New Leadership for New York City Transit and the MTA

Andrew Cuomo resigned, effective two weeks from now, after it became clear that if he didn’t the state legislature would remove him. As much of the leadership of public transportation in the state is his political appointees, like Sarah Feinberg, the incoming state governor, Lieutenant-Governor Kathy Hochul, will need to appoint new heads in their stead. From my position of knowing more about European public transit governance than the New York political system does, I’d like to make some recommendations.

Hire from outside the US

New York’s construction costs are uniquely high, and its operating costs are on the high side as well; in construction and to a large extent also in operations, it’s a general American problem. Managers come to believe that certain things are impossible that in fact happen all the time in other countries, occasionally even in other US cities. As an example, we’ve constantly heard fire safety as an excuse for overbuilt subway stations – but Turkey piggybacks on the American fire safety codes and to a large extent so does Spain and both have made it work with smaller station footprints. Much of the problem is amenable to bringing in an outsider.

The outsider has to be a true outsider – outside the country, not just the agency. An American manager from outside transportation would come in with biases of how one performs management, which play to the groupthink of the existing senior management. Beware of managers who try to perform American pragmatism by saying they don’t care about “Paris or such,” as did the Washington Metro general manager. Consultants are also out – far too many are retirees of those agencies, reproducing the groupthink without any of the recent understanding by junior planners of what is going wrong.

Get a Byford, not Byford himself

Andy Byford is, by an overwhelming consensus in New York, a successful subway manager. Coming in from Toronto, where he was viewed as a success as well, he reformed operations in New York to reduce labor-management hostility, improve the agency’s accessibility program, and reduce the extent of slow orders. Those slow orders were put in there by overly cautious management, such as Ronnie Hakim, who came in via the legal department rather than operations, and viewed speed as a liability risk. Byford began a process called Save Safe Seconds to speed up the trains, which helped turn ridership around after small declines in ridership in the mid-2010s.

The ideal leader should be a Byford. It cannot be Byford himself: after Cuomo pushed him out for being too successful and getting too much credit, Byford returned to his native Britain, where Mayor Sadiq Khan appointed him head of Transport for London. Consulting with Byford on who to hire would be an excellent idea, but Byford has his dream job and is very unlikely to come back to New York.

Look outside the Anglosphere

High operating costs are a New York problem, and to some extent a US problem. Canada and the UK do just fine there. However, construction costs, while uniquely bad in New York, are also elevated everywhere that speaks English. The same pool of consultants travel across, spreading bad ideas from the US and UK to countries with cultural cringe toward them like Canada, Australia, and Singapore.

The MTA has a $50 billion 5-year capital plan. Paris could only dream of such money – Grand Paris Express is of similar size with the ongoing cost overruns but is a 15-year project. The ideal head of the MTA should come from a place with low or at worst medium construction costs, to supervise such a capital plan and coordinate between NYCT and the commuter rail operators.

Such a manager is not going to be a native English speaker, but that’s fine – quite a lot of the Continental European elite is fluent in English, though unfortunately this is not as true in Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan. If it is possible to entice a Spanish manager like Silvia Roldán Fernández of Madrid Metro to come in, then this is ideal, given the number of Spanish-speaking New Yorkers; Madrid of course also has legendarily low construction costs, even today. Gerardo Lertxundi Albéniz of Barcelona is a solid option. Italian managers are an option as well given the growing networks in Italy, not just building new lines but also making old stations accessible: Stefano Cetti of Milan’s public works arm MM, Gioia Ghezzi of the operating company ATM, Giovanni Mottura of Rome’s ATAC, etc. Germans like Munich’s Bernd Rosenbusch or Ingo Wortmann or Berlin’s Eva Kreienkamp have experience with juggling conflicting local and state demands and with more labor militancy than people outside Germany associate Germany with. Laurent Probst may well be a good choice with his experience coordinating an even larger transit network than New York’s – assuming that he wouldn’t view New York as a demotion; the same is true of RATP’s head, the generalist Catherine Guillouard.

This is not meant to be a shortlist – these are just the heads of the transit organs of most of the larger Continental Western European systems. Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese heads should be considered too, if they speak English and if they don’t view working in the US, in a city smaller than Tokyo or Seoul, as a demotion.

Let the civil service work

American civil service is broken – or, more precisely, was never allowed to become an administrative state, thanks to postwar anti-state paranoia. Professionals learn to be timid and wait for the word of a political appointee to do anything unusual. Cuomo did not create this situation – he merely abused it for his own personal gain, making sure the political appointees were not generic liberal Democrats but his own personal loyalists.

The future cannot be a return to the status quo that Cuomo exploited. The civil service has to be allowed to work. The role of elected politicians is to set budgets, say yes or no to megaproject proposals, give very broad directions (“hire more women,” “run like a business,” etc.), and appoint czars in extreme situations when things are at an impasse. Byford acted as if he could work independently, and Cuomo punished him for it. It’s necessary for New York to signal in advance that the Cuomo era is gone and the next Byford will be allowed to work and rewarded for success. This means, hiring someone who expects that the civil service should work, giving them political cover to engage in far-reaching reforms as required, and rewarding success with greater budgets and promotions.


  1. michaelrjames

    You know, enticing Byford back would not be such a bad move. It would be a powerful signal about serious intent to reform the MTA and it would empower Byford and probably win kudos for the new gov. And probably a lot less risky than some new person who will have to navigate all the foreign politics plus the deeply entrenched problems of MTA etc. And Byford might see it as an opportunity to finish an unfinished job–to prove he can make it in Noo York–instead of running a post-Brexit London TfL in a failing nation (of course that’s me; he’s a Brit so maybe not; OTOH he is also a Francophile, speaks French, almost certainly a Remainer :-).

    Bring Byford Back, I say!

    • Alon Levy

      I don’t think a Londoner thinks much of the “if you can make it in New York…” aphorism. For the same reason I suspect the heads of RATP and Ile-de-France Mobilités will find any MTA offer to be a demotion; Paris is not some village clamoring to be noticed by the metropolis.

      • michaelrjames


        Not at all sure that is true, except maybe for those who tried and failed which would have to include Byford; and here he might have a second chance (another American aphorism: land of the second chance!). Don’t forget my opinion of London as a place to live; of course that is a perspective from some powerless anonymous non-rich (in Brit terms) non-person. Byford will be able to live the life he wants wherever … however I don’t believe I would enjoy London even if I was rich (and if I was, wouldn’t choose to). I am projecting my Francophilia onto Byford:-) I agree that there is little reason for a Parisian to go to NYC, well except for their cv, not a small matter (eg. one A. Levy); perhaps an ambitious Keolis type … The NYC MTA is a terrific challenge. In reality it probably would have to be an Anglospherian even if the signalling, trains and Acela may be French, and Paris-IdF is the best model for a mega-city transit …

        Even our former PM, Kevin Rudd, runs an Asian thinktank in NYC (even if he sat out Covid back here), and another former PM, Malcolm Turnbull owns a fancy apartment there. Of course Boris was born there and only renounced the American citizenship that came with that event because of punitive US tax law.

        Maybe Byford could be trans-Atlantic in the way it used to be a boast by certain masters-of-universe to be bi-coastal. What would it take to simultaneously run two of the western worlds biggest transit system. Pfft, a piece of New York cheesecake .. (but pity there isn’t a Concorde any longer. Zoom to the rescue.)

    • borners

      I’m falling for the provocation here but, “Britain” is failing state while the US isn’t? They were 40,000 votes from a Fascist takeover last year. And Britain isn’t a nation, that’s the joke, its multi-national kingdom. That’s what’s failing and not because its a kingdom. That’s why only foreigners use the word “brit” when talking about people.

      That said the US government does have issues with regards to English and what it decides to learn from foreigners cough Harmid Karzai cough. British accents are familiar enough and Byford’s mild accent doesn’t activate American stereotypes, that’s why “train daddy” came about. And US urban politics are poisonous so any foreigner would need to be battle hardened and able to perform in English not just communicate in it. That’s a tall order, though they should definitely try.

      And so should the UK but we only have 1 transit agency worthy of the name. Even the supposedly “European” Scotland with its own transportation ministry has Philly levels of “what’s an S-bahn and why should I use it with my CBD trunk station oooh American street cars!”.

      • michaelrjames


        You’re right. But I never excluded the US from being nearly a failed state too. (Pretty sure I wrote that in a very recent post.) Tough choice between Trump or Brexit (or Boris) as the crazier choice. To be equal-opportunity, Anglosphere-wise, I could include Tony village-idiot Abbott but really not in the same league and we got rid of him in less than two years (still he did bring back Knights & Dames honours, some 40+ years after Gough Whitlam abolished them; even his own party knew that was crazy and they lasted but one round of awards).
        Anyway NYC is better than London for a whole host of reasons. And for a Brit or Londoner, a welcome change.

        As to Brit, you do know that your country code at the Olympics was GB, ie. Great Britain?
        Brit, Limey, Rosbif, Pommie Bastard. All the one and same:-)

        • borners

          Do you have to constantly pretend UK or Aus politics is simply a game of conservative elites? How about conservative and swing voters? Just pretend Murdoch controls everything? Always with the scapegoating to avoid your own responsibility and those of your ideology and background. How very Tory.

          Also I understand its very disturbing to discover your hate-sink never really existed and that you fell for the 1914-2016 British nation state experiment fiction as much as most people in Britain did. But the dominant fact of British politics since 2015 is that 45% of Scots vote for SNP, 45% of Welsh for Welsh labour and 45% of the English vote for Tory/UKIP i.e. all the bullshit nationalist parties. Brexit was an English nationalist revolt after decades of neglect, deadnaming, cultural lobotomy and incompetence. The Tories must keep Britain together so they can keep England imprisoned in it, get 45% and FTPT to power.
          I’m surprised given your loving hatred of all things “Britain” didn’t alert you to this, given the wacko explosion of emotion over the recent doings of England only national institution; its football team.

          • michaelrjames

            It’s hard to figure what you are on about sometimes. I mean all that stuff is in reaction to the dysfunction and inequality created by those elites and their system. It’s undeniable. You act as if I ignore it, but it’s a big part of the problem. At the other end, the Left itself is dysfunctional. They are so screwed up in their thinking that they couldn’t get the EU right and de facto supported Brexit as if that will be better for their acclaimed workers than the EU. Certainly the Corbynites. The middle, ie. social democrats in the UK are often confused as well. Some of this in Labour comes from PPE –pre-Corbyn most of the finance front-benchers (Milliband, Ed Balls, plus Peter Mandelson) not to mention old-timers Tony Benn, Tony Crosland, Woy Jenkins, Michael Foot, Hugh Gaitskell, and Harold Wilson, all Oxford-PPEs! And a lot of the centre-left commentariat (Simon Jenkins, Nick Robinson, Nick Cohen, Evan Andrews, Bronwen Maddox, Zanny Minton-Beddoes) were Oxford-PPE grads.

            Then there are the actual social-democrats, this era’s Lib-Dems and the precursors the SDP. In the 1983 general election I voted for the SDP, as many others in the UK did, because it briefly looked like a real alternative to the stultifying and depressing status quo on both sides. They won 23% of the vote, only a bit less than Labour, but of course with FPTP they only got a few percent of seats which says it all: how can you expect voters to maintain the faith when this shit happens? Real change began to look hopeless. Fast forward 3 decades and the electorate rejected changing the electoral system when they had a perfect chance in a referendum! I mean WTF? (As it happens my then electorate of Brighton & Hove did have one of the highest SDP votes and eventually elected the sole Green member of parliament, so perhaps my vote wasn’t entirely wasted … it gave succour to the hopeful alt-pollies). Anyway, back to the confusion of the left or soft-left, middle: Nick Clegg looked the real deal: a polyglot Eurocrat, he even trained at the feet of Chris Hitchens (well, Hitch was an old Etonian so signs of trouble and confusion there, a bit like Orwell …) but what he did in the 2010 election still to this day beggars belief. LibDems made big gains and both Labour and Tories didn’t have a majority. It was a no-brainer decision to work out a deal with Labour to form a coalition government of the centre-left. Gordon Brown even resigned to smooth the way (he was correct that the electorate rejected him and would never accept a minority govt with him as its leader/PM). But Clegg went with Cameron and we got that luvvie presser in the garden. Other than rejecting electoral change this is probably the most f-witted event I have witnessed in British politics. The logic given was utterly wrong but very British: oh, the electorate obviously rejected Labour so to be fair we had to go with the Tories. There is no eyeroll adequate to express the ridiculousness. Even though a very convincing majority (Lab + LibDems) so clearly supported soc-dem politics of the centre-left. Simply fantastically stupid. No conception of how coalitions are formed and work, and that it was actually the real people’s wish just from counting the votes (with or without bloody FPTP).

            All the subsequent dysfunction flowed from that fateful decision. People like to blame Boris for Brexit (and he carries blame), and if not then David Cameron who sleepwalked into the referendum without working to get it won. But none of it could have happened without Clegg as prime enabler. At the least he should have negotiated with Cameron, before agreeing to coalition, to kill the idea of a referendum, but of course he ended up allowing all kinds of toxic crap (directly contrary to LibDem policy & philosophy) eg. on edu and NHS reforms ‘go thru to the keeper’.

            The real significance was that there was not a single political party left for anyone wanting a centre-left social-democracy (and by definition Eurocentric). What can possibly explain this inexplicable decision of Clegg’s? You guessed it already. Clegg in fact is a product of the class system. His family is quite toffy with his father a banker, and a whole slew of toffs including a Baroness and other politicians in his family. He went to Westminster, arguably the second most influential private school (after Eton), then on to Cambridge (yeah, not Oxford …) where, despite his poor memory, it has been proven he was a member of the Conservative Association. None of that had to be determinative but in the end I reckon it is the explanation. In the British confusion about voting values (ie. value of a vote), confusion about forming workable coalitions (yuck, “like the European way”) and of course the biggest confounding factor in the UK, class and the ruling elites mostly hereditary like the Royal Family at its apex, he went with what his personal history could have predicted and which his primal reptilian brain dictated (selfish, rapacious, survivalist; he would be deputy-PM!). Today he’s Sir Nick and works for Facebook!

            I think these factors are what make the Oxford-PPE so awful. By itself it isn’t intrinsically that bad. The French ENA is very similar and indeed Macron (an Enarque himself) has abolished it. It produces a kind of ruling elite but the differences are that (1) admission is strictly and rigorously on merit (perhaps too much) and (2) in practice these ‘elites’ do things in vastly more pragmatic fashion than their English equivalents. The French also train elites in those Grand Ecoles to high standards in all kind of necessary stuff, like engineering, transport, IT etc. which is why this mix of elites manages to build HSR and the Chunnel, excellent big-city transit systems, work for decades to build a European airline industry (Airbus), space program, etc etc. Not to mention the big one: they were the prime drivers behind creating the EU (yes, fed up with being defeated by Germany at 30 year intervals!). That is another factor in the UK singularity (or perceived): being an island off the coast of Europe.

            A final thing. I have learned to avoid discussing such things with Brits as they genuinely are confused on all this. They really don’t want to even discuss it (I see that in you) and they go into referendums (on voting system, Brexit) with their head in this cloud of confusion and denial and end up wimping out and voting for status quo (or perceived return to it; their glorious past) if they bother voting at all (Brexit was decided by 34% of eligible voters!). Even David Owen, who was one of the original Gang of Four who defected from Labour to form the SDP and did so well in that ’83 election against Thatcher (the 2010 election was an echo of this; deep national dissatisfaction). I have admired him because he really seemed so clear-eyed and had courage (there were many who thought he would be a future Labour PM, he just had to bide his time). So I read his book on Brexit (actually pre-Brexit; Europe Restructured, 2012) but was deeply disappointed. Lots of good stuff in the book, on his negotiations with the EU (he was PM Callaghan’s Foreign Sec in the mid-70s) and his grasp of the Euro and how the ERM was a workable alternative for the UK (as a model of kind of parallel currencies), but on the central issue it seems to all come down to a depressing simplistic version of Little England. Yes, not willing to sacrifice a nanogram of sovereignty for the greater good of a powerful European trading collective in this globalised world. Funny thing is that as a Welshman he already has sacrificed that precious sovereignty. Not in a million years would I have guessed he’d end up a Brexiteer. Today he is Lord Owen.

            As to Murdoch. Seriously? You think that Trump would have been prez without Fox? And Brexit? Brits complain about his 30% of the newspapers in the UK but in Oz it is 70%. Of course, as Fox shows you don’t need huge market share to have a very malign influence. Not to mention Andy Coulson, Rupert’s man (former ed. NotW) inside David Cameron’s office as Director of Communications (nice touch!) but he had to resign and eventually served jail time for the phone hacking scandal.

          • borners

            Ah hatred really isn’t the opposite of love isn’t it?

            You’ve missed the point, you talk in loving detail about the causes you want. Loving detail of the elite you hate-identify with this elite, not talking about the grassroots rise of local nationalism. UKIPfication of the Tory party started from the outside see 2015 election. Or that the British Socialist/Labour movement only significant achievement is the Thatcherite cartopias of exurban England*. 10 million Conservative voters in all their diversity aren’t worth your attention compared to the not-really-lurid details of education backgrounds.

            I didn’t want this to politics of Britain to breakup, but the cost of keeping the edifice of the British so-called nation afloat is too costly. The English can handle one union not two, and the EU is vastly more important to England’s future than a bunch of Welsh, Scots and Unionist Irish who like you like want England to be a scapegoat forever (they also want cash too).

            Yes the English bloody confused! We can’t use language, race, religion, to distinguish ourselves and the state is British never English. Worse the Anglosphere sufficiently. similar that is makes even harder. And that you spend so much time talking about Australia and the US when talking about Britain shows that difficulty. The real comparisons are Spain, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Canada and Russia (esp late USSR). Australia is a nation-state federal empire like the USA. Different ballgame.

            But not putting the multi-national nature of the UK and the English-nativist reality of the post 2010 Tory party is basically like not knowing that Evangelical Christianity and Race relations are the pillars of American politics! You really don’t know shit. Britain/England is your hate-sink. And those people you mention do the same because the dark secret of the “British” left is the sacrificed everything they claim to believe from 1945 to the present on the altar on suppressing England into UKania, while lavishing privileges on the Celtic fringe, Barnett formula’s and parliaments for them, you get a football team and lecture on xenophobia. I understand you feel defensive about having fallen for the greatest English lie of them all. We fell for it too and look what its cost us.

            And this all has importance for transportation, the lack of expertise in the Civil service is because since the British nation state politics fell apart in the 1970’s its been resented as British not English/Welsh/Scottish etc, so degradation is the point. It relates to tax politics too since the English will do things for England they will never do for Britain. England and Britain were on the left of Europe till 1979 the first election after the first Scottish/Euro/Welsh referendums. The lack of capacity and coherence at the local level is also a product of that crisis, the post-1914-2000 British nation-state project liquidated traditional local capacities and centralised everything for the dream of turning Britain into Milton Keynes style cartopias, localities were mistrusted especially English ones. Don’t believe me? It was “British Rail” till privatisation, then Transport for Wales/Scotrail under the devolved governments and a deliberately balkanized set of English franchises under the “national” governments. And now its “Great British Railways” which is just adjusted versions of the balkanised franchises and has authority only-really-in-England. Do you really think this mess is explicable by some PM’s education background? It is the central problem the one that will kill the British state; what is England and who are the English?

          • michaelrjames


            Wow. You’re a Kipper (UKIPer)!

            I’m not hostile to localism at all, and I believe on this blog I’ve said how it can be workable exactly because of the EU. For example, for Catalonia and the Basques which have ancient valid grievances with Castile and their desire for greater autonomy is very understandable, and IMO could work by being more independent within the EU. Ditto Scotland. The weird thing is that the EU resists it, though this is really just a pre-emptive tactic to stop it catching fire all over which is perceived as a threat to the cohesiveness of the EU itself. Done outside the EU it’s purely regressive, isolationist and a form of societal suicide. That’s not what Scotland is pursuing.

            But none of that is the kind of ridiculous localism you’re talking about. That is nothing less than Little Englander crap, and it’s no accident that it is poison spread by Murdoch and, yes, (a subset of) the elites . It’s the same tactic as “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. It’s a diversion from the main game, exactly like football-mania that is designed as the Soma for the masses. Or maybe the fentanyl for people who won’t face reality. Classic bread and circuses. Once it would have been religion as it still is in the US.

            And who is the leader/guru of this movement? Nigel Farage whose father was a stockbroker and little Nigel, after attending Dulwich –one of the oldest and most exclusive private schools in the UK–became a commodity broker such that he could retire early. He has the shtick of drinking beer and smoking cigarettes during interviews, a kind of pathetic mime of the ordinary Rosbif … While his family are real Europeans (children have dual Brit-German nationality, almost certainly speak at least 3 languages Eng, Ger, Fr), and he spends a lot of time at his house in …. France (with his new French partner last time I saw)! You couldn’t make it up.

            Seriously, localism like you describe isn’t coherent as ultimate driver of this dysfunction but rather simply something created by quasi-fascists like Farage and the likes of Rees-Mogg (another City investment guy–hedge fund manager ffs–and product of pure privilege, son of Lord R-M (editor of The Times pre-Murdoch), Eton, Oxford etc) and Murdoch for diversion to achieve their own purposes. The latter two do it because they see the EU as a threat to their MO re power and wealth for the few. Also, no accident that the more extreme localists, the Little Englanders like BNP etc (or whatever they are called these days) are also anti-LGBTQ etc, xenophobic, antisemitic etc. It is a reversion to ‘fear of the other’ and the pretence that there is an alternative to facing the world and its diversity. It’s Jonestown, Mosquito Coast, Waco, Gilead, etc. It’s a symptom not a primary cause.

            Oh, and the EU is a big supporter of genuine localism.

            I actually believe my conceptions of how class privilege and power control things in modern Britain works as an explanation for much of their dysfunction, including their repeated difficulties with transit in the post-war period. (And it happens my comparisons are with France which is the most comparable nation to the UK; and of course I happens I have lived for substantial periods in both but as an outsider in both.) That is my reason for posting this stuff on Alon’s blog.
            But it seems we inhabit different universes, and I think we’re reached the end of the road (!) as far as productive argument is concerned.

          • borners

            Yeah I voted Remain and I will vote Remain for as long as I live. Fuck you. But my side lost because we the English remainders asked too much, we wanted high immigration, EU membership and to keep the UK state’s suppression of England in the service of keeping the Celts happy*. We made England something to be ashamed of, a secret to hidden from view just for football rioters, and we listened to Celtic gaslighting (even Plaid and the SNP refuse to the word England). Well that fucking failed, it’d been failing for decades. I want just an English parliament and I think that the end of the UK a price worth paying for the end of nativist-Tory domination of England, Celtic sabotage and a return to Europe. All the UK got us was little Britain. Also trains because that also means and end to England as a mere bucolic rural volk identity. England as Euro-megapolis 1 please.

            Why are you refusing to treat the English as a people? You can talk about Rees-Mogg all you want but you have no idea how articulate English society other than Oxbridge grudge fests and calling people Murdoch-druggies. Stop pretending like you know jack shit about why the English are distinctly worse than French ones.

          • fjod

            Guys, hear me out here, but what if history was… not monocausal?

          • michaelrjames

            @fjod: ” … what if history was… not monocausal?”

            Absolutely, and I would never suggest otherwise. As a scientist who has worked on complex diseases I know all about polygenics and multifactorial interactions.
            The Oxford-PPE is highly correlated but may not be causal because it only manifests its negative side in the milleu of other deeper social factors, one of which, ‘class’, is just a proxy for a very complex construct. So I consider it affects all kinds of things from education and its opportunities, empire hangovers, deference to one’s betters with royal family at the top, and the mindset of what Simon Schama calls “subjects, not citizens”.

            here’s another theory, from the latest issue of Prospect; it raises lots of questions as to ultimate cause though the author is arguing “Britain’s unwritten constitution has proven singularly inadequate to the challenges of the 21st century, and of a prime minister who barely acknowledges the possibility of constitutional restraint.“:
            Has the “good chaps” theory of government always been a myth?
            The problem is not that our politicians are more devious but that we have stopped caring
            Robert Saunders, August 3, 2021

    • Ron T

      I talked to Andy Byford on his last day in NY – he only left because of the absurd political situation. But Cuomo’s departure only fixes one small thing. We still have the same legislature and its leaders, Huchul will quickly get eaten alive by them and by the massive MTA empire, NIMBYism and corruption and obscene labor costs are not going away. He’d be an idiot to ever come back, though we’d love it if he did.

      • michaelrjames


        Well, Byford’s not an idiot ingenue and would have known all that when he accepted the job the first time. It was his fourth big city (London, Sydney, Toronto) and would have been familiar with the usual political circus that always rocks transit in these places, even if NYC takes first prize in dysfunction. He took the job because of the known challenge; remember he had written reports for the state into the MTA which is why they ended up offering him the job . This time around he would be in a strengthened position and have a standing start, ie. with his plan already in hand and largely approved. Also he would only agree to coming back if the new gov (whoever) was in agreement with real change. Perhaps it is too much to hope for, and naive, but one imagines one little silver lining of Cuomo’s demise is a bit more care in such things? Maybe not …

        The real thing is, if everything returns to status quo ante then they’ll just appoint another person expected to be a puppet like the current placeholder. And like most such people in that position she is there only to use it as a stepping stone to some other, probably political, job higher up some other food chain. She’s probably talking with Buttigieg right now.
        IMO, Byford would jump if an offer was made. He’s obviously not your usual jobsworth (unless he’s really salivating over a future knighthood or higher; but he’s a Francophile–lived for years in Pau where he did another university degree; IMO he disdains that shit) and would be mostly driven by the challenge. And in my view, after tasting Sydney and Toronto (and with a Canadian wife) would much prefer New York.

        I agree it is unlikely, but it would be inspired if the incoming gov (or whoever wins the next race) …

  2. Henry Miller

    Instead of the names you mention, aim for their seconds. People who are trained to take over should the great you mention get hit by the proverbial bus (cancer, heart attack…). Nobody knows them now, but it shouldn’t be hard to figure out who they are,and they are more likely to jump.

  3. SB

    “Let the civil service work”
    Are you including the management of the civil service as well?
    That would seem surprising considering your past posts on American railroad managers.

    • Ron T

      Civil service in NY, IMHO, would make Tammany Hall look honest and competent. Sure, some in it are good, but overall it’s quite a bad joke, especially in the management levels. You don’t have to know how to manage, you just had to pass a test and have friends in the right place.

  4. Roger “Four Freedoms” Senserrich (@Egocrata)

    For what I gather, Silvia Roldán Fernández is a better choice, if you are picking a Spaniard. She is an engineer by trade, comes from ADIF (so she knows heavy rail, as well), and is a woman. Gerardo Lertxundi Albéniz is also an engineer (and started at IBM), but he will be a bit at a loss with MetroNorth and LIRR.

    Both will absolutely lap it up if called. New York carries that name in Spain, still.

    • Nilo

      Despite Alon I think it carries that name many places. It’s still the largest metropolitan economy on the planet.I think there are many good possible choices, but the choice should probably come with experience with a large city (i.e. Stockholmers are out), and one with extensive mainline as well as metro transit usage.

  5. Benjamin Turon

    Good opinion piece with excellent recommendations — more of what I expect from this blog. I hope the end of Cuomo is the end of Penn South. It would also seem that the future of the AirTrain LaGuardia might be in doubt too.

  6. Nathanael

    If someone can be found who can break down the turf wars and classism and get an integrated ticketing system between NYC Subway, Metro-North, LIRR, and PATH, *like London’s Travelcard which was introduced in the 1980s*, that would be the holy grail IMO.

    • Richard Gadsden

      That was partly political leadership. Fares Fair was a huge part of Ken Livingstone’s election programme for his re-elect in 1985 (which never happened because Thatcher abolished the job, long story).

      You don’t want Livingstone, though, he’s acquired anti-semitic brain worms in the last decade or so.

      • michaelrjames

        @Richard Gadsden

        Brain worms? No, no, it was newts and salamanders I think …

        It’s too easy to make fun of Red Ken but I’d take a dozen of him to one Thatcher.
        On the Fares Fair thing, he took the policy of a 32% fare reduction to his first mayoral election (1980 or 81), won and was stymied by the establishment in implementing it. It went all the way to the high court where ” Lord Denning, Lord Justice Oliver and Lord Justice Watkins – reversed the previous decision, finding in favour of Bromley Borough on 10 November. They proclaimed that the Fares Fair policy was illegal because the GLC was expressly forbidden from choosing to run London Transport at a deficit, even if this was in the perceived interest of Londoners.” It took three Lords to defeat Red Ken.
        But actually over the next few years he introduced flat fares within zones (instead of the ridiculous station-by-station fare pricing that drove users crazy, at least this occasional user in those days) and in 1983 a 25% fare reduction which this time the courts approved. No Law Lords involved.
        His main sin was being too popular with London voters …. and an irritation to conservatives so Thatcher abolished the council in 1986. Just like that. Long after Thatcher was gone and then the Tories too, they created a new London council in 2000, he won the mayoral election and held it until Boris succeeded him in 2008.

        I don’t know about the anti-semitism accusations. Are you sure it’s not some conservative or Murdoch beatup–he drove them frothing crazy, winning elections, working in the public interest. AFAIK he never did any crazy stuff like that while in office, quite the opposite. Well, he did some stuff that many people, not solely conservatives, thought was crazy … but here’s a nice quote from his Wiki entry:

        Arguing that politics had long been the near-exclusive preserve of white middle-aged men, the GLC [Greater London Council] began an attempt to open itself to representations from other groups, principally from women, the working-class, ethnic minorities and homosexuals but also from children and the elderly. This was a real break from traditional politics as practised centrally by both major parties… and it attracted hostility from all sides.”

        Forty years later and it is unremarkable, except for being so far ahead of the times.

        • Richard Gadsden

          The anti-semitism was in his later years after he stopped being Mayor in 2008, and after losing his attempt at a comeback in 2012.

          He argued that Hitler supported Zionism “before he went mad and killed six million Jews”. Another direct quote “It is not anti-Semitic to hate the Jews of Israel”.

          I think that, like many people, he started as a supporter of human rights for Palestinians and crossed over from opposing the policies of the Israeli government, to opposing the Israeli state, to blaming Jews for the existence of the Israeli state, to opposing Jews. And that, after being out of office, he was almost exclusively surrounded by other people of the same views, so was not facing pushback as he slipped into anti-Semitism.

          It’s sad because he did so many good things in office, both times.

          • michaelrjames

            A bit sad. I remember he was criticised for always being activist in the Palestinian cause, ie. as mayor, even in his first term in the early 80s. Which is a bit problematic, as worthy as the cause may be. Just gave the cons unnecessary ammunition, and it was Londoners who paid by having no local input into the running of their city for more than a decade.
            One can get away with criticising the US over the atrocities in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and just get called anti-American, but criticise Israel and you get caught by its peculiar status as a Jewish state.

          • Alon Levy

            I mean, his exact words were “Hitler supported Zionism,” it’s not exactly “Israel should stop shooting random Palestinians who protest being expropriated to build settlements.” A lot of the old far left romanticizes terrorism and its past connections with the PLO turned into support for Hamas, an organization the historic PLO’s heir Fatah hates more than either of them hates Israel. It’s the same way the Grauniad publishes Putinist takes – the instinct to defend the USSR turned into an instinct to defend nationalist Russia from color revolutions. Then add the fact that within the Middle East, Arab nationalists use “Jew” and “Zionist” interchangeably (and they never say “Israel,” they retch from the name and say “the Zionists” or “the Zionist Entity”) and spread Nazi memes like every dead-ender and edgelord on the Internet.

            I say “old” and “dead-end” because for the most part, Muslim activism coming from within Europe is not like that. There are the rock throwers and the people who drive into North London yelling threats, but the main of Muslim activism here is people like Raed Saleh, who Berlin SPD to its shame keeps not selecting as its mayoral candidate, or Sadiq Khan, or Ahmed Aboutaleb, or Nazir Afzal. These are all people with pretty conventional social democratic views, pushing an integrative model of minorities, vociferous in fighting for the rights even of minority groups they don’t belong to. But so much of the GUE/NGL-type left, and this includes the Corbynites, is wedded to midcentury socialist aesthetics and therefore completely misses where minority self-advocacy is going, and occasionally even brainfarts and chooses racists as its leaders (i.e. Sahra Wagenknecht).

          • Herbert

            C.f. The German left ignoring the danger of “brown people” fascist organizations like the Turkish grey wolves

  7. Sarapen

    I think an Asian manager would end up dealing with a bunch of racism towards them. Most of it wouldn’t be overt and would instead be codewords and dog whistles, but I expect even some of the laudatory press would end up embarrassingly orientalist.

    • borners

      I can’t say I disagree although it would interesting to see them deal with a Singaporean, there isn’t as clear stereotype and likely native English speaker at least professionally.

      But its worth thinking how different Asian countries personnel might offer.
      I mean there are three priorities for MTA; reduce construction costs, reduce operating costs, and infill/electronics to make better use of LIRR etc “commuter rail” lines.

      There are a number of places where Japanese especially JR West/East/Central/Kyushu could offer a lots utility on the latter two, but not much on the first though. And Japanese performance abroad (India, UK West Midlands and Greater Anglia franchises etc) hasn’t been spectacular either. Also privatization era JR generation is now entering retirement. And I’ll wage none of them has the English skills the job would need.

      • Eric2

        – Reduce construction costs
        – Reduce operation costs
        – Infill/electronics for commuter lines
        – Improve subway reliability and frequency
        – Deinterline subway (at least low hanging fruit like Rogers Junction)
        – Fare integrate regional rail with subway and buses
        – Regional rail high frequency all day service
        – Bus lanes, off board fare collection, less frequent bus stops

        • adirondacker12800

          Deinterline subway (at least low hanging fruit like Rogers Junction)
          They tried that, it was disaster. Probably got more trains through but the point of the railroad is to move passenger, not trains.

        • borners

          Sorry I’ll defer to you MTA I was just thinking about what theoretical Japanese hire could bring. That’s the side I know best. I took fare integration for granted among trains! And JPN doesn’t integrate buses and trains as well as it could, because operators are a mix of private and public bodies and in the megacities buses operate feeders.

  8. Herbert

    Sigrid Nikutta is currently busy with the nigh impossible task of turning DB cargo around, but by all accounts she did a good job at BVG. I think she should be considered as an option, as well.

  9. Rational Plan.

    All it would take is for who takes over to be genuinely interested in improving transit in New York with a well run MTA rather than as a fiefdom to reward political lackeys.

    • michaelrjames

      @Rational Plan

      Alas, if only. Whoever has the job must cope with managing the political egos and factions, city and state, unions, and indeed patronage, ie. they must be able to herd cats while avoid being mauled by the same cats. As Byford proved, having the transit competence and interest is not enough. Perhaps the political situation post-Cuomo might improve but it ain’t going away. That’s why I don’t think any of these other suggestions will fly. They come from jurisdictions which by and large settle their political rivalries to put city or national interest ahead.
      Nowhere in the Anglosphere to my knowledge does this happen. Compare London and NY to Paris which are very comparable wealthy western prime cities. It is somewhat a shock to see that the 130 communes of greater Paris (Ile de France), with a dominant Republicain (centre-right) in control of the Ile de France political entity that in turns controls the transit authority (STIF) implacably opposed to social-democratic (inner) Paris, and, like London, mixed in with national politics too, nevertheless they manage to overcome all those obstacles to build a highly functional system. Because at the end of the day they do put city and nation first; they have a system that allows the competing interests and rivalries to be resolved. No such thing in the Anglosphere.
      Byford has experience in all four prime cities in the four Anglosphere countries. On political and transit experience he really is the best credentialed.


    You are spot on about bureaucrats being setup to fail. Basically politicians hire incompetent political managers. They yell at the bureaucrats which works for the moment, but becomes a toxic work environment and trains them to be un-empowered and wait for the whip, low level terror and apathy follow. The bureaucrats also know they also will not be fired, because nobody does anything anyway. Unfortunately the politicians that appoint the managers that run agencies can’t afford real talent anyway and frankly wouldn’t give anyone that is capable, enough power to actually make changes, so nobody would come from outside to run it or if they did, they would quickly leave. When they do hire outside the outsiders leave, disgusted with the culture they’re overseeing, without power to change it. Transforming these organizations, would require politicians recognizing people they appoint as equals and potential rivals later, and potentially pissing off special interest groups. Instead they hire incompetence to stay in control. Far too much power is given to local politicians in these matters. They’re not there to get anything done, they’re there to posture and get elected to a real office like Federal or State government.

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