This week, the head of the New York City subway system announced that he’s resigning. Andy Byford took office almost exactly two years ago, after the system went through a “summer of hell” when rampant delays, cars trapped between stations and a derailment took a toll on the system’s image. Byford came to New York with a reputation for fixing transit systems in London and Toronto.
Ask a New Yorker what they think about the subway, and you’ll probably hear something like what we heard from Peter Tarr, a commuter passing through Grand Central Station.
“The system is a disaster. It was underfunded. It was not maintained properly. It’s a disgrace,” Tarr said.
A failing subway system isn’t just irritating — it has a real impact on the economy. New York City generates almost 5% of the country’s GDP. More, if you include nearby counties.
And a failing subway system has consequences.
“Just like if your circulatory system is not working, the rest of you can’t function either,” said Sarah Kaufman of the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation.
“Business [is] not being done in the city because people are stuck in the subway. Meetings don’t happen. Deals don’t get made,” she said.
But while Byford was on the job, things improved. Kaufman said he focused on necessary changes, like updating the system’s ancient signals, helping increase accessibility and speeding up the trains.
The MTA says last year, 80% of trains were on time, up from 67% the year before. Riders have noticed that, and other changes.
Russell West takes the 2 and 3 trains to Harlem.
“I’ve appreciated how forthright they’ve been,” West said. “You know what’s going on a bit more than I remember, knowing what was going on before he got here.”
Supporters also say Byford’s appeal came down to simply acknowledging that the New York City subway was a disaster.
“He didn’t blow smoke, he didn’t tell us that he could fix something he knew he couldn’t fix,” said New York City Council member Justin Brannan.
“That goes a really long way, a really long way,” he continued. “Especially when New Yorkers are so used to being told by agencies there’s nothing to see here, these aren’t the droids you’re looking for, keep moving.”
In a statement, Byford said the MTA will go forward with its $51 billion capital improvement plan.