[An open letter to the new President and CEO of New York City Transit, Andy Byford]
Welcome to South of the Border. Suggestions on going native:
- Minimize your time in the executive suite and in chauffeured cars, and get out into the bus maintenance shops, subway stations and street corners. MTA’s customers and workforce are both demoralized. Talk with them frankly. Repairing the physical infrastructure requires repairing the human bonds of public confidence.
- The honesty of your personal conversations with riders must be systematically instilled throughout the MTA, by steps like opening up more of the agency’s performance data metrics to public scrutiny, or daylighting the fiscal bad habits that led to uncontrolled costs and debt. You must change the organizational culture of the MTA in order to fix the tracks.
- Don’t accept the chronic excuses you’ll hear. Use your experience to debunk them. “Our system is unreliable because it is old.” No excuse: As you know personally, London’s system is older, but works well. “Our costs are exorbitant because New York is expensive.” No excuse: Zurich and Tokyo are more expensive, but have lower transit construction and operations costs. “New York is just different.” OK, that statement is true, but not when used as an excuse for why our transit is bad – instead, our exceptionalism should equate to New York being the best in transit, just like we’re the best in the arts, crime reduction, or World Series rings.
- Remember the bus. Elite opinion focuses on subway woes, but over two million New Yorkers suffer miserably slow, unreliable bus rides every day. Many fixes, like exclusive lanes and boarding through all doors, can be instituted relatively quickly, with big return on investment. You know that too, because London (like Seoul and others) did it.
- Stand your ground with the other Andy. We’re all excited by your skills, Andy B., but it’s still Andy C., up in Albany, who controls the MTA. As a transit professional, and most importantly as a servant of the public at large, you should demand the Governor grant you and your agency the latitude and resources you need to do your job.