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Monday, March 3, 2014

"Handshake Deal": Ed Reiskin, Muni, Fight Losing Battle With Dictionary

Posted By on Mon, Mar 3, 2014 at 1:15 PM

click to enlarge Coach No. 8706 cruises through Wyoming on Oct. 17, weeks before the contract for it to be built is signed - BLAKE RITTERMAN
  • Blake Ritterman
  • Coach No. 8706 cruises through Wyoming on Oct. 17, weeks before the contract for it to be built is signed

For years, it turns out Muni officials were fighting a losing battle with Merriam-Webster with regards to the term "on time." Through a series of Kafkaesque tweaks deviating significantly from any sense of time, space, transit, or reality, the agency devised a malleable definition of timeliness that allowed it to, for a decade, inflate its performance by up to 25 percent.

This worked out well for Muni. It did not work out so well for its riders. That's how applying semantic solutions to real problems tends to go. 

And so, today, Muni boss Ed Reiskin took to the pages of the Examiner to claim it's just not so that the transit agency has been engaging in "handshake deals" -- and, whatever it did, it did it for your benefit. 

This is, once again, a semantic dodge -- and a dubious one at that. Your humble narrator in January wrote an SF Weekly cover story exposing that Muni and the bus manufacturer New Flyer came to some manner of agreement for 50 hybrid buses worth $38.3 million to be manufactured, transported to the Bay Area, and squirreled away in clandestine locations. This was done without the Board of Supervisors approving a contract or -- most importantly -- approving the expense. It was, per Muni, understood that 100 percent of the risks of this undertaking were assumed by the manufacturer. And, when we requested, repeatedly, for the paperwork underpinning this deal, we were told there wasn't any -- and there was no "deal." 

But, per Reiskin, characterizing this as a handshake agreement "simply is not true."  

What is true, he continues is "we put the people of San Francisco first." 

Well, that's an interesting way of putting things. Reiskin is failing to admit the glaring oddness of a situation in which the supervisors voting on a contract to build and deliver buses were largely oblivious that these buses had already rolled through the nation's rural northwest and were housed across the bay. But, even if he did, his argument could be summed up as "We're undermining the system to protect the people." 

Another way to look at it, however is that "we're undermining the people to protect the system." 

Reiskin's justification for obtaining the buses recapitulates the arguments made at a February Board of Supervisors hearing spurred by our story: Hey! People love 'em! 

At that hearing, Muni transit director John Haley tubthumped the aesthetic appeal of the new buses and the positive preliminary data they have thus far produced -- but, at the same time, wrote off that data: "I wouldn't draw any conclusions from it."

And yet, here's Reiskin, in print, today: "Everyone loves the new hybrid diesel buses because they look better, they're greener, they perform better and they provide an overall better ride." 

This is all rather galling. It's all the more so because, as highlighted in our January article, this handshake agreement between Muni and New Flyer curtailed an in-house competition between hybrid systems produced by Allison and BAE. Instead, Muni went with BAE hybrid drives on its 50 rush-ordered buses. BAE's systems power Muni's notoriously underperforming extant hybrid fleet -- and, in fact, have such a putrid record that they inspired the very in-house competition Muni then summarily nixed.

When asked by SF Weekly and, later the Board of Supervisors, Muni officials were forced to admit they just hurriedly acquired 50 buses their own subsequent analysis may prove to be the inferior vehicles.

Reiskin's op-ed claims all the proper procedures were followed and all the necessary approvals were obtained. It neglects, however, to reveal that this was done while the vehicles at the heart of this rigmarole were already built and delivered -- because of the handshake agreement the Muni boss says shouldn't be characterized as a handshake agreement, and which his op-ed was ostensibly written to refute. 

There may yet be a semantic solution to this very real problem. But, as is Muni's way, it's not arriving on time. 

Update: Reiskin's op-ed also responded to allegations in the Examiner about a "handshake deal" regarding non-enforcement of bus-stop parking violations for corporate shuttles. Your humble narrator cannot write authoritatively about that, but, in retrospect, it warrants mentioning. 

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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