last stop

MTA’s Andy Byford Leaving Role That May Be Derailed

New York City Transit Authority President Andy Byford attends an MTA board meeting on Jan. 27, 2019.
New York City Transit Authority President Andy Byford attends an MTA board meeting on Jan. 27, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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As Andy Byford checks out Friday from the MTA, it’s still not clear who — if anyone — is replacing him as head of New York City Transit.

The British transit veteran is closing out a sometimes stormy two-year run as president of the subway, bus and paratransit system. But an MTA spokesperson on Thursday would not address what’s next for the position, which is expected to be fundamentally altered by a reorganization of the agency.

“The job has totally changed,” said Jaqi Cohen, campaign coordinator for the Straphangers Campaign, which advocates for riders. “Whoever takes over for Byford is not taking over the same role.”

An MTA Metamorphosis

That’s because of the MTA Transformation Plan, a $4 millon study by the consulting firm AlixPartners, which called for a reduced role for agency heads like Byford and the shifting of some key duties to a centralized bureaucracy.

A June 30 draft said “the MTA transformation plan relies” on six “significant changes” to the organization. Among them: a merger of the MTA’s three separate bus organizations and “consideration of separation of subway and bus” divisions.

The July 31 final report tweaked those terms, saying the MTA should “consider” a merger of its bus operations — and a “future review” of splitting subway and bus into separate operating agencies.

Transit advocates have said the possibility of a divide could lead to a lack of coordination between bus and subway leaders during service outages and repairs.

Lisa Daglian, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, cited a July 19 rush-hour meltdown on all but one of the numbered subway lines that forced many riders to shift bus service.

“We think it’s important to have someone in charge of New York City Transit who coordinates buses and subways during diversions, both planned and unplanned,” Daglian said.

An MTA spokesperson declined comment. After Byford’s abrupt resignation last month, MTA Chairman Patrick Foye said, “We are working on a plan — when we’ve got something to announce, we will.”

Changing the Direction

Byford, a former transit chief in Toronto and Sydney, took over New York City Transit in January 2018, soon after the MTA had been placed in a state of emergency amid a spike in subway delays.

But he was able to engineer a turnaround of sorts, with the subway showing signs of improvement for nearly a year-and-a-half.

MTA officials announced this week that subway delays fell to just over 30,300 last month — the 17th straight month of meeting the agency’s goal for delay reductions. The on-time performance of 83.3% was the best mark for January in seven years.

The month that Byford joined the MTA, subway on-time performance bottomed out at 58.1%, in part because of a long stretch of sub-freezing temperatures that contributed to more than  76,200 weekday delays.

But he eventually clashed with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who led the push for a makeover of the MTA that could result in the loss of up to 2,700 jobs.

“A lot of people had concerns that the plan would marginalize and ultimately push out Andy Byford,” said Danny Pearlstein, policy director for the Riders Alliance. “And now, we have seen that happen.”

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