Apr
28

Following budget approval, can Andy C. coexist with Andy B.?

By · Published in 2019

Andy Byford spent Friday evening helping passengers with L train-related travel queries. Can the governor coexist with a strong NYC Transit head? (Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)

Few people in the New York City transit space really trust Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Sure, he delivered on his promise to shepherd congestion pricing through the legislature, but his top-down approach on setting priorities and moving mountains only for his whims leaves much to be desired. He orders those he controls to do his bidding, and he doesn’t like to listen to other ideas from people who may know better. Hence, a fixation on ultra wideband communications technology, last-minute meddling on the L train plans and a backwards Laguardia AirTrain, among many other problems.

Cuomo’s problem seems to stem from one of ego and arrogance. When faced with the reality that he is in charge of something — in the MTA’s case, a position he was dragged to kicking and screaming — Cuomo wants all the credit and none of the blame. The ideas on grand infrastructure are his so he can celebrate the ribbon-cutting. After doing it with the Second Ave. Subway, he is following the same path by ordering a review of East Side Access years after it would have made a difference. As governor, that’s his prerogative, but it leads to a more-than-healthy skepticism from those in the field.

What happens though when Cuomo finds someone competent and qualified to work under him and that person starts getting some of the credit? As we’ve seen, things can get ugly fast, and that’s what may be occurring as New York’s two Andys — Cuomo and Byford — try to co-exist uneasily in the transit space.

It’s not too hard to pinpoint when the relationship went south. After Cuomo stepped in with his L train plan, Byford embraced the idea of a less shutdown-y shutdown but, as the head of New York City Transit, wanted to ensure full transparent accountability. Byford promised an independent assessment of Cuomo’s new scope of work that would be completed before the full work started. Well, the full work started this weekend, and the only result of Byford’s words were a power play by the Governor who removed the L train work from NYC Transit’s scope and placed it under the purview of Janno Lieber and MTA’s capital construction division. The independent assessment never happened; the timeline and full scope of work remains murky; and the construction kicked off in earnest on Friday night. Talk about being sidelined.

Since then, it’s been a rocky few months. Cuomo has pushed forward on the ultra wideband project while Byford has tried to hold the line on a traditional wired approach to communications-based train control (my views on the project in a recent City & State roundtable), and Cuomo and Byford had something of a stand-off when Cuomo insulted MTA workers during public comments at a lobbyist breakfast earlier this year. Byford was defending his staff and people while Cuomo was trying to score political points.

It was hardly a surprise then to see a few articles appear in the New York press regarding the Byford-Cuomo relationship. The first was an Emma Fitzsimmons special in The Times which indicated that colleagues feared Byford may quit. She wrote:

Andy Byford, the transit executive who was hired to rescue New York City’s floundering subway, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo have increasingly clashed over management of the system, and several of Mr. Byford’s 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, who was hired in November 2017, 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…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.

Nolan Hicks of The Post ran a companion piece that seemed to downplay a Byford departure but highlighted his frustrations with Cuomo. Let Andy Byford do his job, Hicks’ sources were saying to the governor. “I think he really wants to be left to the do the job he was hired to do. He knows what needs to be done here, he’s done it in three other world cities and he’s got a plan to get these things done,” MTA board member Andrew Albert said.

“Let the man do his job” seems to be the message everyone wants to send to Gov. Cuomo, and it is the right one to send. Byford is here to do a job, and it would benefit Cuomo to let him. That would of course require Cuomo to tamp down on some of his baser instincts. It’s grating on our governor that Byford got The New Yorker treatment and a 60 Minutes puff piece last year, and it goes against his political instincts to share credit. “I feel that every sentence that praises Andy Byford shortens his life-span with Governor Cuomo,” one of The Post’s MTA’s sources said. “Every time, I hear a compliment for Andy Byford, I see another knife in his back.”

But in this case, it behooves Cuomo to put this behind him and share credit. The governor will be viewed as the politician who brought in the right people to fix the MTA’s mess, and Byford can be given enough free rein to do his job and do it successfully with the support of the powerful governor. It ought to be a win-win situation if Cuomo can help himself.

Whether Cuomo can help himself is a different story. In the wake of the reporting on Byford, Cuomo took to Alan Chartock’s radio show to defend himself, and he defending his lack of communication with Byford on the air. “There’s a chairman who runs the authority. In this case it’s Pat Foye, and I deal with the chairman.” he said. “It’s very rare for me to deal with a division head directly.” Shortly after the radio appearance, MTA sources told me Cuomo had in fact been on the phone with the heads of the MTA’s Division of Operations Planning to discuss signal timers and the efforts to speed up trains. So his claim that he doesn’t talk to division heads seems more like a flimsy attempt to defend the silent treatment he’s given Byford than anything based in the reality of how he governs.

Ultimately, though, I believe the stories had their intended effect: Byford said to both The Post and The Times that he doesn’t plan to go anywhere, and this weekend, he was front and center helping customers navigate around the L train work. “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. The governor and I are partners in this fight and I want to stay in this job until it is done,” Byford said.

Meanwhile, if Cuomo listened, he heard an outpouring of support for his NYC Transit chief who he tabbed to fix the subway’s problems. Cutting bait now to install another “yes man” who refuses to challenge the governor when appropriate would undermine the progress Byford has made, and I have a feeling that message may just sink in. Instead, Cuomo will have to do what the rest of us learned to do in kindergarten: share. He can share that credit, and the city and MTA will be better off for it.



Categories : MTA Politics

9 Responses to “Following budget approval, can Andy C. coexist with Andy B.?”

  1. Larry Penner says:

    Governor Cuomo’s call for performing another independent audit on the MTA’s Long Island Rail Road East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal is putting lipstick on a pig. Since 2001, the total direct cost for MTA ESA GCT has grown from $3.5 billion in 2001 to $11.2 billion today (plus $600 million more in financing costs). I predict $12 to $13 billion in direct costs when completed. This does not include $4 billion more for indirect costs known as “readiness projects” carried off line from the official project budget. This includes $2.6 billion Main Line Third Track, $450 million Jamaica Capacity, $387 million Ronkonkoma Double Track, $120 million Ronkonkoma Yard Expansion, $44 million Great Neck Pocket Track just to name a few support direct implementation of East Side Access. Don’t forget $400 million or more needed to pay for the future Sunnyside Yards Queens Station. Funding for this project will primarily come from the next MTA 2020 – 2024 Five Year Capital Plan. Based upon past history, the final cost for ESA will go up again by a $1 billion or more. The promised opening service date has slipped on numerous occasions from 2009 to December 2022. Don’t be surprised if this ends up in 2023 or later.

    A detailed project risk assessment by the Federal Transit Administration independent engineer as part of the FTA – MTA 2016 amended ESA Full Funding Grant Agreement predicted a final cost of $12 billion.

    The MTA has repeatedly increased the budget by billions and pushed back the first day of service by thirteen years.

    Unforeseen site conditions or last minute additions to scope of work could result in additional change orders to project contract(s) over coming years. They could add millions to the final project cost. There is much work to be done after reaching “substantial completion” interim project milestone in December 2022. This work will include completion for thousands of contract(s) punch list items, delivery and acceptance of all manufacture component maintenance plans, release of retainage and final payment to all third party construction contractors and vendors, The project contract(s) closeout process with several dozen contractors may require one to two years after Long Island Rail Road service to Grand Central Terminal begins in December 2022.

    Cuomo’s promised “forensic audit” of the MTA LIRR ESA is a waste of time and money. How many internal MTA, MTA Office of Inspector General, State Comptroller, City Comptroller, NYC Office of Management and Budget, FTA Office of Inspector General and other audits have come and gone. What about numerous newspaper investigative reports on waste, fraud or abuse? Another audit will not result in any significant changes.

    A cat has nine lives and this project long ago already used all of them. When it comes to completion of ESA, the 1960’s LIRR motto “Line of the Dashing Dan” should be changed to “Line of the Slow Moving Sloth.”

    (Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the US Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for grants supporting billions in capital projects and programs on behalf of the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road, MTA Bus, New Jersey Transit, NYC Department of Transportation and over thirty other transit operators in New York State).

  2. Walt Gekko says:

    It’s sounding more to me like it’s a combination of Cuomo’s ego AND Cuomo’s donord who want everything their way. It’s believed by some Cuomo’s donors actually demanded the meddling on the L train situation, especially given at that point Cuomo was still mulling whether or not he would run for President (and after he ordered those changes, he did note he would have run had Joe Biden decided not to and Biden only announced last week).

    Cuomo’s possible Presidential aspirations to me was why he did that.

    Bigger question now is the one presented here in if he can let Byford do his job. Cuomo needs to realize he can’t do things to satisfy his ego if they wind up creating unintended consequences later, especially if Byford chooses to leave.

  3. Fool says:

    “Since then, it’s been a rocky few months. Cuomo has pushed forward on the ultra wideband project while Byford has tried to hold the line on a traditional wired approach to communications-based train control (my views on the project in a recent City & State roundtable), and Cuomo and Byford had something of a stand-off when Cuomo insulted MTA workers during public comments at a lobbyist breakfast earlier this year. Byford was defending his staff and people while Cuomo was trying to score political points.”

    While much of that city & state article was informative, there seems to be a growing misunderstanding of what the UWB proposal was/is. While I do not endorse it, there really is not equivalency to LTE or WiFi.

    Yes it is proposed to be utilized as a data transport, but in a very different methodology than wifi or LTE (themselves very different from each other). The principal difference from CBTC is that instead of utilizing fixed beacons to indicate location UWB would utilize time of flight calculations (think radar).

  4. Stephen says:

    In this sentence, who is Hicks?

    “Let Andy Byford do his job, Hicks’ sources were saying to the governor.”

    • Mister says:

      It looks like a quotation mark was missed, and the html for that paragraph was messed up. It should read:

      It was hardly a surprise then to see a few articles appear in the New York press regarding the Byford-Cuomo relationship. The first was an Emma Fitzsimmons special in The Times indicated that colleagues feared Byford may quit. She wrote:

      Andy Byford, the transit executive who was hired to rescue New York City’s floundering subway, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo have increasingly clashed over management of the system, and several of Mr. Byford’s 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, who was hired in November 2017, 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…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.

      Nolan Hicks of The Post ran a companion piece that seemed to downplay a Byford departure but highlighted his frustrations with Cuomo. Let Andy Byford do his job, Hicks’ sources were saying to the governor. “I think he really wants to be left to the do the job he was hired to do. He knows what needs to be done here, he’s done it in three other world cities and he’s got a plan to get these things done,” MTA board member Andrew Albert said.

  5. John-2 says:

    Just imagine where things would have been 35 years ago if Cuomo’s dad had gotten angry at David Gunn and Robert Kiley for getting any credit for reviving the subway system.

  6. Pedro Valdez-Rivera says:

    He turned around the transit ststems of London, Sydney and Toronto with effortless precision despite the vastly different ptypes of politics when he was around. I understand that being a NYCT president is his dream job in the most bureaucratic public transportation agency in the Western Hemisphere, but I’m still optimistic that he can handle the pressure from Governor Crony and stay as long as he pleases to turn the NYCTA from the inside out. If Cuomo made him quit, then that situation could affect his own legacy and a possible fourth term for governor as well as being aspiring for president in 2020.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>