Who is Andy Byford, London’s new transport commissioner?

Andy Byford on a visit to Staten Island in 2018. (Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)

On Wednesday, Transport for London announced the name of its new commissioner. Andy Byford, who most recently served as president of the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA), will take over as London’s top transport official on 29 June. 

So – who is Byford? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is Byford’s background?

Andy Byford, who was born in Kent in 1965 and grew up in Plymouth, has transport in his blood: his grandfather drove a London bus, and his father worked for London Transport. 

Byford himself joined the agency as a graduate trainee in 1989, and rose to be general manager of King’s Cross St Pancras, one of London’s busiest and most complicated tube stations. After leaving the agency, he spent three years apiece as operations director at two private rail operators serving London and its outskirts, South Eastern Trains and Southern Railway, before leaving the UK altogether in 2009.

What senior posts has he held?

Byford began his international career as COO of RailCorp, which runs Sydney’s commuter rail services. There, “he forged a reputation as a hands-on boss,” writes the Sydney Morning Herald, “spending time at stations and depots and often writing letters to the editor to apologise for late trains”.

He took a similar approach when he moved to Canada to head the Toronto Transit Commission in 2013, spending an entire day at Bloor-Yonge, the network’s busiest station, apologising to passengers for delays. His big intervention, though, was a five-year, system-wide plan to modernise the TTC’s culture, equipment and processes. It worked: in 2017, the agency was named Outstanding Transit System of the Year by the American Public Transportation Association (although one rather mean-spirited columnist compared this to winning the “most improved player” award on a school sports team).

And then came the big job.

What happened in New York?

In 2018, when Byford arrived as president of NYCTA, the city’s transport network was in trouble. Passenger numbers were falling, due to both the rise of ride-hailing apps as well as a 45% increase in hours lost to delays over just five years, a problem blamed on the city’s creaking, 1930s-era signalling systems.

NYCTA – which includes the Staten Island Railway and the buses, as well as the subway – was also beset by chronic under-funding, in large part thanks to a power struggle between New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (the MTA, of which the NYCTA is a part, is officially a state agency) and the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio (who, unsurprisingly, wanted more authority over his city's transit system). In June 2017, after delays left passengers stranded underground for hours during a heatwave and two trains derailed, injuring dozens, Cuomo went so far as to declare a state of emergency.

Byford again took a hands-on approach, and was often seen chatting with passengers or even cleaning subway stations. His visibility won him an unlikely fanbase, as well as the nickname "Train Daddy".

He soon launched "Fast Forward", a long-term programme to upgrade those 80-year-old signalling systems, implement contactless fare gates, upgrade 50 stations to be wheelchair accessible, and redesign the bus network.

Much of this work is still ongoing. But Byford himself clashed with Cuomo and felt himself sidelined. He resigned last autumn, changed his mind, and then finally left in January. In a mark of the unusual celebrity he’d built up for himself, the Guardian reported his departure under the headline, “A huge loss for New York”.

What will his job at TfL be?

Byford’s experience in New York should hold him in good stead for the situation he faces back in London. The Elizabeth Line, the 73-mile east-west railway that was meant to begin opening in December 2018, is now running at least three years late and 20% over budget. What’s more, TfL has been plunged into the red by the collapse in fare revenues caused by the coronavirus crisis, and the £1.6bn bailout it received from national government is likely to run out by September. 

It needs a new financial settlement. Attempts to arrange one, however, are all but certain to involve a power struggle between the mayor of London (whose office has held primarily responsibility for the city’s transport in recent years), and national government (which wants more oversight and which, not coincidentally, is run by a different party from the mayoralty). 

Fixing all this won’t be easy for anyone. But if anyone can, it’s the guy who’s worked in both Toronto (a network with a farebox-led financial model similar to London’s) and New York (an aging system at the centre of a vicious power struggle). His earlier experience at regional rail operators may also come in handy if TfL gets its wish of taking over more of London’s overground rail services, too.

What happened to the previous commissioner, Mike Brown?

Brown, who has been commissioner since July 2015, is actually still in post: he won’t step down until 10 July, two weeks into Byford’s tenure, to help with the transition. 

But he’s not done with multi-billion pound public investment programmes with enormous potential for controversy just yet. As announced last October, Brown is moving to a new job as chair of the delivery authority in charge of restoring the Houses of Parliament.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.



CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.

As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.