Since leaving the MTA in February, former NYC Transit president Andy Byford has kept a pretty low profile. But he broke his media silence on Friday when he spoke to CBS' Marcia Kramer, giving a real exit interview in which he explained exactly how Governor Andrew Cuomo drove him out of his position and made his dream job “intolerable.”
Byford, who was hired at the start of 2018 to run day-to-day service and modernize the system, told Kramer the reason he quit was because of "sheer frustration. Towards the end of my tenure, I felt that the job had become somewhat intolerable,” he said. While the first year on the job was fine, 2019 was a different story: “Progressively, I felt myself excluded from meetings that were absolutely about the day-to-day running of New York City transit,” he said. "I found myself somewhat marginalized. There were situations where people who worked for me, and even people who worked for people who worked for me, so two levels down, were being summoned to be given directions about how the subway or the bus system – mainly the subway – should be run. I don't think any CEO worth their salt tolerates such interference."
“I needed to be left to run the system,” Byford said. “I found myself being undermined, if I’m honest.”
Throughout his tenure, Byford was said to be frequently frustrated by Governor Cuomo's decision-making, particularly as it related to the type of technology that should be used in a major subway re-signaling effort. The issue reportedly drove him to quit this past October, before later rescinding the resignation letter. Byford said during this interview that the "scorching" resignation letter, which hasn't been released by the MTA, was three pages long, and that MTA Chairman Pat Foye agreed to address the issues he raised, but things didn't improve.
“It got to a point where it was obvious that even the dumbed-down role, the reduced role that I found myself in, even that I was not going to be allowed to get on with what needed to be done,” Byford said, pointing at Cuomo's interference as a major factor in him leaving.
But he noted that while he had limited-but-friendly interactions with Cuomo in person, Cuomo was going behind his back to direct Byford's team: “It’s the governor’s prerogative to see whomever he wants, I get that, but I just would not accept the fact that my people were being yelled at, they were being given direction and I was deliberately excluded from those meetings. That’s just not right." He said by the end of his tenure, his job was a "microcosm" of what he was told he would be able to do.
“To me, it’s actually dangerous, also, that people who are not professionally qualified should give direction on operational matters,” he added. Kramer asked what he thought about Cuomo's meddling: “I had to make to my mind up, as a person with very strong principles, can I accept… a situation where I’m in a safety-critical role and the people are being given direction on operational matters behind my back.”
Asked whether he thought Cuomo was jealous of all the positive attention he received, Byford said, "I'm not going to speak for the governor. He has a challenging job to do and I respect what he does....I didn't seek the moniker 'Train Daddy.' I didn't seek publicity, but a good transit professional gets out and about."
Byford said at one point that he had hoped to stay at the MTA for 10 years to be able to complete the Fast Forward plan. Byford ended up staying a little over two years.
Asked about Byford's interview at an unrelated press conference on Friday afternoon, Cuomo was dismissive, telling reporters, “I didn’t work with Andy Byford. I worked with Pat Foye, I worked with Ronnie Hakim, I worked with his higher-ups, and he didn’t run the system. The board runs the system."
As the Post noted, the subway hit its highest on-time performance rate since 2013 under Byford's leadership.
As for Byford's next job, he didn't sound too interested in running for mayor ("I've probably had enough of politics for now"), but he did sound a little more interested in the idea of taking over NJ Transit: “NJT I know has challenges, I’m familiar with them. There would be, of course, the sanctification of just being over the river and affecting a turn-around,” he said, clarifying that he hasn't been approached by them. “I’m not ruling anything out."