This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Once again, a major SFMTA project is way behind schedule and way over budget. According to the San Francisco Examiner, Van Ness BRT is now 2 years behind schedule and the price tag has almost doubled — for a 2 mile stretch of road. This is supposed to be the quicker, cheaper alternative to building subways. A faster way to faster service.

San Francisco Transit Riders, along with others, worked hard to get Van Ness BRT done and to make sure it didn’t get watered down. We want awesome transit in San Francisco. We understand that building awesome transit takes time and a lot of money. But SFTMA’s inability to stay anywhere near on time and within budget makes it super difficult to ask the voters for more funding for transit infrastructure.

Another article from the San Francisco Examiner today fleshes out the current problem a bit more — the general contractor is now suing the City over delays, utility contractors can’t be found, costs are out of control, and the timeline is slipping. It’s all a mess.

Where is the SFMTA while all this is going on? There is a serious breakdown in management of the process as well as in communication within SFMTA and between SFMTA and CTA and the public. Some staffers got an earful from supervisors Farrell and Peskin at a CTA meeting yesterday, after the first Examiner article was published.

“What I’m really pissed off about today is we’re reading this in the newspaper, and you’re not coming to us,” Supervisor Mark Farrell told transportation staffers.

San Francisco Transit Riders was also caught by surprise by the news, as is the rest of the City. SFMTA needs to step up and own the project, be proactive in managing these problems, and be proactive in letting its customers — CTA, transit riders, and the City — know when there are problems. Just this past July, we thought Van Ness was only 5 months behind, and suddenly we’re at 2 years.

We ask SFMTA to do a credible assessment of what went wrong, and identify real steps to improve. The results should be clear and transparent. New procedures need to be implemented. Price and timeline creep should be caught and addressed early. Estimates need to be more realistic so they can be planned for. We want SFTMA to take responsibility for their projects, step forward and work to fix the problems.

“It’s like the perfect storm for the northeast corner of the City in districts 2 and 3 and I cannot tell you how frustrating it is and how pissed off our constituents rightfully are,” said Aaron Peskin, according to an article in SF Bay.

We call on the SFTMA to take it seriously when they miss the mark. Let’s have a public discussion about what it takes to get a project done, how the process can be streamlined to save time and money. Let’s be open and honest about the problems so we can gain the public’s trust and move forward with the world-class public transit system San Francisco needs and deserves.

We worked too hard to make Van Ness BRT a reality to let it slide now.