WETA Chief Seamus Murphy Shares Views on Bay Area Culture

Seamus Murphy, WETA Executive Director

The San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) Board of Directors recently announced that it has appointed Seamus Murphy as the agency’s new executive director.

As reported in Bay Crossings, Murphy arrived to WETA after serving for the last five years as the Chief Communications Officer for the San Mateo County Transit District (District), which operates Caltrain and SamTrans transit services.

While we have yet to discover what Cultural Currents issues are of most appeal to Murphy, it is worth noting that he led all communications functions for the agency in the past.

This includes the effort to secure two voter-approved revenue sources that are credited with providing much-needed financial stability and the means to grow the agency’s transit services.

Prior to that role, Murphy led government affairs for the District, where he was instrumental in securing support for major investments, including the Caltrain modernization program.

“We’re thrilled to introduce Seamus Murphy as our next executive director,” said Jim Wunderman, Chair of the WETA Board of Directors. “As a Board we prioritized experience in transit leadership, a collaborative and innovative spirit and a strong interest in building relationships. WETA has built the foundation of a world-class ferry system for the Bay Area, and I’m confident that in the coming years Seamus will help us realize that vision.”

As promised, here a few observations from Mr. Murphy on his favorite Bay Area attractions for the ferry community.

Cultural Currents: Ferry riders are avid readers, as you know. What are your favorite books? What are you reading now?

Sean Murphy: I just realized, thanks to this question, that my favorite books both have strong maritime themes! Endurance by Alfred Lansing is about Ernest Shackleton’s amazing adventure to Antarctica. It has to be in the conversation for best survival story of all time. I also love The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. Most of it takes place on the Mediterranean, there is a lot of attention paid to how awesome Edmund Dantes’ yacht is, and it was inspired by a boat trip that Dumas actually took with Napoleon’s nephew. Amazing. I’m currently reading A Promised Land by Barack Obama. Not much in terms of maritime themes, but still inspiring.

CC: The region’s performing arts companies are still reeling from the pandemic, but podcasts and live streaming are keeping them afloat. Any particular favorites?

Murphy: I am a podcast fan. I spent the last 12 years commuting on Caltrain, and I eventually started listening to them at 1.5x speed just to get through them all. It’s safe to say that the episodes have been stacking up over the last 10 months working from home. My favorites are history podcasts like Hardcore History, History on Fire, and The Martyrmade Podcast.

CC: May we expect more ferries to be introduced as the pandemic recedes?

Murphy: That’s the plan. There is still a lot of uncertainty about when ridership demand will return and how it might ultimately look very different from our pre-pandemic market. WETA’s Board recently adopted a set of bold, forward-thinking Core Principles that will guide the creation of a Pandemic Recovery Program. The idea is that we cannot wait around and simply hope that our pre-pandemic ridership will return. The Recovery Program will include a series of fare and service actions designed to respond to evolving conditions and to incentivize ridership return from both former riders and new markets alike.

CC: Finally, please tell us a little about your taste in art and theater. Isn’t riding the ferry a bit of theater, too?

Murphy: I suppose it is! According to Shakespeare, “all the world’s a stage”, but I’m not sure he ever had a backdrop as stunning as the view from a San Francisco Bay Ferry route. I saw Les Miserables in NYC when I was 12 and I think it’s still my favorite. Later, I lived in Manhattan for a few years during the RENT run, and there’s definitely something unique about the stage and how it captures the zeitgeist. My 10-year-old son is a huge fan of any live production. We saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Curran and it’s amazing what they can do now with live special effects. I’m hoping we can get back soon, but in the meantime, we’ll have to settle for The Queen’s Gambit and old episodes of The Wire on the small screen.