Andy Byford

Andy Byford
Photo: TTC

Andy Byford, CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission for the last five years and a previous transit top executive in London and Sydney, Australia, has been selected as president of the New York City Transit Authority, effective in January.

Announced by parent agency the Metropolitan Transit Authority on Nov. 21, he will run the city's subways, buses, paratransit services and the Staten Island Railway. Byford replace Darryl C. Irick, who was named acting president in February.

MTA says the transit agency's most recent permanent president was Veronique “Ronnie” Hakim, named in 2015. She became MTA Managing Director in August.

While TTC is Canada's most heavily used urban mass transit system with 1.8 million daily riders, and the third largest in North America, Byford will take over a system with an average daily ridership of more than 7.7 million.

The 52-year-old executive also joins the New York City agency as it faces rising criticism over aging infrastructure and challenges in funding needed service upgrades, which have often become political issues between Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

But Byford may be used to that. According to a Toronto Star report, he was elevated earlier than expected from TTC chief operating officer to the top job after his predecessor was fired in a political squabble.

In New York City, Byford will manage MTA's Subway Action Plan that was launched this summer "to stabilize, modernize and improve our transit system," the agency said in a statement, although the New York Daily News says the approximately $836-million effort is underfunded.

“We are thrilled that Andy is going to lead NYC Transit during this time of great change,” MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said. At a Toronto press briefing announcing his departure, Byford acknowledged that his new role "is arguably the toughest job in transit right now.”

MTA credited Byford for the "resurgence" of Toronto’s public transit system. It said he "spearheaded several prominent initiatives including the development of a corporate plan aimed at completely modernizing" the system—launching a phased signal system upgrade and reducing subway delays. Set for completion next month is a new subway line extension.

The American Public Transportation Association named TTC as its 2017 outstanding transit system.

While MTA says Byford's selection "comes after an extensive and international search," he was known to agency and local officials, selected for a panel last year that presented international best practices and named in 2014 to MTA's so-called "reinvention commission" called for by Cuomo to modernize and improve regional transit. However, says the New York Times, "despite producing recommendations that are now considered essential, like investing in basic infrastructure, the commission’s findings were largely ignored."

TTC noted that Byford brought in international talent into executive agency roles and said that women filled half of those positions, which media said was a recent change.

Says one industry executive in Toronto, Byford "did a great job in a difficult and financially constrained environment. His statement of his accomplishments while at TTC has the additional benefit of being true."

Replacing Byford as acting TTC head is deputy CEO Rick Leary, whose appointment is set for board approval shortly, said agency chair Josh Colle. TTC said a permanent replacement is expected to be named by July 1. Byford's successor will confront debate over a controversial planned new subway extension whose current estimated cost has reached about $2.6 billion, a figure that could rise when the project reaches 30% design completion next year, media report.

Also, the Toronto Region Board of Trade, in a report released Nov. 27, says Ontario should take over city transit systems such as TTC, arguing that a provincial-run agency "would benefit transit riders and municipal governments by reducing the risk of politics interfering in the delivery of evidence-based projects and freeing up cities to spend resources on other priorities."