Here Are Your Andy Byford Farewell Letters

Hello everyone! What a strange few days it’s been. The follow-up news to Byford’s departure is the signaling expert Byford brought in, Pete Tomlin, has officially followed him out the door. Expected, but worrying nonetheless.

Also, this happened:


Pretty much everyone in MTA World is trying to figure out what this all means. There will be a lot more to say about that in the days and weeks ahead. So, for now, I’m going to cede the floor to you all and your farewell letters.

I received more than 100 messages for Andy. A handful were a quick “best wishes!” or “don’t leave, train daddy!” or something similar. I didn’t include them for brevity’s sake, but just know they were sent.

Even without those shorter ones, there were still an awful lot of notes. I didn’t think an 8,000 word email would be the best way to share them. So I published all of the letters at this landing page.

Below you’ll find an abridged version with a selection that I picked in an attempt to form a representative sample of the types of thoughts that were expressed. As you will read, the notes are ones of gratitude, lament, mourning, and fear of what is to come. Some express hope, others anger towards a certain governor (and, to a lesser extent, mayor). But most of all, they highlighted tremendous respect for what Andy and his team accomplished. Perhaps just as importantly, it was the manner in which he went about his time at NYCT president that stood out.

If you have the time, I recommend checking out all the letters by visiting this link in order to get a fuller sense of the impact Andy had on some people in this city. I am still talking with folks and formulating my own thoughts on what his resignation means for the future of our transit system.

If you work for the MTA and have anything you’d like to share about how Andy’s forthcoming departure impacts you or your work, here’s how to contact me.

Without further ado:


Andy is beloved by riders and Transit employees - and perhaps even more importantly an incredibly effective leader - because he is always genuine. Every interaction, with every person who came in contact with him was real. It didn't matter what setting he was in, he was his authentic self. 

Riders never had to guess whether or not he truly cared about their commutes - he did - and it showed. 

Transit employees - from the budget office to the front lines - never had to guess whether Andy understood the challenges of their jobs - he did. It was evident that he empathized with everyone - and even when he couldn't fix something or make the job easier - it mattered that he cared. 

There's a scene in the 60 Minutes piece where Andy is picking up trash as he walked around. People often wonder if that was staged. Well, if you spent even two minutes with him in or around a NYC Transit property, you know he would repeat that routine dozens of times a day. (Quite frankly, there were times he should've put on some gloves to pick certain things up - but I digress.)

That simple act of personal responsibility when it came to keeping the subways or buses clean is emblematic of the other trait that defined Andy's time at Transit - he took incredible pride in the system and the hard work of his colleagues. 

For all the talk of improved service delivery (and that really happened) and all the incredible advances in customer service (h/t Sarah Meyer), it was Andy's willingness to take pride in a beaten down system and organization that ultimately led to Transit's resurgence. 

He'll be missed.

-A former MTA employee

Even though Andy was not a native New Yorker, he embodies everything that I love about New York. He got the job done. He didn’t take shit. He didn’t bullshit. He made good, honest plans and stuck to them. He didn’t forget the little guy. Also he made a huge, huge difference in my commute. I actually believed in MTA leadership for once and I honestly thought more of Cuomo that he hired someone like Byford.

-Rachel Schulz

Andy, thank you for being such a force for improvement at NYCT. I read feedback from the customers every day about subway/bus service, and the difference in the volume of complaints between when I came to Transit versus now is noticeable. I think you started to accomplish what you wanted: For the subway to be an invisible part of New Yorkers' days. Take care, and best wishes for you in the next chapter of your life.

-Anonymous MTA employee

Andy - you're the reason I joined Transit -and your mission to improve the system for all NYers helped focus all aspects of what my team and I do.

You'll be missed enormously by everyone here at 2 Broadway, and best of luck in the future.

-Anonymous MTA employee

To Andy,

Thank you so much for the work you did here, the effort and care you demonstrated, and the (dare I say) hope you started to kindle. I don't think my family or I would have ever guessed we would spend so much time rooting for an MTA official, let alone mourning their departure, but that is the impact you had. Your work made a lot of sort of impossible- and intractable-seeming things happen. Thanks for that. 

-Stuart Winchester

It’s fitting somehow that Andy Byford’s resignation arrives on the heels of the “who is a real New Yorker” discourse sparked by Eric Adams’s thoughts on Midwestern transplants. Byford is as a real a New Yorker as anyone can be; his belief in the city and its people, and his enthusiasm, competence, and ability to even get some results will be sorely missed. His next destination will be lucky to have him; we were fools to let him go. cc Andrew Cuomo

-Tim “Positive Subway Tweets” Smith

I was at a restaurant one night after work last year and saw Andy at a table nearby. I walked over and quickly said I appreciated all the work that he and his team were doing, intending to then walk away and leave him alone. He invited me to sit with him and talk - it was so clear to me that he was truly passionate about the work and believed in what needed to be done to make things better. The city was lucky to have someone like him and we will miss him.

-Matt B

I would like to remain anonymous, but I've composed a short haiku for Mr Byford:

sullen strap-hangers 

beset by blunder and woe

train daddy: lost hope

-Anonymous

I work in a public-facing department in another major US public transit network, far away from the marvel that is New York City Subway. For anyone working in public transit in North America, NYC Subway is the lodestar for excellence and inspiration — despite what New Yorkers feel is their broken down, inefficient system. As the Subway goes, so goes the rest of the county — at least psychologically.

There is a lot of scar tissue among my coworkers when it comes to responding to the public and working with them. Local media can be unscathing [sic] and prone to reinforcing car-first hegemony. Rich folks in suburbs think we are descending into chaos and crime, activists in urban areas think we are reinforcing racism and police brutality. There can often be a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” mentality in the office which is no way to instill institutional change for the better.

Byford came into the most scrutinized position in North American public transit, and he handled it with such enthusiasm and clarity which was so unlike the norm, I first thought he was a naive goober ready to be devoured by a pack of wolves. But then Save Safe Seconds began producing results, which seems like borderline magic. Ridership in the Subway began increasing. I felt Byford cut the biggest knot in our industry somehow; if Andy can, why can’t we?

But what will stick with me about Byford is his unending enthusiasm for his work and for the Subway. I love trains and public transit, and I got my job through it. The way he was so visible on the trains and platforms despite no cameras being around — because he genuinely liked being on a train — was inspirational. I now carry around a plastic bag in my backpack and pick trash up on trains when I see them because I saw Byford picking them up on 60 Minutes, because it’s my train too and I want to take pride in it like Byford. 

When there is a major delay and my coworkers and I are fielding fire and brimstone from riders, I meditatively think about how Byford would handle the situation. He would have handled it with a sincere apology, an earnest effort to help, and offered some tips to the frustrated rider — and then would have taken the train home when it was done. That keeps me sane on some days. While not all New Yorkers may not agree that is what Byford really is like, that is the perception of Byford for those in the industry outside NYC — a beacon of hope as a true public servant, for those who want to be true public servants. Now that beacon is out, for now.

-Anonymous

Byford made me proud to work at the MTA. Through his example, he reminded us that the work we do matters, and helped reimagine what that work, and our role as public servants, could look like in the future. He showed up for events big and small - not just the events that made headlines, but also department holiday parties, retirement parties and training graduation ceremonies. He is such a rare combination of expert knowledge and inspiring leadership, and I will think of his example as I navigate my transit career and think about the kind of leader I want to be.

-Anonymous MTA employee

I'm 26 years old, and for my entire life, the United States (New York especially) has been incompetent at running and building transit. Andy Byford gave me hope that a better future was possible. Maybe someday New York will become ambitious and curious about the world, like it was in the early 1900s. Byford's departure seems to indicate that we aren't quite there yet. Much more work needs to be done to make New York a less parochial place. 

-Mike

I'd like Andy Byford to know that his tenure in our city made my life better. My commute is long, and the fixes introduced under his watch made it not only more tolerable, but shorter thanks to the new M14 busway.

I'd also like him to know that he made me hopeful this massive, wonderful, deeply flawed system could improve. He managed to stay out of the muck, and seemed like he truly wanted nothing more than an effective transit system. Without him, I'm less hopeful the system will improve.

-Max

As someone who grew up out West, where public transportation equates to too few buses coming at 30-minute intervals, the New York subway system has amazed me since I moved here. One of the most striking things is how much it has changed over the five years I've lived in the city. Even before I worked at the MTA I could tell how vast and complicated the system (and bureaucracy behind it) was, which made it all the more amazing when, hey, stations have Wi-Fi now! There are countdown clocks for all the trains! Conductors are actually telling us why service is delayed! 

Of all the things that have happened with the transit system, your involvement, Andy, has had the most lasting impact for me. This is doubly true after I started working at the MTA. Your competence and especially your commitment to customer service is so obvious. I'm really sad to see you go, but a silver lining has been talking with people at work and hearing how much they want to continue what you started here (myself included). We were lucky to have had you for as long as we did. Our transit system and the MTA will be worse without you. But you did incredible work in two years, showing the public and the civil servants at the MTA that change is still possible. And that's huge. Thank you thank you, and all the best.

-Anonymous MTA employee

Our one beacon of hope is gone. Things will go back to bad. The people in Subways and Buses will miss the leader that you are. You gave us - the hard-working public servants who care about this city’s transportation system - a voice, and a clear way forward, and for that, we will always be grateful. Thanks!

-Anonymous MTA employee

Again, you can find all the farewell notes here.

Your Andy Byford Farewell Letters, Unabridged

Last year I attended the re-opening of the southern entrance of the G at Metropolitan (the entry is at Hope & Union by the West Café). 

Anyway, it was at like 7:30 in the morning and Andy Byford was there to take questions from the press and was sweet enough to take photos with people. But one thing that REALLY struck me was that there were a ton of MTA employees there who had done the work to re-open the station, and when he went over to thank every one of them, they all looked SO EXCITED! Like, fully filled with child-like joy at getting to meet Andy Byford. I think of the position as being ultimately technocratic, and for the leader to gin up such respect and happiness from the everyday folks who make the MTA run was really cool to me.

-Andrew Gregory

President Byford,

I’m saddened to learn that you made the difficult decision to leave New York City Transit. As I think you must have learned, fixing the subways and buses is not something anyone, even the president of Transit, is expected to do. If you try, it makes a great number of people surprised, and then angry. Thank you for sticking with it for as long as you did.

I work at a different part of the MTA, and had always hoped to make the move over to NYCT so that I could come work for you. With the hiring freeze, that never happened. However, I learned a lot from watching you work on the board meeting streams and secondhand from NYCT colleagues. Here's an interesting example of how you changed NYCT culture relative to the rest of the MTA. At the APTA conference where you were on a panel, NYCT employees in the audience would ask questions, identifying themselves by name. A non-NYCT manager recounting this at a meeting expressed bewilderment that anyone would "be stupid enough" to identify themselves to the president of their agency and ask a question. His implication, as I understood it, was that doing so only invited retaliation.

As an industry professional and as a New Yorker, I hope that you’ll consider the following things as you decide what to do next:

First, I hope that you’ll consider staying in New York. I know that you may take some other opportunity, such as a return to TfL, but a wide community of New Yorkers both inside and outside of the MTA would like to give you a second act in our great city, in a future where our political leadership is willing to fix the subways. Until then, I'm sure there is an academic or consulting position that you could take. In New York we call this a "side hustle."

Second, I hope that you’ll consider sharing with the public your experiences and lessons learned, such as through a book or a long-form interview series. I know it would be bad form to excoriate the MTA's toxic and authoritarian culture immediately after leaving, but once some months have gone by, imparting your lessons would be valuable for others who may follow.

Third, I hope that you will share with us your recommendations for structural reforms to MTA governance. Since it seems that the transformation contributed to your decision to leave, it would be helpful for the public to know what alternative transformation might be more fruitful.

Green over green and godspeed.

-Anonymous MTA employee

Andy is beloved by riders and Transit employees - and perhaps even more importantly an incredibly effective leader - because he is always genuine. Every interaction, with every person who came in contact with him was real. It didn't matter what setting he was in, he was his authentic self. 

Riders never had to guess whether or not he truly cared about their commutes - he did - and it showed. 

Transit employees - from the budget office to the front lines - never had to guess whether Andy understood the challenges of their jobs - he did. It was evident that he empathized with everyone - and even when he couldn't fix something or make the job easier - it mattered that he cared. 

There's a scene in the 60 Minutes piece where Andy is picking up trash as he walked around. People often wonder if that was staged. Well, if you spent even two minutes with him in or around a NYC Transit property, you know he would repeat that routine dozens of times a day. (Quite frankly, there were times he should've put on some gloves to pick certain things up - but I digress.)

That simple act of personal responsibility when it came to keeping the subways or buses clean is emblematic of the other trait that defined Andy's time at Transit - he took incredible pride in the system and the hard work of his colleagues. 

For all the talk of improved service delivery (and that really happened) and all the incredible advances in customer service (h/t Sarah Meyer), it was Andy's willingness to take pride in a beaten down system and organization that ultimately led to Transit's resurgence. 

He'll be missed.

-A former MTA employee

Andy,

We never met, but you helped me out. I take the E & F trains from Jackson Heights to Manhattan. They work now! It’s like teleporting. Thanks for all the efforts.

-Steven Bodzin

Andy seemed like he earnestly enjoyed the job and the challenge of reforming NYC's subways, while fully understanding the scale of the problem in front of him. He brought some life and energy into the subways - whether it was more whimsical advertising, shaking hands on subway platforms, or a more casual social media presence - that I think helped to humanize behind-the-scenes efforts. And he was able to make real progress quickly by tackling some low-hanging fruit while planning for the long-term improvements needed.

I also don't blame him at all for not wanting to put up with the bullshit he had to and to constantly be undermined by whatever Andrew Cuomo was getting sold that day by some consultant somewhere.

Godspeed, Train Daddy. We didn't deserve you.

-Marc Torrence

I met Andy Byford very briefly once, on the uptown 125th Street 4/5/6 platform. He could not have been more gracious, and even let me take a picture with him! This morning, his OMNY announcement played over the loudspeaker. Even though I was late for work, it made me smile. 

-Chris Kennedy, East Harlem

Andy thank you for inspiring me to care about my interest in transit and showing that excellent work can still be done today. You understand that progress is made through people and you made working to improve people’s lives the priority.

-John Track

Before Andy Byford took office, I used to walk to and from work almost every day. It was about 50 blocks, but because of all the delays (and, yes, signal problems) it often took the same amount of time to walk as it did to ride. Since his improvements to the MTA, I have once again become a regular rider. I also no longer have shin splints. Thanks, Andy.

-Polly Mosendz

Even though Andy was not a native New Yorker, he embodies everything that I love about New York. He got the job done. He didn’t take shit. He didn’t bullshit. He made good, honest plans and stuck to them. He didn’t forget the little guy. Also he made a huge, huge difference in my commute. I actually believed in MTA leadership for once and I honestly thought more of Cuomo that he hired someone like Byford.

-Rachel Schulz

I once saw you on my commute in the Borough Hall station and was too shy to say hello, this was the biggest celebrity sighting for me in NYC. Thank you for making such a vast improvement, if not the full improvement you had recommended and we all wanted. You deserve better and I’m excited for you and jealous of the next transit system you work for. I just moved from NYC to LA one week ago, and all I can say is: please come here?

-Brian Moore

Andy, thank you for being such a force for improvement at NYCT. I read feedback from the customers every day about subway/bus service, and the difference in the volume of complaints between when I came to Transit versus now is noticeable. I think you started to accomplish what you wanted: For the subway to be an invisible part of New Yorkers' days. Take care, and best wishes for you in the next chapter of your life.

-Anonymous MTA employee

I was so heartened when he took the job, the man who saved Toronto and London!  I'm grateful for what he tried to do and what he managed to do. I'm grateful that he stayed as long as he did, especially the bit after the last time he tried to quit.  I've had nightmare bosses and bad jobs where I had to navigate institutional dysfunction - and I've had some doozies - but I doubt I can even imagine half of what he encountered.  On behalf of my city I feel sad an impotent, on behalf of my state I'm pretending that I have no power to change things. I wish we could have elected Cynthia Nixon for you but who knows if she could have helped.  For what it's worth, I'm sorry it's come to this and I wish him the best of luck.

-Joyce Ketterer

Andy Byford is the living definition of a "civil servant". It's an incredibly rare thing to find someone who is so committed to his craft that he will do anything to make sure the job is done well rather than a job simply completed. Nothing speaks more loudly to the entrenchment of political cronyism and arrogance in Albany than Governor Cuomo's complete mishandling of North America's largest public transport system. Here was someone New York could lean on in hard times and expect nothing but steadfast commitment to getting the job done well. Instead, in an awesome display of New York-style arrogance, Cuomo and his MTA buddies (several of which live in suburbia and know nothing nor care to know about New York City's transit woes) toss him aside like any old replaceable bureaucrat. Shameful day in New York City's history.

-Steven Spinello

Dear Andy- 

You've improved the quality of life of a crazy number of New Yorkers.  I can't tell you how rare it is to have a public servant in New York City clearly and openly care about the public good - it's rare, and I want you to know how much it was appreciated.  You've given a lot of us hope that things can be improved - not just transit, but countless other urban problems. This city will be poorer without you. Please don't hesitate to communicate about what needs to be improved at the MTA.  For those of us outside the organization or government, it still feels a little hopeless to fix this system long-term. We really need to hear what's working - but also what changes need to be made to support better service and a better city.  

Best of luck at the next gig - but you'll always be our Train Daddy

- John

Andy - you're the reason I joined Transit -and your mission to improve the system for all NYers helped focus all aspects of what my team and I do.

You'll be missed enormously by everyone here at 2 Broadway, and best of luck in the future.

-Anonymous MTA employee

To Andy,

Thank you so much for the work you did here, the effort and care you demonstrated, and the (dare I say) hope you started to kindle. I don't think my family or I would have ever guessed we would spend so much time rooting for an MTA official, let alone mourning their departure, but that is the impact you had. Your work made a lot of sort of impossible- and intractable-seeming things happen. Thanks for that. 

-Stuart Winchester

Thank you, Andy, for dramatically speeding up N and R train service in Brooklyn.  We used to crawl along Fourth Avenue during rush hour.

-Rebecca Harshbarger

We met at the Riders' Alliance Gala and it was so incredibly refreshing to discuss transit issues with an UN-elected official who gave time and care to discouraged but hopeful transit riders. I expressed that the M14 was a miracle project and that I was looking forward to seeing the capabilities expanded to the M34. I can still walk crosstown faster! However, you have inspired so many people to do great things and produce change that was not previously thought possible, so I am confident that your legacy will live on. Thanks for everything! New York loves you.

-Jennifer DiMascio-Donohue

It’s fitting somehow that Andy Byford’s resignation arrives on the heels of the “who is a real New Yorker” discourse sparked by Eric Adams’s thoughts on Midwestern transplants. Byford is as a real a New Yorker as anyone can be; his belief in the city and its people, and his enthusiasm, competence, and ability to even get some results will be sorely missed. His next destination will be lucky to have him; we were fools to let him go. cc Andrew Cuomo

-Tim “Positive Subway Tweets” Smith

I’ll miss you dearly but I’m so glad you’re moving onto your real dream job as a full time hooligan traveling the English countryside for Argyle games.

-Anonymous MTA employee

Mr. Byford,

Thank you for reminding us that good civil servants exist.  That for all of the structural and organizational and economic issues facing NYCTA and MTA, there remains a place for people who are capable and motivating to lead others to great results.  I wish you could’ve stayed longer. I hope that you inspire others to continue your work.

 Best,

- JH

I am very sorry to see Andy Byford leave the MTA.  It has been obvious for a long time now that he received no real support from our Governor and Mayor.  It seems that the powers that be - who never use public transportation - have no real interest in changing or transforming the system.  Andy was a breath of fresh air to an antiquated and overly political institution. 

Thank you Andy for hanging in there as long as you did.  You deserve our respect and admiration for working in such a toxic environment. I don’t know if you received any support from the rank and file of employees who worked at the MTA but I suspect it was a struggle from day one. 

The MTA needs radical transformation but until the current political leaders are voted out of power and new ones who actually want to make a change gain power nothing will change.

-Anonymous

Andy, I've lived in this city for 20 years, and you are the first MTA official that produced results and improved the lives of New Yorkers. Thank you and you will be missed!

-Nick Ehle

Dear Mr. Byford:

It has been an honor to watch you do good things for this city. Watching you fight for the good of this city with smart transit design has inspired me to pursue my Masters in Transportation Planning. I love this city and it’s transit system, and I have been a proud supporter of your initiatives throughout your tenure. I almost shook your hand at the Reign of Redbirds opening reception, but you were busy. If in three years you find yourself in need of a transportation planner or anything else in that vein, wherever your path leads, know you can find a passionate, dedicated and recently qualified planner in me! Thank you for all the good you have done for this city and it’s residents. 

Kind regards,

-Gregory Woltman

The reason people loved having Andy Byford running NYCT was that his positivity, optimism, and drive to make things work better for everyday riders were seemingly rare in local governance. He was our happy warrior against the forces of sclerotic politics, lack of vision in leadership and in-fighting. It’s too bad those forces got him in the end but he made such a difference in his time at MTA and in the attitude around making new, exciting things happen to improve transit service and actually get some stuff done in this state. Hats off to Train Daddy!

-Anonymous

I’m not a MTAer but I was truly disappointed to read the news about Mr. Byford.  Pardon my New York English but Byford seemed to be the only person who really gave a fuck.  It felt like he had personal skin in the game and was willing to stake his reputation on it; he was not simply another talking head for the governor or the MTA board.  My fear is it will be way too long (and perhaps too late) before we see the likes of an Andy Byford take on the role. It’s a terrible loss for NYC. Please wish him my best for his next big gig and that he lands in an environment where he is truly appreciated and that the needs of the commuters are prioritized over political showmanship and stagnation.

-Rob Tucker

Ahh Andy -

I remember when Andy Byford first came in. He made a point of meeting with so many transportation committees personally, talking about his qualifications and his vision for the MTA. He was tireless! I made an effort to go hear him several times. He spoke about his Fast Forward plan (Congestion Pricing had not yet been voted in) with such enthusiasm. He made it clear: he would be the person responsible. That's why his face was so much in the public realm. It cut both ways. If the subway failed, he was prepared to take personal responsibility. If it succeeded - or turned around - the same of course would apply. The people resonated with his honesty and his vision. I saw him in the conductor's windows, mingling with frustrated commuters, always available. Also, he got things done.

I was equally impressed with his staff. I ran into them all over the subway system, handing out pamphlets when the L-Train slowdown was beginning - on the weekends when they didn't have to be there. They were equally enthused and inspired by their boss, equally available and tireless. Together they really made things happen. They will all be missed terribly. I am not optimistic for the future of our transit system.

-Melodie Bryant

I was at a restaurant one night after work last year and saw Andy at a table nearby. I walked over and quickly said I appreciated all the work that he and his team were doing, intending to then walk away and leave him alone. He invited me to sit with him and talk - it was so clear to me that he was truly passionate about the work and believed in what needed to be done to make things better. The city was lucky to have someone like him and we will miss him.

-Matt B

I’m so sad and sorry to see you leave, Andy. I’m not a transportation/transit person, but I work in a very large  matrixed organization with lots of stakeholders and people who think they are stakeholders, in the midst of a massive transformation, and I have So Admired your change leadership, especially your honesty with riders in public forums - listening, giving context, being honest and realistic — and your active visible advocacy for those who depend on our city’s transit for them to survive in the city. 

With enormous respect and thanks for what you have done for the city,

-Corinna Snyder

My favourite Andy Byford moment was when he came to Transportation Camp NYC 2018. Not only did he take the time to come do the keynote speech on a weekend, he walked around the cafeteria during lunch time to shake hands and chat with us transit nerds. Thank you Andy for being so approachable.

-Sunny Ng

When I cross the threshold from platform to pristine subway car, I feel like Andy Byford is giving me a hug.  His enthusiasm and his results will be sorely missed by the millions of New Yorkers who ride the subway and buses every day.

-Dmitri Fautsch

For an all-too-brief moment, New York had a hope of an effective transit system. Mr. Byford had clear plans, sincere passion, and the personal and professional courage to make the MTA work for the people of this city. It is to our infinite shame that the bureaucracies, the power struggles, and the collective underbrush of mismanagement of this city's transit--a microcosm of the city itself, which these days works only for the rich and powerful who needn't bother with subways, and of a state only interested in promoting the power of a self-important leader who has no notion of service or of the public good--have been allowed to make his job, ultimately, impossible.

Mr. Byford, thank you for trying. I wish only that we had not had the chance to prove you were better than we deserved.

-Jeff Soules

I met Andy for about 5 minutes at Transportation Camp NYC and it was probably the highlight of my Transportation Camp. Andy, you are delightful. Because you are authentic, passionate about transportation and customer experience, friendly, kind, and respectful of your riders, I have faith that I too can become a leader in this industry without compromising my ideals. 

-Katie

Pass along my deep gratitude for Andy’s willingness to even try to fix the miasma that is transit in NYC. His no-nonsense approach, clear plan, and frankly, immediate results speak volumes about his will and his talent. I’m sad it didn’t work out, for him and for us. We need someone like Andy Byford, but he deserves better than to deal with Andrew Cuomo.

-Cole Kennedy

Dear Andy Buford, 

I’m deeply saddened and frustrated by your leaving. With your creative and visionary leadership at the helm of the MTA, I had real hope that this critical institution would again thrive and help our city thrive.  You were up against terrible odds, not the least being the Governor. While I’ve always believed that no one is irreplaceable, you just may be the exception that proves the rule.  

I wish you every success.  And thank you for all you’ve done for New York.  

-Judy Mann, Brooklyn

Thank you, Andy, for making my commute suck slightly less, and for putting up with Governor Cuomo as long as you did. Maybe you can go work for SEPTA next. They need help too.

-Richard Anderson

I'm a non-MTA-affiliated New Yorker (Queens resident) and subway rider, and I have been doing my part for ages to make everyone in my life an Andy Byford stan, as I am. Deeply sad to lose him.

-Janine Barlow

I would like to remain anonymous, but I've composed a short haiku for Mr Byford:

sullen strap-hangers 

beset by blunder and woe

train daddy: lost hope

-Anonymous

Andy Byford’s new plans for tackling Disability Access within the MTA made me proud and gave me hope that the MTA has finally decided to make this issue a priority. I hope they continue this work after his departure.

-Alisha Park, NJ resident, former Queens (NW train) resident, Stroke survivor

I work in the transportation infrastructure world (I work for a consultant doing structural engineering), and growing up here taking the subway is absolutely what inspired me to have the job that I have today. Whether you're on the business side or the municipal side, there is a lot of bureaucracy and politics standing in the way of good engineering work, and I often get frustrated and disillusioned with the industry. Andy Byford was a shining light for me, a reminder that there are still people, even those in relatively high power, that genuinely care about public transportation and the people who ride it. I never had a doubt about his motives, or his dedication to fixing the trains. Byford was an inspiration for me, because he cares about the same goals that I have: helping people get around. Also, it's clear he just loves the trains. Me too, man, me too.

-Julia

I work in a public-facing department in another major US public transit network, far away from the marvel that is New York City Subway. For anyone working in public transit in North America, NYC Subway is the lodestar for excellence and inspiration — despite what New Yorkers feel is their broken down, inefficient system. As the Subway goes, so goes the rest of the county — at least psychologically.

There is a lot of scar tissue among my coworkers when it comes to responding to the public and working with them. Local media can be unscathing and prone to reinforcing car-first hegemony. Rich folks in suburbs think we are descending into chaos and crime, activists in urban areas think we are reinforcing racism and police brutality. There can often be a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” mentality in the office which is no way to instill institutional change for the better.

Byford came into the most scrutinized position in North American public transit, and he handled it with such enthusiasm and clarity which was so unlike the norm, I first thought he was a naive goober ready to be devoured by a pack of wolves. But then Save Safe Seconds began producing results, which seems like borderline magic. Ridership in the Subway began increasing. I felt Byford cut the biggest knot in our industry somehow; if Andy can, why can’t we?

But what will stick with me about Byford is his unending enthusiasm for his work and for the Subway. I love trains and public transit, and I got my job through it. The way he was so visible on the trains and platforms despite no cameras being around — because he genuinely liked being on a train — was inspirational. I now carry around a plastic bag in my backpack and pick trash up on trains when I see them because I saw Byford picking them up on 60 Minutes, because it’s my train too and I want to take pride in it like Byford. 

When there is a major delay and my coworkers and I are fielding fire and brimstone from riders, I meditatively think about how Byford would handle the situation. He would have handled it with a sincere apology, an earnest effort to help, and offered some tips to the frustrated rider — and then would have taken the train home when it was done. That keeps me sane on some days. While not all New Yorkers may not agree that is what Byford really is like, that is the perception of Byford for those in the industry outside NYC — a beacon of hope as a true public servant, for those who want to be true public servants. Now that beacon is out, for now.

-Anonymous

I only started getting excited about following the updates in the MTA over the past handful of years (thanks S/P), but Andy's approaches and initiatives always felt like both reasonable and highly effective ways to make the system better for everyone. I really admired the fact that his priorities weren't the most glamorous things, but had measurable and positive impacts. Thanks for everything Andy — it's already clear how much you'll be missed.

-Salem Hilal

In my four decades of existence in New York City, I've never written to thank someone at the MTA for anything and I guess that's about to change now.

Thank you Andy Byford for taking the role of President of the MTA two years ago [note: he was president of NYCT, not the MTA]. I live off the L train and you were present listening to residents concerns when planning to repair the damage done to the Canarsie tube by Hurricane Sandy. The subways have run faster under your leadership (just yesterday, I managed to have a 16 minute commute between work and home via the L & 6 and that almost never occurs). You've listened to disability activists and have tried to make our system more accessible for all users. And the 14th Street busway! Can you believe it? People are excited about taking the bus because it's faster than it used to be?

And what seems revolutionary, you actually use the system frequently and talk to customers about their experience. Have these simple things been done beyond a photo op before?

Learning that you're leaving the MTA is a genuine loss for people who like me that rely on the subways and buses to run efficiently and regularly to get us from point A to B, and want our public transportation system to improve. I fear that the achievements you've had so far, that riders now come to expect, will be undone. I really hope I'm wrong about that.

Last June, my husband and I were in Toronto (that job you had before New York) and by the time we paid our fares and got to the platform, we had missed a train. As a New Yorker, I couldn't help but notice we only waited a couple of minutes for the next one to arrive and wonder when we'd experience short waits for buses and trains at home, thanks to Andy Byford's impact, as well.

Thanks again, Andy.

-Edwina

Will miss him very much! More so than any particular initiative, it was reassuring knowing New York's transit was in good hands going forward. Now... we'll see.

-Chad Horner

Thank you Mr. Byford.

Thank you for doing your job, a job that benefited millions of people every second.

I will forever remember your assuring words when L train shutdown was cancelled and your humbleness coming to Community Board 3 transportation committee on a cold Tuesday night in January, in front of 30 people, being a dignified human being.

Thank you 

Hope that your next role will also be of beneficial impact on my family’s life.

Best,

-Choresh Wald

Byford made me proud to work at the MTA. Through his example, he reminded us that the work we do matters, and helped reimagine what that work, and our role as public servants, could look like in the future. He showed up for events big and small - not just the events that made headlines, but also department holiday parties, retirement parties and training graduation ceremonies. He is such a rare combination of expert knowledge and inspiring leadership, and I will think of his example as I navigate my transit career and think about the kind of leader I want to be.

-Anonymous MTA employee

Andy, you were a breath of fresh air in our city. For a city which is so dependent on its public transportation, we have woefully underinvested in our subways and wastefully spent dollars that should have been used for maintenance and upgrades. You gave us hope that dollars would get spent in smart and efficient ways and that things would improve little by little.

-David Chang

You gave us hope, and real change. And now we’re mourning. 

-Amanda, Brooklyn

Andy,

Your departure makes me incredibly sad and a bit hopeless. I am sorry that an arrogant, egotistical governor drove away the best leader the MTA has had in my lifetime. I am so sorry it came to this, but I understand. I wish you all the best in whatever you decide to do next.

-Linda Jones

I'm very sad to hear that Byford resigned. His tenure at the MTA invigorated my belief that things can change for the better. I hope that the MTA continues to learn from his transparency, decision-making, and transformational ideas.

-Anonymous

Thank you, Mr. Byford, for taking on the pretty impossible challenge that is the subway and achieving so much over the past two years despite ridiculous politicians holding you back. Public transport commuting in New York can feel like yelling into an abyss, with all the dysfunction of the MTA and ridiculous-bordering-on-comical delays and rerouting. Having you at the helm made it feel like there was a method to the madness, or at least some calm logic. I'll still be taking the subway twice a day, since even at its worst there aren't better options on a teacher's salary, but it'll be with more cynicism toward the MTA's activities. My school is near several train lines and staff commute from all over New York - I've gotten to know almost every line in the system through helping people get to work when one or nine lines invariably conk out on a Monday morning. Hope in the next 100 years or so politicians & people holding the purse strings come to realize that investing in our infrastructure is the way to go! You will be missed!

Thanks,

-A teacher in New York

We'll miss you, Andy! It's shocking - though not surprising - that an entire city has to suffer because of someone's childish insecurity about your efficacy. The people of New York City see you and appreciate you.

-Alisha Levin

Mr. Byford, 

I interned in the law department of Capital Construction last summer and sat in on a number of board meetings. I was always extremely impressed with how you listened to each and every public speaker and often referred back to their suggestions/stories in your own comments. You are clearly a kind, thoughtful, competent, and dedicated public servant. I hope that one day we will have a governor who is more capable of supporting a transit leader of your caliber. When that day comes, I do hope you will return. In the meantime, you will be sorely missed in New York City. 

Best Regards,

-Chad Hughes

Andy, thank you for advocating for the subway and giving New Yorkers some much-needed hope. No thank you, though, for the fare evasion crackdown, which falsely blamed poor New Yorkers for a funding crisis created by very rich ones. 

-Zoe Beery

I'm so bummed as I was starting to see improvements at the stations and really appreciated it. Not sure if that was his doing but things like assigning a customer service staff member available for questions or concerns as well as better speaker sound were small steps but made a big difference!

-Nikki Sylianteng

Mr. Andy Byford, thanks for being a standout public worker within the maelstrom that is the MTA.

You were a ray of sunshine amidst all the angry customers and service changes.

You were experienced in your work and confident in your presentation. You made me feel like the subway was really going to get back on track for the first time in a long time. It was your vision and your plan that set the bar higher than it was when you came in.

I now expect a whole lot from the next president - they have enormous shoes to fill.

Thanks for everything, and best of luck in whatever your next move may be.

-Ilya Rubnich

Mr. Byford, I was apoplectic, first last year when news of your rescinded resignation first surfaced, then today when it actually happened. Your work has made a difference in my day-to-day life. I live in Kew Gardens, and commute daily to Midtown. Before the subway improvements happened to the Queens Blvd line, I would avoid the subway and instead take the LIRR, mainly due to reliability concerns. The increased reliability, as well as speed gains from the Save Safe Seconds program, opened up my life, making it more flexible and see more of my wife and toddler son, and not pay a princely sum daily.

Your work has been greatly appreciated. From my experience, the Fast Forward plan is working.

-Geof Metz

I am so dismayed to read this news!  I moved to Queens from Washington, DC around the same time Andy Byford started his job with the MTA. The first WNYC Brian Leher show I remember listening to was a long interview with the newly hired Andy Byford, and I admired Andy’s honesty about the challenges he faced and his sincere conviction that he could address them.  It was a pleasant surprise to watch as Andy started delivering on the promises he made—with steadfastness, respect for his employees and customers, and hard work. In the two years I’ve lived here, I’ve almost exclusively used the subway and it keeps getting better. The subway service is more reliable (and when it’s not reliable, it’s more quickly communicated), the stations are cleaner, and I am particularly impressed by the continued (and increased) elevator and escalator installation and repairs which are making a largely inaccessible system more accessible for everyone.  I was looking forward to all that would continue to improve systemwide under Andy’s terrific leadership, and I am so very sorry that he’s leaving. Two years is nothing in the life of a transportation system as complex and old as New York City’s. If Andy Byford can accomplish as much as he did in such a short tenure, I can only imagine how much more our city would have gained had he continued at the MTA for a decade or more.

I need to add that I am really disheartened and dismayed by Gov. Cuomo’s senseless meddling with a system that is (or was) gaining improvement momentum.  Why hire great people if you won’t let them do their job?

All best wishes to Andy Byford wherever he lands—and what a lucky community it will be who lands him.

Sincerely,

-Roxann Steinberg Whitaker

Andy,

Thank you for your two years of work, and for making us (daily MTA riders) feel heard. When I read about you not long after your started, I loved that the person in charge of the MTA was as in love with public transit as I was. Thank you for your passion and work. Good luck on whatever is next. 

-Alex

I'm 26 years old, and for my entire life, the United States (New York especially) has been incompetent at running and building transit. Andy Byford gave me hope that a better future was possible. Maybe someday New York will become ambitious and curious about the world, like it was in the early 1900s. Byford's departure seems to indicate that we aren't quite there yet. Much more work needs to be done to make New York a less parochial place. 

-Mike

I'd like Andy Byford to know that his tenure in our city made my life better. My commute is long, and the fixes introduced under his watch made it not only more tolerable, but shorter thanks to the new M14 busway.

I'd also like him to know that he made me hopeful this massive, wonderful, deeply flawed system could improve. He managed to stay out of the muck, and seemed like he truly wanted nothing more than an effective transit system. Without him, I'm less hopeful the system will improve.

-Max

I had the privilege of meeting Andy Byford when I was working in the archives of the New York Transit Museum. His heartfelt and genuine support of our work preserving transit history and celebrating system milestones was always abundantly apparent, and it lent an additional layer of honor to the work that we did. As a straphanger, I could not have been more proud to have a transit expert in charge with vision, a concrete plan, and the mix of grit and charm it takes to apply it. Last week, waiting on the platform for a 4 train after a day at my new job, I heard Andy's voice come over the intercom, announcing the fantastic news that OMNY had arrived at that station. The pre-recorded message was a perfect encapsulation of his encouraging spirit, grace under pressure, and cordial demeanor with employees and customers. I had never been so happy to hear news about a fare collection plan! On my commute home tonight, I wanted nothing more than to hear that recording play. I’ll miss that message - and the work that went in to it - for many commutes to come. Thank you, Andy.

-Emily Toder

It’s a tough life living in New York. If this city is anything, it’s change. Your favourite restaurant closes, your neighborhood turns from brick to glass, your friends move away. But every so often, something’s really big happens. When Andy announced he was coming to NY, I was ecstatic.

It was clear he was really excited to be here, and that he really gave a crap about us. That doesn’t happen too often. Not the way Andy seems to care. 

To see him leave is... truly devastating. However, I want him to know that in this short time, he became one of my favourite New Yorkers, along side people like Anthony Bourdain and Brian Lehrer. So, as much as I hate that he’s leaving the MTA, I want him to be happy. But I’d also love it if he could stay and be a New Yorker. We love you Andy, because you loved your job, and seemed to care about us. You’re not only welcome here, you’re wanted here, Train Daddy or not.

Best,

 - Ben Helmer

As a rider and lover of transit, you embodied change for the subways and buses and gave us hope again. Redesigning the bus networks, introducing group station managers, and advocating for riders and transit workers are just some of the amazing things that you did while at the helm of transit—and we all noticed. It was a pleasure chatting with you at the opening of the Redbird exhibit at the transit museum. Thank you and we will sorely miss you Mr. Byford.

-James Pedersen

I rode a 100th anniversary subway train with Andy last October. Everyone was in a great mood- from MTA staff overseeing the car fielding passenger questions to the New Yorkers and random tourists taking in the factoids on all of the old subway ads.

On my way out, I shook his hand and said “thanks for what you do, keep up the good work.” I hoped to say more, but he was soon mobbed by fans at Times Square after we all got off. I’d tell him the same thing again today, and I’ll remember this image of him chatting with fans after enjoying a well-deserved celebratory ride.

-Sean 

Take me with you!!!

In all seriousness, thank you Andy for trying so hard to fix so much. Like you, I’m a Canadian/Brit who came to NYC because I thought it was the coolest city in the world and because I wanted to make its transportation system better. Easier said than done I suppose, but I have tremendous admiration and gratitude for your positive attitude, public responsibility, work ethic, and belief in the mission. I wish all public servants could be as committed and capable as you and I certainly aspire towards a career like yours. Thanks for making NYC a better place, and good luck wherever you go! 

-Matthias Neill

On the day that Byford resigned I heard his voice piped through the subway system for the first time - at Broadway-Lafayette, as I was waiting for the train uptown to therapy, talking about improvements and general day-to-day subway things. A prerecorded message. I'm disappointed that I haven't had the chance to run into him yet and thank him. I try to thank every MTA employee I see on the ground - or above the ground, like the employees in my booth at Chauncey, and below the ground - train conductors, all of the people who coordinated the holiday rides. They contribute more to the city than most people will ever see or acknowledge. Byford gave our city hope and energy and guidance - real leadership - in a time that the city seems to lack meaningful leaders (looking at you, Bill and Cuomo), and especially thoughtful leaders when it comes to transit, climate change, and being a face of general kindness. Andy Byford, you will be sorely missed. Thank you for what you've done.

-Caiti Borruso

Andy, I know there is a constant deluge of frustrated comments and insults hurled at the MTA, but please know that your work has not gone entirely unnoticed. We see you. Thank you for everything you've seen through. Good luck on what's next!

-Madison Scott

You have been a real inspiration as I read and write about NYC Transit as part of my job every day. I hope you move on to a workplace that appreciates everything you do.

-Nora

As someone who grew up out West, where public transportation equates to too few buses coming at 30-minute intervals, the New York subway system has amazed me since I moved here. One of the most striking things is how much it has changed over the five years I've lived in the city. Even before I worked at the MTA I could tell how vast and complicated the system (and bureaucracy behind it) was, which made it all the more amazing when, hey, stations have Wi-Fi now! There are countdown clocks for all the trains! Conductors are actually telling us why service is delayed! 

Of all the things that have happened with the transit system, your involvement, Andy, has had the most lasting impact for me. This is doubly true after I started working at the MTA. Your competence and especially your commitment to customer service is so obvious. I'm really sad to see you go, but a silver lining has been talking with people at work and hearing how much they want to continue what you started here (myself included). We were lucky to have had you for as long as we did. Our transit system and the MTA will be worse without you. But you did incredible work in two years, showing the public and the civil servants at the MTA that change is still possible. And that's huge. Thank you thank you, and all the best.

-Anonymous MTA employee

Our one beacon of hope is gone. Things will go back to bad. The people in Subways and Buses will miss the leader that you are. You gave us - the hard-working public servants who care about this city’s transportation system - a voice, and a clear way forward, and for that, we will always be grateful. Thanks!

-Anonymous MTA employee

Dear Mr. Byford, thank you for your two years of dedicated public service. Your passion, humility and wittiness as the leader of the MTA made me a believer in public transit. Most importantly, thank you for pushing the agenda of Accessibility, and getting ‘cat out of the bag’ because of your Fast Forward Plan and the Jay Street Lab. Heartfelt thanks for listening to the community of disabled people in New York and the respect you’ve shown. All the best in your future endeavors and know that we’ll miss you tremendously.

-Lakshmee L-Persad

Andy Byford Quit. Let's Give Him A Proper Farewell.

In case you haven’t heard the news, Andy Byford resigned today.

I will have much more to say about this in the coming days. But for now, I will note that Andy was unlike any other transit official this city has ever had.

One of my proudest moments running Signal Problems was when Andy told me he was a regular S/P reader. I don’t know if he will still be a subscriber now that we have both moved on to other things. But just in case he does, I thought we could do a little something for him, a Farewell Andy Byford Edition of Signal Problems.

So, reply to this email with what you’d like to say to Andy. I especially encourage current or former MTA employees to write in. If you would like to remain anonymous, just say so, and don’t send it from your work account or phone, obviously.

If you’re viewing this on the web and wish to submit something, you can either send me a Twitter DM at @A_W_Gordon or email me at signalproblems@substack.com.

Deep breaths, everyone.

What I Learned About Cars

Hello, my beloved Signal Problems friends! It has been a while, and I come bearing news. Starting Monday, I will be the new senior writer at Motherboard, VICE’s tech website, where I’ll be covering the intersection of infrastructure, transportation, and climate change.

In many ways, this beat will be a successor to the work I did for Signal Problems. Here, my ongoing project was to figure out why the MTA works (or, perhaps more often, doesn’t work) the way it does, why it undertakes the projects (or, perhaps more often, doesn’t undertake the projects) it does, and what that means for us, now and in the future. This is basically the beat I outlined for my new bosses, but beyond New York.

In particular, I want to write about what America gets wrong about infrastructure. There’s a lot of material! But I want to take a hyper-local approach.

I feel like everyone I know grew up frustrated by a bridge, highway, train station, road, or pothole in their home town that either never got fixed or was constantly under construction. Or maybe there was a low-key project that cost a head-scratchingly large amount of money for no clear reason. If you know of one of those, hit me up. I’d love to look into it for you.


Now, this means I have said goodbye to my colleagues at Jalopnik, the car and transportation website I’ve called home for the past eight months. It’s been, a, uh, interesting time, no doubt about it. But corporate shenanigans aside, working at Jalopnik was a tremendously fun and valuable experience. I got to go to a Hyperloop conference, do a deep dive into Uber and Lyft’s fare structure, spend months diving into the history and current day ramifications of urban highways, and so much more. And I learned how to drive stick.

Even more importantly, I got a crash course on the automotive industry. I don’t think there are many reporters who can say they’ve covered public transit and the car industry back-to-back.

So, I thought it might be fun, and perhaps useful to some folks, to share a little bit about what I learned about cars and the automotive industry in general, with a focus on things that matter to people hoping to reduce the number of single-occupancy car trips. Some of them might seem real obvious, and indeed they do seem that way to me in hindsight. But I didn’t fully appreciate their implications for the policies I favor and the future I want to live in. Perhaps that’s the case for some of you as well.

Car Buying Is Not Rational

There is a man who lives on my block who drives a relatively new Toyota 4Runner, which, for those who might not know, is a pretty large SUV. A couple of times a week, I watch him attempt to parallel park this vehicle. Typically, the spot is plenty large for a sedan, but a tight squeeze for his 4Runner. He’ll be out there five, ten minutes trying to get the angle just right. I have never seen another person in the SUV with him or any stuff in the trunks or seats. Why, I think to myself every time, is he doing this to himself? Why doesn’t he just drive a smaller car?

I don’t know this guy’s deal. Maybe he has a really good reason for driving an SUV. But I suspect not. And this reflects the first and most important lesson I learned at Jalopnik: car buying is not rational.

Car buying is aspirational, not practical. Most people purchase cars not because of who they are, but because of who they want to be. Car companies know this, which is why they collectively spend billions upon billions of dollars every year on advertisements. The total market domination of SUVs over the last decade, which are impractical vehicles for the majority of people who buy them, speaks to their success. (For more on the SUV trend and car buying being an aspirational purchase, I highly, highly recommend the book High And Mighty by Keith Bradsher.) Nearly every purchase of an SUV is a mild-to-moderate self-own, and yet people keep doing it, over and over.

So every time I asked my colleagues why people don’t purchase more plug-in hybrids, or why electric vehicle sales remain stubbornly low, or why perfectly fine small, cheap commuter cars continue to do poorly in the American market, I always got the same answer: car buying is not rational. And auto companies have ample incentive to keep it that way, since they charge more, and make more profit on, the big vehicles that are the least practical.

This observation doesn’t directly impact any one policy choice or goal, but it is worth keeping in mind when considering nearly any of them. Car buyers do not respond to clear incentives in the traditional economic sense. It is a mistake to assume they do.

Millions Of Americans Make And Sell Cars For Their Livelihood

Americans buy around 16 million to 18 million cars, trucks, and SUVs a year. Between making and selling those vehicles, the auto industry employs some three million people. Many of those factories and parts suppliers are in swing states and therefore have outsized political influence, as do the unions that rep many of those workers.

People who advocate for banning cars, disrupting car culture, or anything along those lines often do so from the perspective of the use of street space, efficient transportation, the environment, etc. That’s all well and good. But, rarely, if ever, do these plans wrestle with what that means for the three million people who are employed making and selling these things, in an industry where even a few percentage point drop in sales amounts to a bad year. Advocates for those policies should be aware of how they sound to people whose livelihoods depend on robust car production and sales.

Any proposal to wean Americans off widespread car ownership—more than nine out of ten American households own at least one car—needs to have at least some way to address this concern. Because to the people working in the auto industry, calls for people to stop owning so many cars sounds an awful lot like a call for them to be out of a job.

I don’t have any great answers here. One possible tactic is to talk less about defeating car culture without defining the term and talk more about how street space is allocated.

In any event, our country is hooked on cars, in more ways than one. Getting it unhooked will be a very hard problem to solve. But I am increasingly of the belief relying on purely rational arguments will not be sufficient, because 1. those are never sufficient and 2. too many people have their livelihoods at stake.

Beware The Cult Of Innovation

As a reporter, there are some words that I consider red flags. They’re terms that often signify a lack of underlying thought, examination, or justification for the topic or policy at hand. One is “safety.” Another is “innovation.”

To be sure, these are real words with actual meaning. But they’re often not used that way. In my experience, they’re deployed as cover for policies that either have no rationalization or ones that the powers-that-be prefer to keep hidden.

Working for Jalopnik, I heard the word “innovation” or one of its derivatives a lot, especially arround autonomous vehicles (AVs). To be sure, AVs are genuinely incredible engineering feats (the ones that don’t kill people, at least). But, just because you can build something doesn’t mean you should. But once you spend a couple billion dollars building something, you probably want it deployed as widely as possible, no matter what. That could be bad news for transit advocates.

As I wrote in one feature, AVs are not going to solve the problems people think they will. In fact, they very well may make those problems worse, because all of the people involved in developing these technologies are experts in, well, developing these technologies, not in urban studies, road planning, or traffic engineering. For example, one of the earliest and most influential AV funders and evangelists was Google’s Larry Page. And the people who are experts in those things are very worried.

More often than not, when I heard the word “innovation” it was deployed as a tautalogy. Why will this new thing be better? Because it is new, and therefore better. I’m sure I don’t have to convince you, my beautiful subway, bus, and bicycle riders, why that isn’t the case.

Unfortunately, the purveyors of these innovation myths are often very rich and politically connected. Moreover, politicians like to use the “I” word themselves—none more so than our friend Governor Cuomo—because it makes them appear hip. After all, it is no coincidence he called Elon Musk to ask him to fix the subway.

“Car Commuter Culture”

Well before my time there, Jalopnik writers used a term I quite like: car commuter culture. It is the culture of nine out of ten Americans needing a car to be productive members of society. It is the culture of car companies churning out identical econoboxes that inspire none of the fascination or joy that car enthusiasts have. It is a culture where cars become appliances (for more on that theme, read this hilarious post about “What a Car Enthusiast Looks Like to Everyone Else”). It is a culture where the production and maintenance of cars is a major sector of the economy.

Many car enthusiasts are on our side, the side of people who want public transit to be better. I’m not going to say all of them, but I have learned the divide is not as clear as many people assume.

"You Know What You Did"

Over the last month, Andrew Cuomo has made it quite clear what he thinks of the subway. He believes it is a crime-ridden, dangerous place. He thinks the subway needs hundreds more police officers to make it safe again. And he has ordered the MTA to spend $50 million a year on 500 cops to make that happen.

Now, it is factually untrue that the subway is unsafe. It is even untrue that the subway is getting more dangerous. Even the cops, who normally jump at any chance to talk about how dangerous it is out there to get more cops hired, say this Cuomo narrative is a load of crap.

This policy of sending hundreds of cops into a place where there is no crime problem to speak of has resulted in the only possible outcome: lots and lots of bored cops. And the bored cops are doing what bored cops do: either nothing at all or finding something to do. In the case of officers of the law, finding something to do means finding people violating it no matter how trivial the offense.

To pick the highest profile examples:

It’s not strictly necessary to a pick a worst or most galling example from this sordid lot. They’re all horrifying in their own way. But for whatever reason the churro ladies seem to have captured the media’s attention in ways the others didn’t.

“In the past I was just given tickets and it has never been violent,” one of the women, identified as Elsa, said during a rally Monday. “I’m afraid of going through the process of getting a license. It’s too much money.”

Perhaps the churro ladies made more news than others because we are a society that worships the entrepreneur. Or perhaps it’s because immigrant rights is on a lot of people’s minds. Maybe it was the fact that police officers handcuffing peaceful, nonviolent middle-aged women with a cart of pastries is emblematic of our worst fears of what our society has become. Or maybe there doesn’t have to be a reason, it’s all grotesque.

The most despicable aspect of it all is that this couldn’t have gone any other way. It was the only possible result of sending 500 police officers into the subway in a city with a long, troubled history of over-policing people of color and criminalizing homelessness. There was no other theoretical end result of sending a ton of cops to solve a non-existent problem.

The pointlessness of it all was highlighted in a video of the aforementioned incident of the man getting kicked out of the subway for putting his bag on the bench while he waited for an L train for 17 minutes.

The cops told him it was against the rules to put his bag on the chair. When the train finally came and he boarded, they pried him off of it even though he had paid his fare. The man asked “What did I do?” and the woman filming asked “What did he do?”

The cop replied, “you know what you did.”


If you would like to help Elsa and other street vendors caught up in the NYPD dragnet, you can donate to the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center. Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez, deputy director of the Street Vendor Project, told Signal Problems “all donations made to SVP go directly towards helping vendors fight tickets, providing legal consultations, and fighting for just working conditions.” She added Elsa, the churro vendor quoted above, has an appointment with SVP tomorrow afternoon to figure out next steps, including applying for a license and fighting her ticket. Join me in donating here.


If the NYPD come for the dogs in bags there will be hell to pay.

Photo credit: Dan Miller

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