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BM5 via Woodhaven

Subway Chief May Quit Over Tensions With Cuomo, Colleagues Fear

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Andy Byford, the transit executive hired to rescue New York City’s foundering subways, has clashed with the governor over management of the system.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/19/nyregion/cuomo-andy-byford-mta.html

 

Andy Byford, the transit executive who was hired to rescue New York City’s foundering subway, has had growing tensions with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo over management of the system, and several of his colleagues said they feared he might quit.

The two men did not speak between January and April, even as Mr. Byford was seeking to move forward on a sweeping $40 billion plan to overhaul the subway in the next decade.

If Mr. Byford were to step down, it would be a major blow to efforts to improve the system, which has been plagued by antiquated equipment, cost overruns and rising complaints from riders about chronic mismanagement. In recent years, New York’s subways have had one of the worst on-time rates of any major rapid transit system in the world.

Mr. Byford and Mr. Cuomo have disagreed over the plan to fix the L train, new technology to upgrade subway signals, the high cost of Mr. Byford’s “Fast Forward” overhaul plan and Mr. Cuomo’s regular criticism of the authority.

Mr. Byford’s colleagues said he was troubled that he did not have the support that he believes he needs from Mr. Cuomo to carry out ambitious plans for the system.

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, in turn has felt that Mr. Byford has been reluctant to embrace new technology and needed to understand the governor’s role as the elected official most responsible for the performance of the subways.

Contacted this week, Mr. Byford and a spokeswoman for the governor sought to downplay tensions, and said Mr. Byford had no plans to resign. But the spokeswoman, Dani Lever, said, the “leadership team must deliver real results in real time,” referring to Mr. Byford.

Several people who have spoken with Mr. Byford, including colleagues at the transit agency, said they were deeply worried he would leave.

Richard Ravitch, a former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority who is credited with turning around the system in the 1980s, said he had dinner with Mr. Byford in February and was struck by how unhappy he was.

“I’m afraid he’s going to quit,” Mr. Ravitch said of Mr. Byford.

Andrew Albert, a longtime M.T.A. board member, said he tried to assure Mr. Byford that he had the support of subway riders, who are rooting for him to succeed.

“I’m very concerned — I don’t think that he would be fired,” Mr. Albert said. “I’m worried that he would quit.”

Mr. Byford appeared to be frustrated with “interference in his daily duties” from Mr. Cuomo and his aides, Mr. Albert said.

“He wants to be able to get on and do the job he was hired to do,” Mr. Albert said.

Asked in an interview whether he was frustrated, Mr. Byford said “any job has its frustrations.”

“I know what needs to be done here,” he said. “I need to be allowed to get on with what needs to be done, and I’m very happy to be held accountable for that.”

Asked when he had last spoken with Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Byford said: “Sometime in January.”

Mr. Byford later said by email that he had not “seriously considered quitting.”

“I love New York, I love this job, I believe in this system, I believe in this agency, and I’m here for the very long haul,” he wrote, before adding: “The governor and I are partners in this fight and I want to stay in this job until it is done.”

Ms. Lever, the spokeswoman for Mr. Cuomo, said he had not lost faith in Mr. Byford or tried to sideline him.

The two men had not spoken since January, she said, because Mr. Cuomo had been focused on the state budget and congestion pricing, a plan to toll cars entering the heart of Manhattan to raise money for the subway.

“We do not understand your fixation with personal drama,” Ms. Lever saidin response to questions from The New York Times, noting that Mr. Cuomo primarily spoke with the authority’s chairman, Patrick J. Foye.

Mr. Byford is president of New York City Transit, an arm of the authority that runs the subway and buses. Mr. Cuomo, who controls the authority, interviewed Mr. Byford and helped hire him for the job. Only a year ago, the pair were photographed on the subway tracks together showcasing a new “magnetic wand” that removes steel dust from the tracks.

Mr. Byford, who is British, had received accolades for leading the Toronto transit system, where he won an award for transit system of the year from the American Public Transportation Association. He has also worked on both London and Sydney’s transit networks.

Some of Mr. Byford’s colleagues said his rock star status — with profiles in The New Yorker and on 60 Minutes — may have irked Mr. Cuomo. They compared the dynamic to Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and his police commissioner, William J. Bratton — men who fought for the limelight. Mr. Bratton resigned in 1996 shortly after being on the cover of Time magazine.

The subway has improved under Mr. Byford, though some riders say it is still unreliable. The on-time rate has increased to 78 percent from 65 percent — the highest rate in years. Mr. Byford said he wanted to keep pushing the rate higher past 80 or 90 percent.

But Ms. Lever said the $40 billion price tag for Mr. Byford’s overhaul plan was “an incredible sum to come by.” She also said Mr. Cuomo expected more progress from the transit authority after he secured new funding through congestion pricing.

One of the biggest rifts between the two men occurred over the repairs to the L train tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan, which was damaged by Hurricane Sandy. The transit authority had originally planned to shut down service in the tunnel to do the renovations.

But in January, Mr. Cuomo called off the L train shutdown and announced a different repair plan that would keep the service in the tunnel running by allowing for work at night and on weekends.

Days later, Mr. Byford said he wanted to hire an independent team to assess the safety of the new plan and that he would not be “steamrolled” into rushing his review.

The M.T.A. board eventually hired a consultant to monitor the work and Mr. Byford has said he supports the new plan.

But Mr. Byford was suddenly unavailable for interviews with reporters and did not appear at hearings with state lawmakers to lobby for congestion pricing, which will allow the state to raise $15 billion for the transit system.

“Maybe the governor didn’t realize how independent he was going to be,” said Mr. Ravitch, the former chairman of the authority.

Mr. Cuomo is known as a demanding boss. During a visit to the Second Avenue subway in 2016, he grew angry about a faulty escalator. He walked around shouting, “Who is working on the escalator?” until the person appeared.

Mr. Byford is not the first transit leader to tangle with Mr. Cuomo. The authority’s former chairman, Thomas F. Prendergast, a respected subway veteran, stepped down in 2017 after also growing frustrated with Mr. Cuomo’s management, according to several colleagues.

Mr. Byford and Mr. Cuomo have disagreed over other issues. The governor has pressed Mr. Byford to focus on a new technology, known as ultra-wideband radio, for signal repairs. Mr. Byford prefers a proven approach, known as communications-based train control — a technology Mr. Cuomo has mocked as archaic, though it is being used in cities like London.

Mr. Byford says he needs $19 billion over the next five years for his “Fast Forward” plan. Mr. Cuomo has said the authority was asking for too much money for its next capital plan.

Even the recent subway improvements have been a point of conflict.

Mr. Cuomo credits his “Subway Action Plan,” which is spending roughly $800 million on subway upgrades. Transit advocates say Mr. Byford’s “Save Safe Seconds” plan — to streamline train operations, increase speed limits and fix faulty signals — has been equally important.

Mr. Foye, who was recently named chairman by Mr. Cuomo, said he supported Mr. Byford.

“I think he’s even more of a rock star than I thought when he came here,” Mr. Foye said in an interview.

Still, Veronica Vanterpool, an M.T.A. board member, said she was also worried that Mr. Byford would resign.

“I’m fearful that now that we have someone who has worked so tirelessly to restore public confidence,” she said, “that if he leaves, it would be a significant setback for the agency.”

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Typical. Cuomo just can't let himself look good by being hands off. Him doing literally nothing would be better than this.

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Really a shame that this is even a thought. So far, Byford's done some great work (like Save Safe Seconds and SPEED), and it'd be pretty sucky to lose him over petty politics, especially considering how much he's tried to avoid getting caught up in it. One can only hope he can reason with the State and/or Governor himself. 

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And yet, with all this mounting evidence of interference, there are still those that insist that Cuomo does not control the MTA.

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I mean I can see why. Cuomo wants to get involved in EVERYTHING to make himself look good. I already know the (L) problem is going to get bigger. Andy can't make NYC the transport hub he visions it to be when its always Cuomo standing in his way.

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If Byford goes, that's really the end. Already, most competent folks at MTA are/are thinking about running away. His departure would, IMO, forever shatter the wall between the political and the managerial, and would send a signal to the world that New York doesn't want powerful, independent visionaries. I have my fair share of qualms with what Byford does, but its undeniable that he has done more to shake up NYCT than anyone in a long time. It's just a shame he's come to an agency which has in fact lost so much credibility that a governor can interfere with political cover. 

NYC is facing a critical period. We have a housing shortage, a transit crisis, an equity issue, a reactive political climate, and the ever present threat of climate change bearing down upon us at approximately the same time. And when I look around, I don't see anyone in power who seems to have a true vision and passion for solving these things. That's scary. 

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I suppose this wouldn't be a professional thing to do, but I just wish Byford would come out and say Cuomo is interfering with his work and is really a crutch to New York. Would love to see Andy's face then.

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4 hours ago, GojiMet86 said:

I suppose this wouldn't be a professional thing to do, but I just wish Byford would come out and say Cuomo is interfering with his work and is really a crutch to New York. Would love to see Andy's face then.

I wouldn't be surprised if this was an intentional leak. This kind of stuff happens all the time in politics; Cuomo is just not used to being able to deal with an appointee who's even moderately media savvy.

That being said, it speaks volumes that Byford probably had a better time working under a literal crackhead.

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I can't say I'd be surprised if he left. In fact, I've been saying this for a while now. Who wants to work for someone that won't listen to any of your proposed solutions? Or worst, do the exact opposite of what's suggested? That nonsense gets very old very fast. The pay rarely makes up for the headaches and annoyances.

The point behind bringing Byford onboard was his transit expertise and his ability to turn a failing transit system around. Even before he started his tenure here in New York, he was touted as the guy that would fix the subway. Now, it seems like every time you turn around, Byford is being sidelined in favor of someone else who Cuomo likes more. What's the point of bringing in the expert if Cuomo's just going to defer to the C&C crew for every solution? I'm not knocking Columbia or Cornell, but when we have a transit expert in our back pockets, why do we keep deferring to outside engineering experts that may not all of the information for every solution lately?

The mishandling of the changes to the (L) project is one glaring example of Byford being pushed aside (he was reportedly not even consulted regarding the changes to the project before the press conference). However, this has been an ongoing problem for since Byford's tenure began last year. When he began, Byford laid out his plan for fixing the subway and the cost of doing so, and aside from a couple of token mentions, there has been little to no action in doing anything substantial about actually fixing the myriad of subway problems. It's a hefty cost, no argument about it, but that's what happens when general maintenance and infrastructure upgrades get deferred to the point of failure. I imagine the costs of the major car overhauls and infrastructure upgrades in the 1980s were comparably just as high back then.

And if I hear one more thing about ultra-wideband radio signaling as a replacement... I'm all for innovation and being the best around, but when we have proven technology used the world over, forgive me if I'm a little hesitant to be the pioneers on an unproven signal system. We already have an exclusivity problem when it comes to component replacements for signals because our system is one of a kind these days. We don't need to exacerbate this by bringing in another signaling system that no one will be using for the foreseeable future (because most major transit systems have or are in the process of upgrading to CBTC or something else widely used across the globe).

The person who needs to go is Cuomo, but the only way that's happening is if he pulls a Weiner. I just hope that, should Byford jump ship, we get someone to head Transit that will continue to challenge the status quo. It's been decades since the first major speed reductions were enacted following the Union Square and Williamsburg Bridge crashes, but we haven't seen any removals of those artificial speed limits in nearly 30 years until just a few months ago. Even when Prenderghast was MTA chairman, there was no push to raise the speed limits where they made no sense being so low. We don't need to revert back to that kind of leadership, not when there are so many problems, both major and minor, that need to be addressed.

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Posted (edited)
Quote

"He followed up with an email that said he'd never "seriously considered quitting" and "I'm here for the very long haul".

If anything, this means that we should be thankful Byford isn't gonna give in to Cuomo's bullshit and that he ain't going anywhere anytime soon. 

6 hours ago, RR503 said:

NYC is facing a critical period. We have a housing shortage, a transit crisis, an equity issue, a reactive political climate, and the ever present threat of climate change bearing down upon us at approximately the same time. And when I look around, I don't see anyone in power who seems to have a true vision and passion for solving these things. That's scary. 

The reason why that is it's because the only thing that matters to the politicians in power at the moment is just saving their ass and not caring about the public at large. They only care about themselves sadly. 

Edited by TheNewYorkElevated

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6 hours ago, Lawrence St said:

Cuomo wants to get involved in EVERYTHING to make himself look good. 

 

Especially something that he keeps claiming to "not control."

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Posted (edited)

I generally don't put too much stock in politicians or figureheads, but at this point, I honestly believe Cuomo fears an egghead like Byford & is trying to do whatever possible to get him out of NY...

....all while taking credit for his work, that is.

 

6 hours ago, RR503 said:

NYC is facing a critical period. We have a housing shortage, a transit crisis, an equity issue, a reactive political climate, and the ever present threat of climate change bearing down upon us at approximately the same time. And when I look around, I don't see anyone in power who seems to have a true vision and passion for solving these things. That's scary. 

I've said it so many times, online & offline...

NYC will be the downfall of NYC.

6 hours ago, GojiMet86 said:

I suppose this wouldn't be a professional thing to do, but I just wish Byford would come out and say Cuomo is interfering with his work and is really a crutch to New York. Would love to see Andy's face then.

Lol.... Byford isn't the only person I'd like to hear that statement from....

Edited by B35 via Church
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30 minutes ago, B35 via Church said:

I generally don't put too much stock in politicians or figureheads, but at this point, I honestly believe Cuomo fears an egghead like Byford & is trying to do whatever possible to get him out of NY...

....all while taking credit for his work, that is.

 

I've said it so many times, online & offline...

NYC will be the downfall of NYC.

Lol.... Byford isn't the only person I'd like to hear that statement from....

Unfortunately he won re-election.

I wonder, if he lost, how would the transit system be now? Much better then it is now...

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Ever since the change of the (L) train project, I kept thinking to myself "WHY CAN'T CUOMO JUST LET BYFORD DO HIS JOB, DAMNIT!" 

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Posted (edited)

My thoughts:

The MTA is honestly (and obviously) extremely corrupt, arrogant, and broke. And it's not Byford's fault this is happening. The obvious mastermind behind all of this is a petty a**hole who controls the agency like a puppet, that being Cuomo. 

Byford is trying his best to fix problems that have plagued the system for years, such as infrequency, slow routes (both train and buses), fares, etc. But the fact that Cuomo is personally preventing him from doing such just shows that the corrupt government is just intentionally trying to make transit worse. Byford could've made the (L) shutdown more suitable for all, he could've revolutionized both the subway and bus networks, and do so much more to fix the system, like extending subway lines, but as long as Cuomo is in the way, the MTA will just rot in pieces. 

Now, if Byford indeed leaves, all hope will be lost and the MTA will definitely meet its inevitable collapse. Him being hired as the president of the subway was a chance for the MTA to improve, to expand, and to recover. But with the monstrosity known as Cuomo intervening and influencing the MTA's decisions, that chance is all but a pipe dream. There's no one else at the MTA that can serve as a revolutionary leader, especially with @RR503's constructive points. For example, even Lhota, who returned to "fix" the system, could barely do any improvements and left a mere year and a half after his return. The "so-called" advances from the state of emergency back in 2017 (like the floor mats, double standing poles) were not just minor, but they were something even worse: unnecessary. In addition, they weren't close enough to being outstanding, and most likely only made subway cars more aesthetically appealing on the inside. 

To put it simply, as long as the atrocious mastermind known as Cuomo is in office, the power Byford and the rest of the MTA has over the system is increasingly limited, and severely waning. If or when he (Byford) does leave, residents/hipsters will just continue ranting on why the system is in total anarchy and crisis, not fully realizing the majority of themselves supported the mastermind behind it all. 

Thanks for listening, and I'd appreciate your feedback. 

Edited by Coney Island Av
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Can’t just blame Cuomo. Paterson, Spitzer, Pataki and Cuomo I all had hands in this gross mismanagement of (MTA).

No forward thinking except to saddle it with debt that it couldn’t pay, and force it to cut service to the point of ineffectiveness.

Problem is, y’all NYers have been electing “Starve the Government Beast” conservatives for two generations, and all they’ve done is make this state such a jewel that suburbanite transplants are needed to replace the population that’s leaving upstate, and making the situation worse.

NY is becoming Illinois without the almost-cool factor. 

We current NYers need a “do this right” political class to fix the mess the aforementioned made - in the (MTA) and all other areas of the state.

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13 minutes ago, Deucey said:

Problem is, y’all NYers have been electing “Starve the Government Beast” conservatives for two generations, and all they’ve done is make this state such a jewel that suburbanite transplants are needed to replace the population that’s leaving upstate, and making the situation worse.

I've said this a bunch of times already, but we need better candidates.

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7 minutes ago, Lex said:

I've said this a bunch of times already, but we need better candidates.

Nah. Better philosophy. They don’t have to be Locke liberals, but Hobbesian conservatism needs to die.

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4 hours ago, Lex said:

I've said this a bunch of times already, but we need better candidates.

Be the change you want to see in the world, or convince other people who you think might be a good fit. A bartender upset the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House.

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3 hours ago, bobtehpanda said:

Be the change you want to see in the world, or convince other people who you think might be a good fit. A bartender upset the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House.

Aside from being wholly unqualified based on my nonexistent credentials (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez actually studied law), I won't even be eligible to be governor for several years.

As for someone else who I think would be a good fit, no one comes to mind.

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13 hours ago, Coney Island Av said:

The obvious mastermind behind all of this is a petty a**hole who controls the agency like a puppet, that being Cuomo. 

 

But Cuomo himself keeps saying that he doesn't actually control the MTA. 

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12 hours ago, Deucey said:

Can’t just blame Cuomo. Paterson, Spitzer, Pataki and Cuomo I all had hands in this gross mismanagement of (MTA).

No forward thinking except to saddle it with debt that it couldn’t pay, and force it to cut service to the point of ineffectiveness.

Problem is, y’all NYers have been electing “Starve the Government Beast” conservatives for two generations, and all they’ve done is make this state such a jewel that suburbanite transplants are needed to replace the population that’s leaving upstate, and making the situation worse.

NY is becoming Illinois without the almost-cool factor. 

We current NYers need a “do this right” political class to fix the mess the aforementioned made - in the (MTA) and all other areas of the state.

Don't forget the mayors! NYC's contribution to the NYCT ops budget has declined precipitously over the years. 

Really, ever since the '70s fiscal crisis, NYC (and NYS) has been pursuing a strange brand of neoliberalism-pretending-to-be-progressivism. Economically, those policies probably saved NYC (especially given the federal government's reluctance to help with budgetary relief), but there has been a failure to create a vision for a post-austerity government, and equally a failure to reinvest the fruits of growth into the public services that enable it. So what we have today is a strange jumble of piecemeal governmental structures, agencies, laws and regulations, each very much products of their era and none altogether functional, while the city's greatest public infrastructures (subways, parks, bridges, schools, hospitals, public housing) lie underfunded/poorly managed and without vision for their future. NYC government has the potential to be -- and really should be -- a massive force for good within its mandate. But again, it needs leaders. 

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If Byford leaves, I sure as hell hope that Darryl Irick doesn’t take over the reins. That guy is a bean counter to the core, ask anybody on the bus side.

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30 minutes ago, paulrivera said:

If Byford leaves, I sure as hell hope that Darryl Irick doesn’t take over the reins. That guy is a bean counter to the core, ask anybody on the bus side.

Irick has been the disaster from the start.. Honestly, if Byford and cuomo can come to an accord and get things moving in the right direction for New York than we can all enjoy a great transit system.

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