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A Letter from our Leadership: Values and 2024 Priorities

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The beginning of a new year is always an auspicious time. It’s an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve accomplished and learned over the last year, as well as a time to pause and align on where we are going in the year ahead. 

As recently re-elected Chair and Vice Chair of one of the most diverse and historically female SFMTA Board of Directors ever (thank you Mayor Breed!) in what has traditionally been a male-dominated field, we want to take a moment to share with you all what we value, how we approach the privilege of leading this Board, and what the SFMTA Board of Directors is prioritizing for the year ahead in our service to the city.  

A meeting held in a building with brown furnishings with a person presenting to a group of people sitting at a semi-circular table.

First, our values. We believe that, as public servants, we work for all of you. We believe that every voice in this city matters. We honor the lived experience of all San Franciscans, and we know that we have a lot to learn from you. We believe in inclusivity and co-creation, that our ideas and projects get stronger as more of you have an opportunity to participate. We also see that many of you believe in and identify with this agency’s mission and are eager to roll up your sleeves and help. We want to continue to make opportunities for you to contribute meaningfully. Not only do we listen deeply and intently to the comments we hear at our Board meetings and read the thousands of written public comments we receive, we recently piloted virtual office hours with the Board Chair to provide an opportunity for you to engage and share your views in a less formal setting. We have heard from you that 1 p.m. meetings on Tuesdays at City Hall are not accessible for many of you, so we will be coming to more of your community meetings in the year ahead. 

We believe in transparency and sharing information with you. It is your right to know the steps your government is taking and what projects and initiatives your government is working towards. Part of the impetus for this blog is to put this value into practice. We also believe in good government. We know how it feels (because we have both at one point or another felt this way) to be frustrated with government and to believe that government is wasteful, inefficient and unresponsive. As active community members, we decided to serve for that very reason. We invest hundreds of hours of volunteer time because we know that trust in government is earned and not given, and we are genuinely committed to working to earn your trust. We believe a different paradigm of government is not only possible, but necessary if we are going to become the kind of city we want to be.  

Finally, we believe in creating and sustaining a culture of caring. We want to credit Tacing Parker of the Bayview Hunters Point YMCA for giving this advice to the Board at our 2023 workshop. We love Tacing’s vision for a culture of caring, and this has been somewhat of a guiding light and a north star for us as Board leaders. We want to be a part of creating this culture of caring, and it is important to us that this goes both ways. We may not always see eye to eye on issues or policy decisions, but that will never be a barrier to meaningful dialogue.  

SFMTA staff can work toward a culture of caring in the way they work and create opportunities for community engagement and input. We are taking intentional steps to improve this because it is such a core value. And, as part of this social contract, we hope that members of the public treat the hardworking and very dedicated staff of the agency with respect and give them the benefit of the doubt. While not on the clock, they are parents, caregivers, volunteers or advocates in their own communities. During our time working alongside them, we have heard many of their personal stories of grief and hope. They are caring human beings and provide an incredible service to our city. 

Now for some specifics. At our workshop last month, every Board member shared their top priorities for the year ahead. Transportation Director Jeff Tumlin then summarized the feedback into six main themes, and we want to share these with all of you. 

First, Muni – Board members are proud that Muni is faster, more frequent, more reliable and cleaner than ever, and the Chronicle seems to agree. This is not the time to cut service. It is the time to keep implementing Muni Forward improvements. Removing delays and increasing reliability allows us to save money and reinvest in the system. The Board is focused on our customers, particularly those who have fewest choices and the greatest vulnerabilities and is committed to ensuring that the city’s mobility options allow all San Franciscans to thrive. 

Second, street safety – When we adopted Vision Zero in 2014, we set a goal to achieve zero fatalities and serious injuries by 2024. This ten-year milestone year is an important moment to reflect on how far we’ve come, and to work with community members on charting our path for the next ten years of this work. Based purely on data, San Francisco leads the nation as the safest city for biking and the second safest city for walking. Yet we know that we are talking about people’s lives, not numbers, and every injury and fatality is devastating for the people who are harmed and their loved ones. Further, our vision exceeds safety and is one of a joyful, delightful, safe and protected network for walking, biking and rolling in our city. We will write more about this in another post. 

Third, personal security – All San Franciscans should feel safe and secure on all parts of the transportation system. The tools for making people feel secure are important and different than those that eliminate traffic fatalities, and they also require investment. Board members expressed appreciation for Chief Security Officer Kim Burrus and the way she is delicately balancing creating conditions that make all people feel safe and secure while also working toward a culture of caring in our enforcement practices. 

Fourth, innovation and efficiency – The maintenance team is doing an incredible job of making the transit system work, as demonstrated by the 89% decrease in short delays on Muni over the past year. Following that example, we need to get rid of things that don’t work and double down on things that do. This requires revising any current rules and practices that tie the hands of SFMTA staff so that we can do more with less.  

Fifth, communications - Skillful and strategic communications are critical to making our work relevant to and supportive of the communities we serve. A recent video summarizing the way the team came together to make APEC a success and another video shown at the Board meeting, Always Moving Forward, demonstrate ways we can help San Francisco to get to know the agency’s incredible staff. Also, if you haven’t listened to our agency’s podcast yet, Taken with Transportation, please check it out. The episodes give you an in-depth look into how we serve the community and showcase the people that serve you. We need to do a better job telling the you about the work we’re doing, what’s going well and what we’re working to improve.  

And finally, sixth, our looming budget deficit - Right now we’re working to balance our budget for the next two-year budget cycle, which is going to require finding $12.7 million more in revenue. But the budget deficit expected in Fiscal Year 26-27 is a catastrophic $240 million. We need to establish contingency plans now so that we are confident that we can stabilize our funding, close the larger budget deficit we will see in two years and grow into what San Francisco needs. 

These are our priorities for the year ahead. We can only reach these goals by delivering on our firm commitment to work in community. We look forward to partnering with you to deliver on our mission of connecting San Francisco through a safe, sustainable and equitable transportation system.