Byford steps down as transit head
Stephon Johnson | 1/30/2020, 12:46 p.m.
His time was brief, but it made an impact.
POLITICO learned last week that Metropolitan Transit Authority chief Andy Byford would resign from his position after two years, leading some to question the integrity of the MTA.
“On the subject of transformation, I am very proud of Fast Forward, the blueprint that my team created for implementing the changes required to bring NYCT back into the top echelon of public transit systems,” wrote Byford in his resignation letter. “Now, with funding for the plan secured and with the new Chiefs of Innovation, Technology, Transformation etc., on board to implement it, I am confident that you have the tools to succeed.”
Byford received praise for his support for projects like modernizing signals, more access to public transit for disabled New Yorkers, and the redesign of city buses. But Byford also clashed with New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo over several projects. Several months ago, there was buzz around Byford leaving the MTA over Cuomo’s pushback against the L train project.
Byford and Cuomo also clashed over the MTA dependence on Ultra-Wideband (UWB) technology for subway signaling. Experts around the world believe the New York City subway system isn’t ready for UWBs and it’s not widely used in any subway system.
But MTA Chair & CEO Patrick J. Foye was ready to do nothing but sing Byford’s praises.
“Andy Byford will be departing New York City Transit after a successful two years of service and we thank him for his work,” stated Foye. “Andy was instrumental in moving the system forward, enacting the successful Subway Action Plan and securing record capital funding with the governor and the legislature, and we wish him well in his next chapter.”
Cuomo questioned reports that he and Byford had an antagonistic relationship with each other and called it “fine.” During a news conference, the governor said Byford did his job, but the MTA will continue on without his presence.
“I think Andy Byford is a good man,” said Cuomo to reporters. “I think he’s done a lot of good over his two years. Fundamentally the way the MTA operates is they have a very strong team, and they’ve gotten stronger. But he’s a good man and I wish him well.”
Under Byford’s reign, incidents affecting train service dropped and––when compared to 2018––weekday delays fell by 25 percent in 2019. Byford obtained $51 billion in funding to overhaul the network and created a busway on 14th Street.
Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin said, in a statement to the AmNews, that straphangers should celebrate Byford’s legacy for having accomplished a lot during a short time period.
“Subway and bus riders are grateful to Andy Byford for his historic service at New York City Transit,” said Raskin. “In two years, Andy made subways faster and more reliable, he tackled longstanding challenges to improving bus service, and he crafted the first plan in a generation that would truly modernize the transit system. No matter who runs the transit system day-to-day, ultimately Gov. Cuomo is in charge of the MTA, and riders will be holding the governor accountable for the quality of our transit service.
“With whatever management team he puts in place, the governor is on the hook for making subways faster and more reliable, rescuing buses from years of decline, and delivering on a $51 billion capital program to fix public transit for the long term,” Raskin concluded.
The government watchdog group Reinvent Albany pointed out that Cuomo’s strong-arm tactics drove the man some referred to as “Train Daddy” away. “Byford is widely known to have chafed at the politicization of the MTA under Gov. Cuomo, whose penchant for secretiveness, message control and top-down directives conflicted with Byford’s philosophy of building trust through consultation, personal accountability and transparency,” read part of their statement.
Another local elected official is convinced that Byford’s resignation was more of a “push out” by the MTA. New York City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez said that Byford’s departure was a deliberate attempt by the powers that be at the MTA to get rid of him. He also said that the MTA has a void to fill to earn elected officials’ trust.
“Andy Byford built trust and transparency for the MTA in a time when riders and advocates had lost hope,” stated Rodriguez. “New York City leaders believe that his ambitious Fast Forward Plan will take the MTA to new levels. It is very sad to see him go in a time when we have committed ourselves to the MTA’s most ambitious capital plans to date. We cannot go back to those years when there was not trust.”
However, the union representing transit workers believes that nothing will change.
In an emailed statement to the AmNews, Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Tony Utano said that it doesn’t matter who’s the boss. What matters is that TWU employees will remain the same.
"Transit bosses come and go,” said Utano. “No matter who is in charge transit workers will still be out there around the clock fixing and maintaining and operating the bus and subway system. We wish Andy well with whatever he does next.”