Train Daddy is leaving the station.
Andy Byford, the head of New York City Transit, has resigned. During his two-year tenure, Byford was responsible for initiatives that helped stabilize service throughout the ailing subway system, and spearheaded ambitious projects aimed at improving the long-term health of the city’s subways and buses. He was also exceptionally popular with transportation advocates, city officials, and riders; the latter affectionally dubbed him “Train Daddy,” a moniker he embraced.
But he also faced pressure from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who controls the MTA and is known for meddling in decision-making at the authority. (See: the L train shutdown switcheroo.) Byford’s departure comes three months after he tendered (and later rescinded) a letter of resignation. In a statement, Byford did not say why or when he will exit his role, only noting that he believes the authority is “well-placed to continue its forward progress.” He thanked Cuomo and MTA CEO Patrick Foye for “the opportunity to serve New York.”
The English-born transit chief’s departure is undoubtedly a blow to improving public transportation in the five boroughs. Below, find a primer on Byford’s achievements and how those efforts are expected to reverberate throughout New York City transit for years to come.
Not long after he arrived at NYCT, Byford unveiled an ambitious, multi-billion-dollar plan to modernize the entire transit system. The plan, known as Fast Forward, has many moving parts, but a core component is upgrading the subway’s dilapidated signals at a much faster pace than is typical—he wanted to modernize five lines in five years. Those first five years would focus on signal improvements along the 4, 5, 6 and A, C, E lines; the installation of 50 elevators across the subway system to make it more accessible; the creation of a new payment system (OMNY, which is now available in many subway stations); and the addition of 650 new subway cars, among a slew of other upgrades across the system.
A new focus on accessibility
The MTA has a longstanding problem with making its various transit systems accessible to people with disabilities—an issue that Byford acknowledged, and hoped to ameliorate, by hiring New York City Transit’s first accessibility chief in 2018. Alex Elegudin, a longtime accessibility advocate, became the system’s first Senior Advisor for Systemwide Accessibility, with a mandate to “expand accessibility to subway and bus customers, as well as improve Access-A-Ride service,” per the MTA.
Accessibility is also a key component of the Fast Forward plan; as part of that, the MTA announced in December that a whopping 70 subway stations would receive $5.2 billion for upgrades. That commitment builds on Byford’s goal of making at least 50 more subway stations accessible in five years so customers would not have to travel farther than two stops to reach an upgraded station.
Bus turnaround plan
Years of declining bus speeds have sent ridership into a tail spin, but Byford’s April 2018 “Bus Action Plan” seeks to change that. The plan, which Byford described as an outline to “reimagine” service, seeks to reevaluate the designs of every bus route; all-door bus boarding; more dedicated space for buses on city streets; and better traffic enforcement of that space to keep buses moving.
Save Safe Seconds program
Trains across the subway system run at slower speeds than they did 25 years ago. But a Byford-led program that launched in 2018 sought to, quite literally, save every second from being wasted in delays. The goal of the “Save Safe Seconds” program was to eliminate 10,000 delays a month by achieving a 12.5 percent reduction in late trains on each line. The SPEED Unit, which is testing every signal timer and identifying spots for higher speed limits, is a key part of that initiative.
On-time performance improvements
Under the leadership of Byford, weekday on-time performance—or the percentage of trains arriving within five minutes of their scheduled time—topped 80 percent in 2019 for the first time since 2013, according to MTA data. The average weekday on-time performance in 2019 was 80.3 percent, a nearly 20 percent increase over 2018 when it was 67.1 percent. December 2019’s weekday on-time performance jumped 10.5 percent compared to the same time the year prior. These figures translate to smoother commutes for New Yorkers.