicle)

Edward D. Reiskin, Director of Transportation (the top executive) of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, is moving on from his post. His last day in the office was this week. We at Market Street Railway will greatly miss his leadership.

The top job at SFMTA is more demanding than that of almost any transit agency CEO, in large part because SFMTA itself is more than just a transit agency. It is in charge not just of San Francisco’s buses, light rail vehicles, cable cars, and streetcars, but also of its parking, taxis, bicycle and pedestrian safety, and even the operation of the streets themselves.  

Ed Reiskin came into this multifaceted job at the behest of the late mayor Edwin W. Lee in 2011. Reiskin had succeeded Lee as head of the Department of Public Works, and Mayor Lee believed his knowledge of the city and its processes for getting things done would serve San Francisco well. He certainly brought impressive credentials to the job, having been Deputy Mayor of Washington DC and holding Master of Public Administration degree from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, an MBA from New York University, and a Bachelor of Science degree from MIT.

At SFMTA, Ed devoted much time trying to build a more unified culture from the disparate departments that had been combined into the larger agency, to deliver services more efficiently to the public. Importantly for us, Reiskin also recognized the importance of putting his agency’s best foot forward to the public. He was a consistent supporter of historic streetcar and cable car service, not at the expense of reliable daily bus and light rail service, but still as a core part of the basic transit network, one that brought the public delight. 

During Reiskin’s tenure, Muni Heritage Weekends became an annual event after being started as a one-time Muni Centennial event in 2012. The second historic streetcar line, the E-Embarcadero, finally began operations after being a dream for decades. The renovation of the 32-car PCC fleet was completed, and a new track loop at Civic Center has been approved and funded, allowing for future expansion of F-line service in the most heavily traveled portion of the line. As Ed prepares to depart, proposals are being solicited to restore five more priceless double-end vintage streetcars, and planning is again proceeding to extend historic streetcar service from Fisherman’s Wharf to Aquatic Park, the first step in the eventual extension to Fort Mason.  

Ed Reiskin provided the leadership to achieve all these things for the historic streetcar operation in San Francisco, and much more. Though his schedule was jammed with demands and meetings, he found time to meet with us every month, bringing in his top lieutenants to go over projects in process and ensure they were moving forward, and listening to our ideas for further improvements. 

All the while, he oversaw the replacement of virtually Muni’s entire bus and light rail fleet and responded to demands from bicyclists and pedestrians for safer streets by implementing safety measures at a pace unprecedented in San Francisco’s history, even as fast-growing population, increased congestion, understaffing, and worn out infrastructure made his job tougher. 

After eight high-pressure years, Ed Reiskin has elected to seek new professional challenges, while the SFMTA Board faces the very big challenge of finding a new Director of Transportation that can balance the priorities and deliver services to the people of San Francisco as well as Ed Reiskin has.

On behalf of the members and friends of Market Street Railway, we extend our deep thanks for his steady and consistent leadership and wish him well in his future endeavors.

UPDATED: At the SFMTA Board of Directors Meeting on July 15, MSR President Rick Laubscher made this statement on behalf of Market Street Railway.

Our organization has been supporting Muni for 40 years.  When I first met Ed Reiskin eight years ago, the only thing we asked is that he be honest with us.  Tell us where he agreed, where he didn’t, what might be possible, what wasn’t.  

In other words, open communication and fair dealing.  That should be the norm, but it often hasn’t been in the past.

With Ed, it was.  We have accomplished a lot of positive things together, and we appreciate that.

And though we focus on Muni’s cable cars and historic streetcars and buses, our organization is passionate about the success of SFMTA as a whole.  We have been transit-first advocates for decades.  And we know a lot about how SFMTA works – and sometimes, why it doesn’t work as well as we’d all like.

That’s why we want to thank Ed for his leadership in every area of SFMTA’s responsibilities.  You, as a Board, have made an excellent decision in our view by making Tom Maguire the interim director.  You face a daunting decision in finding a permanent director who can match up to the standards Ed Reiskin has set for humble yet passionate service, for collaboration, and for his love of this city and its transportation networks.

Thank you, Ed. A great transportation chief. A great San Franciscan.