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.
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
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.
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.
I would like to remain anonymous, but I've composed a short haiku for Mr Byford:
beset by blunder and woe
train daddy: lost hope
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.
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.
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.
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