Nearly 6 Months on the Job, the Subway Chief Finally Meets the Mayor

For practically six months, the mayor of New York City didn’t meet with the man liable for fixing his metropolis’s failing subway. In reality, Mayor Bill de Blasio had not even spoken with Andy Byford, the subway’s chief, since Mr. Byford arrived in New York in January.

On Tuesday, the two lastly met at City Hall.

It might sound odd that Mr. de Blasio didn’t name Mr. Byford the first time the subway melted down on his watch or the dozens of instances since then that the system unraveled, leaving a lot of its practically six million day by day riders stranded.

But that is New York, and the politics surrounding the subway are virtually as dysfunctional as the system itself.

The indisputable fact that Mr. Byford had not heard from the mayor — revealed in a recent article in The New Yorker — was surprising to some subway riders and even to Mr. Byford himself. “Bit weird,” he stated. “I should ring him up.”

“The mayor should be rooting for Byford along with the rest of us,” stated Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, including assembly could be a “gesture of good will.”

Shortly earlier than three p.m. on Tuesday, Mr. Byford climbed the steps to City Hall trailed by a phalanx of cameras. Mr. Byford stated the hourlong assembly went properly and so they mentioned Mr. Byford’s formidable plan to overtake the subway.

“I pushed him very hard on the need for funding over the next 10 years and the need for there to be substantial contributions from the city,” Mr. Byford advised reporters after the assembly, noting that he and Mr. de Blasio agreed to common conferences — not less than 4 instances a yr.

The radio silence from Mr. de Blasio earlier than Tuesday had prompted one other acquainted spherical of finger-pointing between Mr. de Blasio and his inescapable foe Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The mayor’s workplace stated that members of Mr. de Blasio’s administration had spoken with Mr. Byford and that it was Mr. Cuomo’s obligation to repair the subway as a result of he controls the system.

“If the suggestion is that the mayor and Mr. Byford splitting a croissant at some point would have a governor-run system fixed, I’m skeptical of that logic,” the mayor’s spokesman, Eric Phillips, stated in a press release earlier than the assembly.

There have been no croissants at Tuesday’s assembly, however there was a bowl of Hershey’s candies and dialogue over the World Cup, the mayor’s workplace stated. The mayor reiterated his help for a tax on rich New Yorkers to pay for subway enhancements.

“The Mayor pledged his support for Mr. Byford” and his subway overhaul plan, the mayor’s workplace stated, and wished him “success in his challenging mission.”

Still, Mr. Cuomo had criticized Mr. de Blasio for not caring about the “lifeblood of the city.”

Mr. Cuomo told reporters final week, “The fact that he hasn’t met with Mr. Byford is consistent with his total removal from the New York City subway system.”

Even James S. Oddo, the Staten Island borough president, stated he had met with Mr. Byford, who additionally oversees buses and paratransit operations, although Mr. Oddo represents the solely borough with out a subway cease.

“I have had numerous conversations with Andy Byford, in person and on the phone,” Mr. Oddo said on Twitter. “And we (Staten Island) don’t even have a subway.”

It is true that Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat who is likely to be contemplating a presidential run in 2020, controls the subway. It can be true that Mr. de Blasio, who can be a Democrat, has been blissful to let him take the warmth for the subway disaster.

But subway leaders and mayors have typically labored collectively, particularly throughout moments of disaster or on essential initiatives. During the system’s nadir in the 1980s, Richard Ravitch, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s chairman, met commonly with then-mayor Edward I. Koch. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg supplied to pay for the 7 line extension to Hudson Yards on the Far West Side of Manhattan and joined transit officials for an inaugural journey earlier than he left workplace.

For New Yorkers who rely on the subway, the fixed delays are maddening. Nearly a yr after the authority started work on an emergency “Subway Action Plan” to make fast fixes to the system, there isn’t any clear proof that service is enhancing. Mr. Cuomo is now attempting to tug Mr. de Blasio into paying for a big piece of Mr. Byford’s ambitious overhaul plan, which he unveiled in May, that would value $19 billion over its first 5 years.

Stuck in the center is Mr. Byford, an affable Brit who’s extensively revered amongst rail specialists and gained reward in his earlier job working Toronto’s transit community. One M.T.A. board member joked that Mr. Byford was Superman — hellbent on saving the subway — and his kryptonite was New York’s thorny politics.

The mayor’s workplace stated it had reached out to Mr. Byford on May 9 to schedule a gathering — earlier than the publication of The New Yorker article — nevertheless it had taken some time to arrange a gathering. Last week, Mr. Byford needed to reiterate his help from the governor after the article talked about that Mr. Byford additionally lately had bother getting a gathering with Mr. Cuomo.

“The governor interviewed me and hired me,” Mr. Byford stated. “I meet with the governor often; I speak with him regularly. The governor fully supports the Fast Forward plan, which we are extremely happy about.”

Mr. Byford’s puzzlement over the mayor’s response is smart. In Toronto and London — the two different main cities the place he has labored — the mayors primarily run the subway.

In New York, the governor has managed the transportation authority since the 1960s. Mr. Cuomo, nevertheless, has taken an unusually hands-on function at the company, changing into carefully concerned in its operations and capital initiatives.

The mayor’s detachment is a bit uncommon, particularly given the subway’s dismal state. Mr. Ravitch, who helped flip the subway round, stated he commonly had dinner with Mr. Koch. The males have been pleasant, even when they criticized one another in public.

“That was a totally different relationship,” Mr. Ravitch stated. “It was collegial.”

Mr. Ravitch, who later served as lieutenant governor and has consulted with transit leaders in the previous, stated Mr. Byford had made no efforts to satisfy with him — an invitation he would fortunately settle for. The system wants extra money, however elected leaders are detest to approve a brand new funding stream, Mr. Ravitch stated.

“No politician likes to enact taxes,” Mr. Ravitch stated.

Transit teams have repeatedly tried to extend the stress on Mr. Cuomo, who has stated he desires to pay for Mr. Byford’s plan by persuading state lawmakers to approve congestion pricing — a proposal to toll drivers getting into the busiest corridors of Manhattan.

John Raskin, the government director of the Riders Alliance, an advocacy group, stated subway riders do not likely care when Mr. Byford meets with Mr. de Blasio.

“There’s symbolic value to the mayor meeting with the guy who runs the subway,” he stated. “But the mayor can’t actually fix the subway. The governor can.”

Follow Emma G. Fitzsimmons on Twitter: @emmagf

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