After rescinding a resignation letter in October and nearly walking away from New York City Transit over a tense relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo, Andy Byford has officially resigned as the President of New York City Transit after a little over two years on the job, the MTA announced today. In comments following Thursday’s MTA Board meetings, agency Chair and CEO Pat Foye cited “personal reasons” as driving Byford’s departure. But Byford had felt sidelined by the recent MTA Transformation process, especially as his roles changed, and he clashed frequently with the governor. Byford, in his resignation letter, cited transformation as a concern and said his last day will be February 21. The MTA has not yet named an interim president to replace the popular Byford.
Byford’s resignation letter hit the Internet this afternoon, and he clearly pointed to the MTA’s ongoing reorganization as a driving factor. “The Alix Partners MTA Transformation plan called for the centralization of projects and an expanded HQ, leaving Agency Presidents to focus solely on the day-to-day of running service. I have built an excellent team and there are many capable individuals in Transit and others within the MTA family, who could perform this important, but reduced, service delivery role,” Byford wrote to new MTA COO Mario Peloquin.
According to senior MTA officials, Byford felt as though the rug had been pulled out from under him as he was brought to New York City to lead the supposed renaissance of the subways and buses but was instead being siphoned into a service delivery role for which he was overqualified. It will be interesting to see how this impacts potential recruiting for Byford’s replacement as the NYC Transit President role doesn’t carry nearly the same cachet as it used to. I’ve embedded the resignation letter below.
The news first broke in the middle of the monthly board meeting when Dana Rubinstein published her bombshell report at Politico New York, and the MTA quickly sent out a brief press release acknowledging the news with the following statements from Foye and Byford.
“Andy Byford will be departing New York City Transit after a successful two years of service and we thank him for his work,” Foye said. “Andy was instrumental in moving the system forward, enacting the successful Subway Action Plan and securing record capital funding with the Governor and the Legislature, and we wish him well in his next chapter.”
“I’m very proud of what we have achieved as a team over the past two years and I believe New York City Transit is well-placed to continue its forward progress now that the MTA has a record breaking $51.5 billion Capital Program in place,” Byford said. “I’m very grateful to Governor Cuomo, Chairman Foye and members of the Board for giving me the opportunity to serve New York and to head up North America’s largest transit system.”
Reactions have flown in fast and furious with local city officials bemoaning the loss of Byford, and the impact it’ll have on the city, its transit network and potential for the future. “DEVASTATED,” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said via Twitter (though he later stopped short of blaming the governor). I’ll round up more of these comments and reactions from transit advocates later.
While local politicials did not specifically blame the tense relationship between Cuomo and Byford as the main driver of his departure, recent reporting from Emma Fitzsimmons at The Times did just that. She writes:
Mr. Byford had considered quitting since last spring and struggled to get along with Mr. Cuomo, who controls the subway and the flow of money to the system.
Mr. Cuomo was angry after Mr. Byford tried to resign in October, according to officials familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The governor signaled to state officials that the tense relationship had reached its end point and that he expected Mr. Byford to be gone by the first quarter of 2020, the officials said.
By December, Mr. Byford made up his mind that he would leave after completing his second year, those officials said. Another likely departure, officials say, is Pete Tomlin, who was brought in by Mr. Byford to run a multibillion dollar overhaul of the signal system.
When asked at a separate appearance on Thursday touting a legislative compromise on legalizing e-bikes if Cuomo was happy with Byford’s departure, the governor said, “No, I thought he was a good man.” The governor had previously praised Byford during the same appearance. “He’s a good man and I wish him well and I think he did great work,” Cuomo said, before launching into a critique of Byford’s plan to re-signal the subways, a cornerstone of Fast Forward and the five-year capital plan, on the grounds that it would have taken too long. (MTA insiders believe Pete Tomlin, the signals guru Byford brought in to oversee CBTC installation will depart at some point in the near future as well.)
Asked about Byford being frustrated with Cuomo's interference in MTA details, Cuomo says Byford's re-signaling plan was going to take too long and given its importance and cost, it is his job to care and question it.
— Ben Max (@TweetBenMax) January 23, 2020
Byford too stressed that his departure was his own decision. “This was 100 percent my decision. There was no external pressure for me to go. This is something I’ve given careful thought to,” he said to Fitzsimmons.
Still, by all accounts, that Byford and Cuomo clashed behind the scenes and personality-wise did not help smooth over any problems with their relationship, despite their public comments. And for now, yet again, New York City Transit is looking for yet another head, leaving New Yorkers to ponder what comes next for the subways and their improvements after the so-called Train Daddy departs.
Check back for updates as I’ll have more on this breaking story.