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So Long, Nat Ford

 
Frustrated Muni riders won't miss transit chief

Much-maligned Muni Chief Nat Ford is stepping down, a Muni official said today.

Known for having the highest salary of any city employee -- $308,000 --Ford guided the SFMTA with its slow, often-late and aging buses for more than five years. 

No replacement was named, but the next Muni CEO will inherit a gigantic mess. The transit agency is embroiled in labor strife, on-time performance of buses and trains that carry 700,000 passengers every day has dipped – and, as always, the agency is facing budget shortfalls.

Tom Nolan, chair of the SFMTA board of directors, said Ford's departure was a “mutual decision.” He said the decision had “actually been made a while ago,” but the board wanted to wait until the contentious labor negotiations were wrapped up.

Ford and the SFMTA will be honored tonight by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition for installing green, separated bike lanes on Market Street. The agency will be getting a "Golden Wheel Award" -- which will go nicely with Ford's golden parachute.

The city will pay Ford a $384,000 severance, which includes deferred compensation, unused vacation time and benefits. Nolan called it a good deal, saying that it would have cost around $800,000 to buy out Ford’s contract.

Ford has come under fire for his commitment to the job over the past few years. On several occasions he sought jobs at other transit agencies, including Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, a post he failed to land in March.

Ford also came under scrutiny for the 11 weeks he spent out of the office on vacation or at conferences last year. 

Ford is credited with finishing the T-Third line -- the train that runs down Third Street -- and for implementing an innovative new parking scheme that allows drivers to find parking on their iPhones.

Muni’s on-time rate also climbed to 75 percent on his watch, the highest it’s ever been. But since then, on-time service has steadily dipped to its current level of 71 percent – well short of the voter-mandated 85 percent rate.

Greg Dewar, a Muni watchdog who writes the blog N-Judah Chronicles,has described Ford’s tenure as “mediocre at best.”

“I'm not sorry to see him go after he made such a mess at the SFMTA," wrote Dewar in an email. "While the state theft of funds wasn't his fault, his consistent lack of leadership at the MTA, his morale-busting management style, and his endless subservience to the previous Mayor, at the expense of Muni's riders have made a mess of the agency."

"The fact he's likely to get a golden parachute for not finishing out his term says it all about his tenure here," Dewar added.

Nolan, the chairman of the SFMTA board, said Ford “served with enormous distinction and great success.” Nolan cited the SFPark program, as well as the fact that Muni cut less then 10 percent of its service during the recession, much less than other agencies around the country.

Nolan said a strong candidate will be needed for the job. Muni is currently locked in a labor battle with the bus drivers union, TWU Local 250. An arbitrator imposed a contract on the union this week that would save the agency $25 million by changing work rules and allowing more part-time drivers. The union, surprising its own leadership, rejected the contract last week.

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