Byford resigns, a despondent Twitter reacts

The celebrated transit chief officially resigns from the MTA, after quarreling with Gov. Cuomo over the subways turnaround.

New York City Transit President Andy Byford resigned his post on Thursday.

New York City Transit President Andy Byford resigned his post on Thursday. MTA NYC Transit/ Marc A. Hermann

New York City commuters’ hopes rested on the shoulders of one unimposing, well-liked British straphanger, and on Thursday, general consensus had it that those hopes were dashed when New York City Transit President Andy Byford, who was in the midst of leading the subways’ turnaround, resigned his post on Thursday, bringing his two years of service to an end.

Byford, who was responsible for the subway, city buses, paratransit and Staten Island Railway, previously submitted a letter of resignation to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in October, which cited frustration in trying to lead the agency while bumping up against interference from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. MTA leadership eventually convinced Byford to rescind his resignation. 

While Cuomo helped hired Byford, the two have publicly disagreed on issues like how to redesign the subway signaling system and the governor’s last minute changed plan for the L-train shutdown. Just before Byford resigned for the first time in October, however, there was talk of Cuomo taking a friendlier approach to working with Byford. Nonetheless, reports of the two mens’ dueling egos have persisted. 

When the MTA brough Byford in January 2018, he was praised for his success as CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission and helping to lead modernization there. On Tuesday of this week, Byford celebrated 2019 being the best operating performance year for the subways since 2013. “I’m very proud of what we have achieved as a team over the past two years and I believe New York City Transit is well-placed to continue its forward progress now that the MTA has a record breaking $51.5 billion Capital Program in place,” Byford said in a statement on Thursday. “I’m very grateful to Governor Cuomo, Chairman Foye and members of the Board for giving me the opportunity to serve New York and to head up North America’s largest transit system.”

The news came out during an MTA hearing on Thursday, during which officials and even labor advocates thanked Byford for his service, including Cuomo’s top appointee, MTA Chairman Pat Foye. "We all respect his decision and wish him well in his next chapters,” Foye said. “We thank him for his service. Among his achievements was to build a strong team at transit that will continue the work of the Subway Action Plan and Fast Forward,” he added, referring to the master plan to turnaround the ways, as well as the plan to modernize its signaling system.

Several New York City elected officials expressed their disappointment at Byford’s resignation, including some who alluded to Byford not being given the authority to enact his vision for transit – and some who blamed Cuomo directly.

In addition to bemoaning his departure, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson also used the occasion to advocate for municipal control of the subways. 

Other observers remarked that New York had not only lost its popular transit head, but a kind of father figure as well.

If Twitter had a common refrain in the immediate aftermath of the news of Byford’s departure, it was nervousness about the uncertainty of what comes next for the transit authority.

In the days ahead, speculation will surely turn to who is qualified enough, and willing, to take Byford’s place now.