Transit boss Byford ‘very confident’ Fast Forward subway plan will get funding

NYC Transit president Andy Byford said Thursday that he was “very confident” his plan to overhaul the subways and bus network will get funded, despite the “very challenging political climate” in New York.

The plan, called Fast Forward, outlines a five-year and 10-yar road map to modernize the subway’s aging signal, overhaul the bus network, dramatically increase wheelchair accessibility in subways and improve the corporate culture at the state-controlled authority. The plan is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars, though MTA officials said it has not yet calculated a specific price tag.

“I’m very confident that we will find funding to deliver this plan. I think everyone in New York knows that do[ing] nothing is not an option,” said Byford, after touting the plan in front of civic and business leaders in Manhattan on Thursday. He remained upbeat, and kept out of the political fray in front of the press.

While the plan received widespread praise from transportation experts, advocates and the MTA’s board at its unveiling Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, two expected sources of funding, immediately began sparring over giving the MTA more money.

“It’s a very challenging political environment, but so was Toronto …,” Byford continued. “So I’m used to robust political debate. I think it’s good that politicians are interested in transit, that the citizens are interested in transit. We’ve all got a stake in it. So my job isn’t to get involved in the politics it’s to provide honest, straight advice; to speak truth to power; to say what needs to be done to give my professional opinion.”

When questioned about the plan after its release Wednesday, neither Cuomo nor de Blasio offered rousing support. De Blasio’s spokesman said the city was unwilling to put money toward the plan, even before seeing it in whole. The governor said he hadn’t reviewed Byford’s strategy, though it would have to be “realistic.” Cuomo added that there must be new, faster-to-install subway signal technology in the age of self-driving cars.

Initiatives for the first five-year forecast of Fast Forward will be outlined in the MTA’s next five-year capital plan for 2020-2024, which typically is supported by funding from both the city and the state governments. Some board members called for an increase in spending toward the MTA’s capital projects, especially now that there’s a clear-eyed vision for improvement.

“I think we need to dispel this fallacy that . . . basically $3.6 billion a year is enough to fund the needs of our transit system; it is not,” board member Veronica Vanterpool said on Wednesday. “We as a public have been falsely conditioned to think that is the right and adequate and sufficient amount of money to address the capital needs of this system; it is not.”

Byford, who arrived in New York to head the NYC Transit division in January, feels multiple new sources of revenue — not just something like congestion pricing — would be needed to fix the agency’s problems.

“No single funding source is going to fix this,” Byford said. “I don’t think there’s a single panacea — you know, congestion charge: ‘Good, job done. We’ve sorted it.’ I think it’s going to be a package of measures.”