Can the British man who saved Toronto’s subway help New York City?
Sixteen years in the past, former New York transport boss Bob Kiley was recruited from throughout the pond to rescue the London Underground “New York Tough Guy to Run Tube,” introduced the Evening Standard.
Now the reverse is occurring. Andy Byford – who grew up in Plymouth and is a veteran of Transport for London, Sydney’s RailCorp and the Toronto Transit Commission – arrives to tackle New York’s rammed and creaking transport system, which this 12 months suffered a “summer of hell”. Long-deferred repairs wrought havoc on the already overburdened system, leaving passengers stranded on sweltering platforms and captive in immobilized subway automobiles.
During his time in Toronto, Byford rode the rails and buses every single day alongside clients, carrying a conspicuous title tag and fielding questions and complaints about the service. He appears more likely to get loads of each in New York, whose passengers aren’t shy about giving their views on the state of the subway.
“That’s the job, and I expect to be held to account,” Byford informed the Guardian, confirming he would sustain his sample of touring on the system he runs. “I’ll use it every day; that’s how I get about. I’ve never owned a car in my life and I don’t intend to buy a car in New York.”
Byford appeared undaunted by changing into head of the New York City Transit Authority.
“I didn’t take this on for the prestige. I took it on because I like a challenge,” he mentioned.
He has already floated doubtlessly unpopular concepts, like an finish to 24-hour service on some strains, and shutting others for repairs. “It’s a harsh message but there will be no gain without a bit of pain,” Byford mentioned.
He added: “A lesson that I’ve applied here at the TTC [in Toronto] came from the London Underground, where once upon a time we tried to upgrade things overnight and on weekends, but came to the conclusion that sometimes [if repairs are done all at once] it’s more efficient and you get the get the job done more quickly.”
His résumé actually seems to suit the invoice. Byford began his profession as a station foreman at Regent’s Park station in London in 1989 earlier than changing into supervisor of King’s Cross St Pancras, after which holding management positions in the London, Sydney and Toronto transit techniques.
He met his spouse, Alison, on the London Underground, proposed to her on a high-speed prepare and employed a double-decker bus to take company to their marriage ceremony in Ottawa.
Byford sees London’s underground system as a mannequin for New York.
“Every time I go back to the Tube I’m amazed. I go to the stations and they’re bright and renovated. The station staff are incredibly proactive, they look great, they’re very helpful,” Byford informed the Evening Standard.
In Toronto, Byford took over the high job in 2013, and set in movement an formidable five-year modernization plan. Under him, on-time arrivals went up, and trains received quicker. The subway, which Byford had beforehand described as “squalid”, received cleaner.
“He basically was looking for, in the short term, quick wins,” mentioned Steve Munro, a veteran Toronto transit activist and blogger. “That’s the basic thing any new manager does: they come in and want to be seen as doing something. So he went after the stuff that was relatively easy and cheap to implement.”
The wins purchased him time and cachet. Byford circled and transformed that political capital into greater, deeper adjustments to infrastructure and company tradition. “He’s a good forceful spokesman but he’s not overbearing,” Munro mentioned. “He made a good political case and fortunately for him, the political era was such that fixing the problem was more important than fighting about, ‘Oh God, how did we get here?’”
The effort culminated in Toronto being named “outstanding public transit system of the year” by the American Public Transportation Association.
The award was greeted skeptically by Torontonians – straphangers worldwide aren’t usually the most optimistic bunch – however the system fared significantly better than the one New Yorkers at present deal with every single day.
According to a November New York Times investigation, on-time arrivals are down about 26% since 2007, and a majority of the metropolis’s 20-odd service strains have on-time arrival charges under 65%. It’s not all in the numbers both. One significantly “hellworthy” summer time picture was that of determined vacationers, trapped in a subway automobile with out air con for greater than an hour.
Byford was in New York for a transit operate the similar June day that New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, declared a state of emergency – a designation normally reserved for pure disasters – for the metropolis’s subways.
New York has managed some transit wins. The metropolis opened its first stations on the centuries-delayed Second Avenue line earlier this 12 months, and delivered a 7 line enlargement on the west facet in 2015, even when each initiatives had been beset by price overruns and delays.
The metropolis additionally made good on a promise to get each underground station geared up with wifi, and in 2017 received digital arrival bulletins into all of its 425 stations – no simple feat.
But the political state of affairs Byford walks into is advanced. Cuomo and metropolis mayor, Bill de Blasio, each Democrats, are locked in a seemingly perpetual feud, and metropolis transit, over which they share authority, has been a typical website for his or her skirmishes.
Byford has pledged to remain out of it: “I’m not going to even attempt to get into the middle of that relationship. My job is to give advice and for politicians to decide, and my job is to advocate for my customers.”
The job is herculean, although, and Byford is the first to confess that the system faces main limitations primarily based on its present age, state of restore and large ridership. “There’s a reason why that equipment is under strain. It’s old and it’s trying to carry more people than it was ever designed for,” Byford mentioned.
Byford faces the impending shutdown of the L line, the metropolis’s busiest prepare route. In 2019, the tubes that join that line beneath the East river might be taken out of operation for a complete overhaul and the 225,00zero every day riders will must be accommodated. Cuomo and De Blasio have already tangled over whose mess that’s to unravel, and it’s not more likely to clean over any time quickly. Byford admits that he’s by no means fairly tackled an issue of that magnitude, however he’s actually sport to attempt.
“Any transit professional who’s worth their salt wants to do this job,” Byford mentioned. “This is New York, for God’s sake. This is the most wonderful city and the biggest challenge, and I can’t wait.”