It took nearly six months on the job, but the head of the city’s subway system finally met with Mayor Bill de Blasio.
NYC Transit president Andy Byford and de Blasio convened a transit summit for 90 minutes on Tuesday afternoon — their first meeting since Byford joined the MTA in January.
The two discussed the L train shutdown, transit funding and the merits of the MTA’s Fast Forward plan to rescue subway and bus service. They agreed to begin meeting quarterly and establish a joint working group to improve collaboration between the city and the state-run MTA.
“We had productive discussions and we talked about a raft of issues that are of mutual importance,” Byford said during a City Hall news conference after the meeting.
Byford added that he stressed the need for the city to provide part of the funding for his Fast Forward plan, a 10-year vision to modernize service, and will continue pressing that point in subsequent meetings.
“This needs to be the start of a conversation. And I’m certainly not going to let up. I’m certainly not going to let anyone off the hook. That funding conversation needs to continue,” Byford said.
The fact that the mayor had not yet met with Byford was revealed in a New Yorker profile published last week, where Byford called the lack of face time a “bit weird.” While Gov. Andrew Cuomo controls the MTA, the city’s policies have an impact on subway and bus service — especially the latter.
Even without the two convening, de Blasio’s administration meets with Byford and the MTA on a “regular” basis, according to Byford.
But the news played into criticism from transit experts and advocates that de Blasio does not do enough to fight for transit improvements. De Blasio reasoned at an unrelated news conference earlier in the day that he shouldn’t dedicate as much of his time to an agency he doesn’t control.
Besides, the mayor said, even Byford can’t steer the fate of the MTA. That’s up to state lawmakers who can establish new revenue streams through the likes of congestion pricing, or, as the mayor prefers, a new tax on millionaires.
“Mr. Byford is not the person who can solve the problem. Only in Albany can the problem be solved,” said de Blasio, on the underfunding of the MTA. “Until he has a regular revenue stream, this is all a charade. We’ve got to fix the underlying problem. He doesn’t make that decision. The governor and the legislature make that decision.”
But Byford argues that the MTA needs an infusion of capital funding from the city, the state and elsewhere to help pay for Fast Forward. De Blasio believes Byford’s improvement plan is the best way to rescue failing subway and bus service, which has suffered from a decline in reliability and a drop in ridership even as the city’s population surges. Now, all Byford needs to do is convince him to help pay for it.
“Mr. Byford discussed the need to fully fund his plan, and emphasized that he was asking all elected officials to help him find a sustainable funding source,” a City Hall readout on the meeting dictated. “The Mayor pledged his support for Mr. Byford and his ‘Fast Forward’ plan, before wishing the Transit President success in his challenging mission.”
John Raskin, the executive director of the advocacy group Riders Alliance, said there was little more than “symbolic” value in the mayor meeting with the MTA’s transit president.
“There’s a role for the MTA. There’s a role for the city. But we’re never going to be able to fix our transportation challenges without the leadership of the governor and the active support of the state legislature,” Raskin said.