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After a wide-ranging investigation by the New York Times into the failures of the New York City subway system, the MTA is trying to step up its game, announcing that Andy Byford will become the next president of New York City Transit, the MTA agency responsible for subways, buses, para-transit services, and the Staten Island Railway. (Talk about pressure.) Byford, however, has a good track record after five years of reducing delays, improving rider satisfaction, and modernizing the Toronto Transit Commission. The MTA’s plan, according to the Times, is to change up leadership to “restore accountability and change a culture that for years has left the system lacking adequate funding or support.” But they’re already dealing with a high rate of turnover, as this will mark the agency’s fifth full-time leader in the past ten years.
Photo via Dan Phiffer’s Flickr
To improve New York’s public transit, Byford will have to navigate everything from political whims to the calculations of elected officials, particularly Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio. These elected pols have historically wielded a lot of power over critical financial decisions, resulting in the failing system New Yorkers are grappling with today.
Byford was a top contender during the three-month international search, and he’s been dubbed a “rising star in the transportation world” with stints in Sydney, London and finally Toronto. It’s worth mentioning, however, that Toronto’s transit system carries about 1.7 million riders every weekday on its network of subways, streetcars and buses, while New York’s system serves nearly six million daily riders on the subway alone.
In Toronto, Byford is credited with updating the system and addressing rider’s concerns in a transparent way. He also oversaw the rollout of open “gangway” cars, separated by open, accordion-like passageways rather than doors. It’s something the MTA has begun introducing into the subway system.
More transparency will be welcomed as the MTA begins its overhaul. As Jim Dwyer put it in the New York Times, “Mr. Byford needs the guts to stand up in public and tell the unvarnished truth, and the governor needs to hear it, too, in public and private. If transit doesn’t have enough money to carry out its mission, then Mr. Byford has to say so, out loud. If the system needs to change how transit employees do their jobs, or if they don’t have the proper equipment, he should shout that out, too.”
And Byford is no stranger to the woes of New York’s system–he served on a 2014 commission appointed by Governor Cuomo to examine how the MTA could be improved, and another this summer. At a news conference in Toronto, he called his new gig “arguably the toughest job in transit right now.”
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