Britain’s ‘Train Daddy’ escapes from New York
Andy Byford, a British transport expert who arrived in America two years ago to fix New York’s crumbling subway system, announced his resignation on Thursday.
During his tenure, Mr Byford, the president of New York City Transit, became something of a folk hero in New York for his success at improving the subway’s reliability and setting in motion a plan to reverse a generation of decay and neglect. On social media commuters affectionately dubbed him “the Train Daddy”.
But while the Train Daddy tamed North America’s largest subway, he apparently failed to get to grips with an unwieldy system’s political bosses. In particular, Mr Byford, according to several reports, carried on a difficult relationship with Andrew Cuomo, the New York governor who controls the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees NYC Transit.
In a statement, Mr Byford, who had tendered his resignation in October — only to withdraw it — thanked Mr Cuomo, and expressed pride in his team’s progress over the past two years.
“I believe New York City Transit is well-placed to continue its forward progress,” Mr Byford said, citing a record-breaking $51.5bn capital programme approved last year.
Speaking to reporters, Mr Cuomo said he had “a fine relationship with Andy” but also praised the talent of the broader management team at NYC Transit.
Other political leaders suggested Mr Byford’s loss would be felt throughout the city — particularly by the roughly 8m people who ride the subway each day. “DEVASTATED,” Corey Johnson, the speaker of New York City Council, wrote on Twitter after the news.
Mr Byford, a Plymouth native and longtime employee of the London Underground, was recruited by New York officials after assignments in Sydney and Toronto. Even for hardened New Yorkers, the city’s chronically underfunded subway system was becoming a source of fury for its filth and unreliability.
Just 58 per cent of weekday trains arrived on time in January 2018. Many stations were in disrepair and equipment was outdated, if not ancient.
Mr Byford undertook an extensive tour of the system, chronicled in The New Yorker magazine. “To start, I directed my team to become absolutely fixated on the basics that will improve service under our current budget and within existing operating conditions,” he wrote that May.
By December, on-time performance had surpassed 80 per cent for seven straight months.
Bigger improvements could lie ahead thanks to a master plan drafted by Mr Byford. Called Fast Forward, it spells out everything from cultural changes in the management ranks to the installation of modern signalling equipment and the deployment of thousands of new buses and subway cars.
The $51.5bn capital improvements programme, the largest in the system’s history, will pay for many of those upgrades over the next five years. Much of that funding will come from a congestion charging plan for New York City championed by Mr Cuomo.
Mitchell Moss, an urban planning expert at New York University, likened Mr Byford to a “visiting fireman”, saying: “He put out the fire — the downward spiral of the subways — with great skill.”
In spite of Mr Byford’s departure, Mr Moss predicted the changes he set in motion would continue: “The MTA is on an upward trajectory with a new capital plan that will allow the momentum started by Byford to continue.”