Byford to City: Get Out of My Way

The NYC Transit chief warns that his ambitious plans to fix the subways and buses will grind "to a halt" if faced with constant "stand-offs" with local electeds.

Andy Byford and a friend. Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit
Andy Byford and a friend. Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

SB Donation NYC header 2Less than a year in charge of the city’s buses and subways, New York City Transit President Andy Byford is already fed up with New Yorkers’ knee-jerk tendency to oppose vital transit projects — and is imploring city council members to help him push back.

Testifying to the council on Tuesday, Byford warned that his plans to dramatically improve service and accessibility would fall short if every project has to endure months of localized opposition.

“This is where you come in,” Byford told council members. “Being blunt: the Fast Forward plan will grind to a halt if … we have to have a six-month stand-off at every single installation.”

Byford elaborated on his point on Wednesday morning during at breakfast event hosted by Crain’s New York Business.

“We’re not advocating some sort of undemocratic, crashing through neighborhoods and just installing things that people do not want, but what we do not have time for is a protracted debate about each and every one of the things that we need to do,” he said of his $60-plus-billion plan, which seeks to modernize signals along all routes within 10 years and make the subway fullly accessible within 15.

In both comments, Byford referenced the installation of elevators, which are currently not available at the vast majority of subway stations, and additional power substations, which the MTA will need to build in order to run more trains. A much-lampooned dispute in Lower Manhattan earlier this year, where opponents argued that an elevator would leave them vulnerable to “terrorism,” was probably top of his mind.

Byford’s more notable “stand-offs” with local officials, however, have included protracted fights over his agency’s efforts to improve bus service. In some instances, elected officials have egged on opponents of better bus service.

In Manhattan, the MTA and city DOT have been dogged by opponents of their plans to keep L train riders moving when that line shuts off in April, which include an expansion of bus lanes and a dedicated busway on a portion of 14th Street. That opposition fell short of stopping the project altogether, but it managed to convince Council Member Carlina Rivera to advocate against a 24/7 busway.

On Kenmare Street, another group picked up support from Council Member Margaret Chin, State Senator Brian Kavanagh, and Assembly Members Deborah Glick and Yuh-Line Niou in a successful effort to nix a one-way street design that the city said would have ensured better bus service for L-train refugees.

In southern Brooklyn, both agencies spent months in negotiations with elected officials and others opposed to the repurposing of parking spots for bus lanes along Kings Highway for B82 Select Bus Service. At one point, Council Member Jumaane Williams, then in the midst of a statewide campaign for lieutenant governor and now a leading candidate for city Public Advocate, attended a rally calling for the relocation of a single bus stop along the route.

Byford testifying at City Hall yesterday. Photo: John McCarten/NYC Council

At Tuesday’s hearing, one of the elected officials who fought the B82 project most bitterly, City Council Member Chaim Deutsch, admitted that he rarely takes transit. (Deutsch loves his car so much that he calls the City Hall parking area, “the People’s Parking Lot” when the private area is actually quite the opposite.)

“I actually took the subway twice last week, thanks to your leadership,” he told Byford — glowingly, for some reason.

Byford’s comments are a response to the distrust many elected officials legitimately feel towards the MTA after years of poor communication with locals, according to Riders Alliance Policy and Communications Director Danny Pearlstein.

“Past mistakes have a real threat of holding him back,” Pearlstein said. “That history shouldn’t constrain future action in a positive direction for transit riders.”

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  • Larry Littlefield

    Dump the bus system and the paratransit system, and their massive deficits, back in the city’s lap, while allowing it to keep the money it currently pays to the MTA.

    That would be a very fair city contribution to the survival of the rail-based transit system.

    And it would make grandstanding pols responsible for the level, quality and cost of bus service in the city. I’d bet a lot of these games would disappear with regard to members of the Council, and with the city fully in charge the bums in the legislature could just be ignored.

    The MTA doesn’t run buses anywhere else in the MTA region.

  • AMH

    “I actually took the subway twice last week…”

    Whattaya want, a cookie?

  • iSkyscraper

    Meh, Andy had to deal with Rob F’ing Ford in Toronto. NYC pols are a cakewalk in comparison.

  • Joe R.

    There’s such a thing as allowing too many voices at the table. It might be time we just starting ramming things through Robert Moses style, at least if they’re major projects which affect everyone. Neighborhood parochialism and NIMBYism seems to be the biggest obstacles to getting anything done in this city. I’d love to know why local community boards should have defacto veto power over new street configurations or subway infrastructure projects.

  • Larry Littlefield

    But Toronto’s economic situation is a cakewalk by comparison, and that’s with NYC being one of the most prosperous places in the U.S.

    The total annual personal income of all NYC residents combined was $571 billion in 2016. So we can afford $60 billion?

    In terms of existing state and local government debt, inadequate past infrastructure investment, and retroactively increased and underfunded pensions, Generation Greed has already put a mortgage of $470 billion against it that will have to be carried indefinitely, as of FY 2016.

    And that generation will be demanding that more and more of that income go to benefits and services for seniors over the next 30 years, even as those debts are paid off — by generations that are paid, as a median, 20 percent less than those now entering retirement, adjusted for educational attainment.

    He’ll have to find a way to do thing cheaper. The question isn’t how can we have a “world class” infrastructure. It’s whether we can survive the next 30 years with our infrastructure and economy functioning.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Overall, I actually think we’ve achieved an overall balance between Moses-style top down ramming through and local parochialism. Look at all the housing due to all those Bloomberg-era up zonings, for example, and all those added lanes on the Staten Island expressway without an EIS.

    Mass transit and bike infrastructure seem to be the last bastion of hold things up for years and quadruple the cost to make it go away parochialism.

  • JohnBrownForPresident

    Nope. Byford lost me when he started blaming turnstile jumpers for all the bad MTA service and wanted more cops on it.

    Policing is now how you solve a transit and infrastructure issue – not vision zero, not this.

  • iSkyscraper

    Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the fact that the TTC is the most underfunded transit system in North America? Andy is used to this kind of economic mess.

  • Daisy’s World

    Researchers believe that taxing cannabis in New York could generate more than $600 million a year, and Governor Andrew Cuomo — who has opposed legalization — has formed a panel to study it. Ronnie Hakim, the MTA’s Managing Director, did not explicitly endorse the proposal. But she stopped short of rejecting it. What we’re looking for is alternative revenue sources,” she said. “And where those sources come from is for others to decide…My job, job one, is running the transportation system, and that’s what we do. We need money to be able to do that. At a rally before Tuesday’s hearing, local leaders called on the state to approve congestion pricing and the millionaire’s tax to ease the deficit – instead of passing on the cost to the riders.

  • Ooh, tough talk from a tough motherfucker. I mean just look at him.

  • Knut Torkelson

    Pretty misleading way to mischaracterize what he said. He specifically said it was a factor in declining ridership. Nobody who has read Byford’s plan or listened to him speak about the issues the system is facing could possibly think that he thinks turnstile jumping is “the reason for all the bad MTA service.”

  • Knut Torkelson

    As usual, comparing a multi year plan to yearly numbers is a tired old trick to make things look impossible to pay for. Not to mention that nobody is looking for $60b in funding from the city here.

    “He’ll have to find a way to do things cheaper.” He has a good plan but he’s not the fucking messiah. As president of NYCT he doesn’t have control over the union contract, work rules, capital budget, or general construction costs in NYC. He has a good plan to fix the subway. Realistically the best plan that has come out of the MTA in decades for addressing the crumbling system. Regardless of whether or not it’s overpriced, it’s worth it. It would be worth it at $100b. The system needs to be fixed. This is our last, best option. We have 12 years to cut carbon emissions in half- we can hardly afford a crumbling public transit system in the largest city in the country.

  • Joe R.

    Yeah, the two things we need the most are the two which are still held up by parochialism.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Everything else electronic is getting cheaper except NYCT signals. There has got to be a way out of this.

  • Jason

    But finding out what he actually said would take time, and I want to be angry now!