A new leader will be taking the helm at the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA), and he’s a familiar face to many Peninsula residents. Seamus Murphy, one of the architects behind Caltrain’s successful effort to electrify and modernize the service and obtain a dedicated funding source, will be leaving his role as the San Mateo County Transit District’s Chief Communications Officer at the end of this year.
Murphy will serve as executive director at WETA, which operates regional ferry service to Oakland, Alameda, Richmond, San Francisco, South San Francisco and Vallejo. In a typical year pre-pandemic, the service carries around 3 million people across the Bay.
“There are a lot of parallels between WETA and Caltrain. Like Caltrain, WETA relies heavily on its passenger fares to cover its budget, when ridership dropped their budget was hit hard,” said Murphy. “Their staff deserves a lot of credit in the helpful way they positioned the organization to make it through but like most agencies – we will need an additional infusion before the pandemic ends.”
WETA, known to riders as the San Francisco Bay Ferry Service, got off to a challenging start, according to Mark Simon, former Chief of External Affairs for the San Mateo County Transit District.
“The agency had some challenges building ridership and a regional profile,” Simon said.
As a funding partner, San Mateo County’s Transportation Authority Board received regular updates from WETA’s team. “I can recall some tense meetings,” Simon added.
San Mateo County’s Transportation Authority is also operated by San Mateo County Transit District staff so Murphy brings some background with him to the new role.
Murphy, who worked for Simon at the Transit District for a time, is leaving quite the mark on the organization thanks to his roles in securing funding for Caltrain’s most transformative projects, leading reauthorization of the County’s half-cent, self help, transportation sales tax, and supporting the efforts to seek a dedicated funding source for the beleaguered rail agency.
“Seamus understands Bay Area transportation politics, has key relationships at the state and federal level, and most importantly he can see around corners often knowing what’s coming before others even know what direction they’re headed in,” Simon said.
Seeing around corners will be an important skill as he leads WETA’s post-pandemic recovery and continues pushing plans for a Redwood City ferry terminal forward.
“A next step in the overall agency vision will be the establishment of ferry service to Redwood City,” Murphy said. “Fulfilling that vision is a part of the job I’m very interested in.”
There will be many issues to navigate. The agency is anticipating capital funding through Regional Measure 3 (RM3), which is still tied up in court challenges that may play out over the next year.
But funding challenges have never proven insurmountable for Murphy.
“Seamus has the capabilities and relationships that would allow him to be successful anywhere he went,” Simon said. “We’re fortunate he is genuinely committed to the Bay Area.”
Murphy and his wife Christine and their young family live in San Francisco, where he’s enjoyed easy access to Caltrain for his commutes over the years. He’s looking forward to an even shorter commute starting Jan. 4, 2021 though he won’t need a ferry to get to WETA’s SF-based offices.
“When people get back to commuting to the office one day soon, I’ll be looking forward to my commute to Pier 9,” he said.
Editor’s note: Jayme Ackemann worked for Seamus Murphy for four years at SamTrans
Photo courtesy of WETA