July 13, 2018: Twenty One Words to Own the Mayor

Two newsy bits got extracted from the New Yorker profile on Andy Byford published a few weeks ago. The first was Miguel, the one guy who knows how to re-boot the Metrocard Vending Machines. We all had a good laugh, or a shake of the head, but it mostly just felt extremely right.

The other tidbit, though, has legs; the long, rangy legs of a certain 6'5” mayor. It started with 21 of the 9,500 words in the profile itself:

Byford has not heard from de Blasio since his arrival, in January. “Bit weird. I should ring him up,” Byford said.

This line was enough to spark a New York Times article and ultimately a meeting between Byford and de Blasio, which occurred on Tuesday. They met for a little over an hour and discussed improving bus service, the L shutdown, and the Fast Forward plan. Byford asked de Blasio for money— “I always ask politicians for money,” he quipped on his way into City Hall—and while de Blasio didn’t give him any, he did offer his support for the Fast Forward plan in general. They agreed to meet quarterly and form a working group, which will, so far as I can tell, be a group of people who work on stuff.

But what was actually discussed in the meeting, or who committed to what, misses the bigger picture, which is that de Blasio got owned.

The Mayor has done everything possible to stay away from all things MTA. He rarely comments on it. When asked a question, he blubbers a few words about his beloved millionaire’s tax idea. His general aura on all things MTA is to ignore it entirely.

This is, to be fair, because he doesn’t control it. Governor Cuomo, the flip side of this bitter, childish rivalry, controls the MTA. But, somehow, de Blasio has missed this golden opportunity to consistently embarrass his rival in the service of his constituency. How easy it would be for the Mayor to invite a bunch of reporters on regular subway journeys to get somewhere he has to go anyways, casually chatting up that subway service sure does suck and remind them that the Citizens Budget Commission found New York City taxpayers provide the MTA with $4.5 billion annually, more than double the $2.1 billion paid by taxpayers outside the city, so we already pay our fair share. But he doesn’t do it. Instead, he only flails back every time Cuomo lands a jab.

Because of this political strategy, it’s easy to harp on de Blasio for the sorry state of the city’s bus system because dedicated lanes are not enforced, something he actually can and does control. It exposes him. He appears aloof. It leaves him vulnerable.

Do you think it’s any accident a very thoughtful, calculating, and clear communicator, as Andy Byford is, just happened to mention to a national magazine reporter he hasn’t heard from the mayor, and even went so far as to call it “a bit weird?” I don’t. I think Byford knew exactly what he was doing. And it worked. It got him in a room with the Mayor, and will get him in a room with the Mayor again. And he will repeatedly use that time to tell the Mayor why he should give him more money, who now has to explain why he won’t, instead of proactively explaining that he already does give him quite a lot.

Not only that, but the whole city now knows they will be in a room together regularly. De Blasio’s primary strategy of playing hot potato with all things transit has become that much less effective, all because of 21 words in a 9,500 word magazine profile about somebody else.

Whatever you think of the effectiveness of these meetings—and I, personally, do not think much—this is yet another controversy de Blasio could have easily avoided. If he had just called Byford up or met with him once—a token “Hiya Andy, welcome aboard, here’s my number if you need anything, maybe come over to Gracie Mansion some weekend morning and we can watch Plymouth Argyle football”—there’s no play for Byford here, nothing to mention to the New Yorker, no Times headline, no press gaggle after meeting with de Blasio—which, by the way, has never occurred after Byford meets with Cuomo, the person who actually controls the MTA—no any of this.

And so it’s no surprise more of the same occurred on Thursday. Cuomo says he expects the city to pay for half of the Fast Forward Plan, which has a price tag somewhere between $19 billion and $40 billion. Once again, de Blasio swings back—through his spokesman, of course—with some lame duck statement about Cuomo controlling the MTA and the millionaire’s tax.

This is a childish fight, but as any kid knows, the first word in is the most important. To paraphrase one of the most famous political quips of all time, Cuomo knows de Blasio won’t pay, but he’s making the sonofabitch deny it. Because now we’re talking about de Blasio paying for it. And that’s just how Cuomo likes it.

News You Probably Can't Use, But About Which You Can Certainly Brood

  • For the Village Voice, I looked into the L train shutdown plans for the Williamsburg Bridge. MTA/DOT estimate more than 30,000 people per day will use the shuttle buses from Bedford Ave L / Grand St L stops to lower Manhattan, but have opted not to put a bus lane on the bridge. DOT says they thought about a busway but decided against it for various reasons. Others I spoke to are concerned. Either way, we’ll find out!

  • The MTA finally released ridership numbers for 2017 by station, something they typically do by May of the following year (insert joke about the MTA being delayed here). Frankly, I haven’t had time to look at them too carefully this week, but I’ll do so next week and let you know if I find anything interesting. Please do give me a shout if you do, too.

  • New express bus stops in Staten Island are starting to appear as part of the wider bus network redesign.

  • Keep your eye on whether Cuomo signs a bill that passed both state houses approving a “transit lockbox” that assures MTA funds cannot be raided for other expenditures. (And by “keep your eye on” I mean I’ll keep my eye on it and let you know.)

  • There’s been a years-long battle of what to do with the businesses atop an LIRR bridge that desperately needs repair in Kew Gardens. It sounds like LIRR has finally come up with a plan that doesn’t require displacing those businesses, which is great news.

  • There aren’t many “milestones” with the East Side Access $11 billion mess, so the MTA is doing its best to assure us that the completion of the Harold interlocking re-signaling is one.

In Which I Make An Educated Guess About When Things Will Get Better

This week's estimate: June 2022

Change log:

May 25, 2018: June 2022

March 30, 2018: 2030

March 16, 2018: 2024

February 2, 2018: 2021

January 20, 2018: 2020

Your Upcoming Service Advisories, Provided by Lance from Subway Weekender

Note: the service advisories reflect the most disruptive changes. Be sure to check the maps or the MTA website for a full list of service changes.


  • 1 - No service between Rector St and South Ferry

  • 3 4 - No service between Utica Av and New Lots Av

  • C - No service between 145 Street and 168 Street

  • D - No service between Bedford Park Blvd and 205 Street

  • E F - All service is local-only in Queens

  • F - Queens-bound service runs via E line between 5 Av-53 St and Roosevelt Av

  • J M - No service between Brooklyn and Manhattan (Sat. only)

  • N - No service between Times Square and Ditmars Blvd

  • Q - All service is local-only in Manhattan

  • R - All service runs via F line between 21 St-Queensbridge and 57 St-7 Av

 Service map here.

Late Nights:

  • 1 - No service between Chambers St and South Ferry

  • 2 - No service between 3 Av-149 St and 135 Street

  • 3 - No service

  • 4 6 - Downtown service is express-only between 125 Street and 14 St-Union Sq

  • 6 - Pelham Bay-bound service is express-only in the Bronx

  • 7 - No service between Queensboro Plaza and 34 St-Hudson Yards (Tue. morning only)

  • E - Jamaica-bound service is express-only in Queens

  • L - No service between Lorimer St and Broadway Junction

  • N - No service between Queensboro Plaza and Times Square

  • R - No service between 59 St/4 Av and Whitehall St

Service map here.

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the World

  • Dublin is redesigning its bus network from the ground up.

  • Paris-Nord, the busiest rail station in Europe, is getting a €600m upgrade by 2023 that will triple the size of interior spaces, separate arrivals/departures, add 75k sq.ft. of rooftop green space, 1200 bike parking spaces, & more activities. Meanwhile, Penn Station is getting a $1.6 billion (and counting) renovation that will…turn it into a mall. (h/t Yonah Freemark.)

  • Birds-eye views of the world’s subway systems.

  • The LA subway is phasing out upholstered seats which have been subjected to some of the most vile substances in the known universe, but also to “dribbles from burritos eaten on the go,” which frankly sounds delicious.

  • Cam Hardy is the hero every city needs.

David Roth’s Esteemed Subway Rider of the Week

“It's a tough one this week, maybe because I didn't go to Queens. I did sit next to a very drunk and clammy man on the Q who, every time the doors opened with that bong-bong chiming sound, would say ‘les-bians,’ softly. I don't think he was talking about anyone, or to anyone. That's obviously solid work but if we're grading it against the forlorn/drowsy baby French Bulldog that a couple carried/wore on the train with me tonight, I don't know if I can say who's the most distinguished.”

Dog in a Bag

Have a dog in a bag photo? Reading this on the subway and see a dog in a bag? Take a picture and send it to aaron.wittes.gordon@gmail.com.

Photo credit: Samantha Amaldo

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This has been another edition of Signal Problems, a weekly newsletter helping you figure out what is going on with the subway, made every week by Aaron Gordon, transit reporter for the Village Voice.

If you’re a new or prospective subscriber, head over to the Subway Knowledge Base page for an introduction to the state of the subway and peruse the archive here. And if you’re enjoying this newsletter, please share it with others. It’s the best way you can say thanks.

As always, send any feedback, subway questions, or Dog in a Bag photos to aaron.wittes.gordon@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you. As someone on a stalled Q train once told me, we’re all in this together.