NYC Transit reaches north of the border

Toronto CEO Andy Byford also has run transit systems in London and Sydney

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has tapped the head of Toronto’s mass transit system to take over New York City Transit as it is taking on massive and multiple turnaround projects.

Andy Byford, 52, is a native of Great Britain and has been CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission since 2012.

The MTA, in a statement issued last week, said Byford’s selection as its new president comes after an international search, and that he will take the reins in January.

“We are thrilled that Andy is going to lead NYC Transit during this time of great change,” MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said. “Our transit system is the backbone of the world’s greatest city and having someone of Andy’s caliber to lead it will help immensely, particularly when it comes to implementing the Subway Action Plan that we launched this summer.

“In order to truly stabilize, modernize and improve our transit system, we needed a leader who has done this work at world-class systems and Andy’s successes in Toronto are evidence that he is up to this critically important task.”

Byford began his career with the London Underground system. He rose through the ranks and eventually assumed leadership positions with regional railroads.

“New York City’s public transit system has driven New York City to become the bustling, successful metropolis that it is, and it’s an honor to be trusted with the huge responsibility to modernize the system and bring it to the high levels of performance and customer service that New Yorkers truly deserve and rightfully expect,” Byford said. “I look forward to working with my new colleagues and all the employees of New York City Transit and the MTA, and, most importantly, our customers.”

Published reports state that Gov. Cuomo met Byford for a frank discussion after he was recommended to the MTA board.

Byford is the second TTC leader to take over NYC Transit; David Gunn made the jump in 1984 and stayed for six years.

The New York Times quoted Byford as saying he first rode New York City’s subways on his honeymoon in 1994, and “marveled at its complexity.”

A comparison of the numbers, obtained from the websites of the MTA and the TTC, shows that while Toronto has the third-largest system in North America, Byford still will be stepping up considerably in weight class.

The Toronto system moves an estimated 2.7 million people per day on its trains, buses and streetcars; the MTA moves 6 million on subways alone and 7.7 million overall.

Byford will go from overseeing 12,000 employes to nearly 48,000; four subway lines to 27; 154 bus and streetcar routes to 233.

In terms of physical plant and infrastructure, Toronto maintains 42 miles of subway tracks with 75 stations and 52 miles for streetcars.

NYC Transit has 472 subway stations, 662 miles of track. The city’s combined bus route miles — 2,057, according to the MTA — would fall just short of the 2,086 miles’ distance between the Big Apple and Mexico City.

But Patrick Foy, MTA president, the former executive director of the Port Authority and no stranger to navigating the treacherous waters of transportation in and around New York City, said in a statement that Byford is ready.

“To function as a first-rate transit system, you need a first-rate transit leader and Andy is precisely that,” Foy said in the MTA statement. “His command of urban transit issues is second to none and he is invested in getting the details right. NYC Transit faces serious issues, but Andy is up to the challenge and we are excited to have him on board.”