Andy Byford comes from generations of public transportation workers and worked his way from a London Underground platform supervisor to running multiple British rail lines; then went to Australia where he oversaw Railcorp in NSW; then to Toronto, where he ran a successful five-year initiative that turned the TTC into the American Public Transportation Association's Outstanding Transit System of the Year — and then he moved to New York City, to turn around the ailing MTA.
Byford is a legend among transit workers; last week in Toronto I had dinner with a friend whose partner drives a TTC subway who spontaneously started singing Byford's praises — he spent his time out in the system, talking to drivers and passengers, and understood it from top to bottom, which allowed him to intervene in the system in compassionate and effective ways.
But since Byford's arrival in NYC, he's been at loggerheads with Governor Andrew Cuomo, who fancies himself a latter-day Robert Moses, and who did everything in his power to thwart Byford's work. The final straw was redefining Byford's job so that he would only do day-to-day management, with no responsibility for improvements. Cuomo accomplished this by paying the consultancy Alixpartners $4m to produce a report that recommended a sharply constrained role for Byford.
Byford has resigned, as has Pete Tomlin, a trusted and much-sought-after lieutenant whom Byford brought with him from the TTC.
"Out-of-town MTA executive managers always come and go," says retired Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office administrator and Railway Age opinion columnist Larry Penner. "Give Governor Cuomo, who enjoys micromanaging the MTA, NYC Transit, LIRR and Metro-North, credit for Byford's departure. Just how much could anyone put up with Cuomo's interference? He never travels to and from Albany via Amtrak. When in New York City, he travels around town by car with a driver and police security detail, rather than a bus or subway. Unlike the millions of New Yorkers, he doesn't own a Metro Card or use public transportation on a daily basis. His motto is 'do as I say, not as I do.'
"If Cuomo believes he could have done a better job than Byford, there is a simple solution. In his last act, appoint himself NYC Transit President and resign as Governor.
"It will continue to be disappointing for MTA employees, along with riders, advocates, taxpayers and other funding agency partners, if the MTA continues this pattern of bringing in out-of-town talent that comes and goes. There are many experienced internal MTA candidates who are qualified to fill the vacancy of NYC Transit President. Successful organizations groom, train and promote from within.
You Blew It, Andrew Cuomo [William C. Vantuono/Railway Age]