Train Daddy has a new family.
Andy Byford, the popular former New York City Transit President who resigned in January amidst a bitter dispute with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, will be London’s next Transport Commission, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and the Board of Transport for London announced today. Byford will oversee an agency that is facing its own pandemic-related economic crisis but also one that has a holistic role in shaping London transportation and a vision for it that far surpasses being implemented in New York City these days. It’s a natural fit for a transit technocrat who won over a New York City public distrustful of the MTA, and New York’s loss is London’s gain.
Byford left the MTA at the end of February and left New York a few days later to renew his visa. He ended up stranded in his native Plymouth, England, as travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders descended upon the world. Now, he’ll stay in England, rejoining the organization where he started his back in 1989.
“I am delighted to be taking up the role of Commissioner and to have been chosen to lead the organisation where I started my transport career over 30 years ago,” Byford said in a statement. “In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, all transport authorities around the world will need to reimagine how their services and projects contribute to the safe and sustainable re-start of the social and economic lives of the cities they serve. It is a huge challenge, but I know that Transport for London has some of the best people anywhere in the world and we will meet these challenges and will together help build an even better city for everyone.”
The new TfL head earned the moniker Train Daddy from his fans in New York City who grew to know a New York City Transit head who took responsibility for the system’s failures and wanted to fix the subways and buses. His Fast Forward plan helped lead to improved subway performance and his Safe Save Seconds campaign led to faster trips. A bus network redesign effort has been in the works for a few years, and Byford was instrumental in putting together the $51 billion capital plan that included aggressive signal modernization work. That work sits in limbo as the COVID-19 crisis has decimated the MTA’s finances, and Byford left or was pushed out by Cuomo after the two butted heads.
That relationship, or the lack of one, was the crux of the matter. By some accounts, Cuomo grew leery of Byford following profiles in The New Yorker and on 60 Minutes and would either circumvent Byford’s authority or impose distractions upon Byford’s team. When speeds and signal calibration, for instance, became a Byford/New York City Transit priority, Cuomo tried to override Byford by putting together his own team to examine the issue but often without the experts tasked by Byford to solve the problems. It was Cuomo’s prerogative as Governor to do so, but sometimes, the best way to lead is to let the qualified and competent leaders run with their agendas. This is all well-covered terrain, and we know what we lost.
New Yorkers had dreams of luring Byford back, either in a city role or even as the head of New Jersey Transit, but London will benefit instead. Byford most recently worked for Transport for London as the General Manager of Customer Service for the Bakerloo, Central and Victoria Lines and had served in service delivery and station ops roles across the system. He served stints in Australia and Toronto before arriving in New York and returns to London with a mandate to oversee the entirety of the city’s transport network – the Tube and buses but also bikes, roads and pedestrian space.
Byford, who beat out 107 other candidates for the role, begins his new job on June 29. He’ll earn a salary of £355,000 (or approximately $435,000) with performance bonuses of up to 50%, a sign that London values the knowledge and skills of the people tasked with leading the gigantic TfL organization.
“I’m delighted to confirm Andy Byford as London’s new Transport Commissioner. Covid-19 has had a profound impact on public transport in London but Andy brings with him a wealth of experience and expertise to lead TfL as it faces this unprecedented challenge,” Mayor Khan said. “I look forward to working with Andy as we build a greener city with clean and environmentally-friendly travel, including walking and cycling, at the heart of its recovery.”