New York City’s Subway Chief Discusses the Root Cause of Delays

Andy Byford, the new subway chief, wants to get to the root cause of what is causing overcrowding in trains. 

A subway train pulls out of the 14th Street station in Manhattan. Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

Andy Byford, the new head of the New York City Transit, wants to change the way that subway delays are categorized and said that overcrowding is not the “root cause” of those delays.

At the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board meeting on Tuesday, Byford, who took the helm in November 2017 after serving as CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission for five years, said he is currently looking at the manner in which subway delays are classified.

NYC Transit is an MTA agency that oversees New York City subways, buses, paratransit services and the Staten Island Railway. Byford is responsible for carrying out a subway action plan MTA Chairman Joe Lhota launched at the end of July.

“I’m reviewing how we categorize delays, including, and this came up at the last meeting, those delays that are lumped under that rather big, slightly—well not particularly meaningful part of overcrowding,” he said. “So I wanna see us really break that down.”

He argued that the best way to “truly” improve subway service is to figure out the “underlying root cause.”

“So therefore I don’t wanna just see overcrowding,” Byford continued. “I wanna see what caused that overcrowding or what was the absolute underlying root cause. So we’re dissecting all of that, we’re relooking at how we categorize delays.”

He noted he is reevaluating categories such as signal failures, contending that the signal is sometimes erroneously identified as the cause of a delay.

“We’re relooking at categories like, for example, signal failure,” Byford added. “Sometimes a misnomer, the signal hasn’t failed. It’s done its job in presenting the right aspect but what caused it to fail in the first place. That’s what we really should be getting to.”

During the meeting, Byford said he has had a busy four weeks in which he has met with various members of the City Council and attended numerous town halls, including one on the upcoming L train closure. He is also in the process of “getting together the beginnings of a bus strategy.”

“Performance is nowhere near good enough, and we’re still struggling with far too many interruptions to service on the subway in particular and just today [Tuesday], we’ve got these problems that have plagued the N, R and the W lines on 59th and 5th Street which… I believe imminently should be fixed,” Byford said. “But that has wrecked people’s morning commutes, so obviously we’re not too happy about that, and we’re now looking into what actually happened there which led to us ending up with blank signals and trains having to strip by.”

And he is in the process of looking at how to revamp NYC Transit, stating that his goal is a “more streamlined, less bureaucratic, more fleet afoot organization” that will allow him to “achieve still more progress.”

“We’re having a comprehensive review pretty much from a blank sheet of paper but designing an organization that puts the customer at the center of everything we do and that aims to get better, exponentially better, at every aspect of our business,” he continued.

New York City’s Subway Chief Discusses the Root Cause of Delays