Acting New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg was nominated by Governor Andrew Cuomo to become the new chairperson of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Monday, making her the first woman to lead the massive state agency, according to officials.
Cuomo’s move, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal and confirmed to amNewYork Metro by a senior MTA official, also includes nominating the Authority’s chief development officer Janno Lieber as chief executive officer.
“I am thrilled to be stepping into a position that allows me to continue to play a significant role in how our subway and bus systems operate, but to also have even more of an impact in shaping the future of the agency, and of transportation in this city and region,” said Feinberg in a statement. “There should be no higher priority than ensuring we are doing all we can to bring ridership back – and as ridership comes back, so will the city’s economic recovery.”
The changes will take effect on July 30, if approved by the state legislature. Cuomo, who controls the MTA, sent a bill to lawmakers Monday night splitting in two the role currently held by MTA chairman and chief executive officer Pat Foye.
Feinberg currently serves as interim president of NYCT, overseeing the city’s subways and buses, a role she took over from former “train daddy” Andy Byford in March 2020. It is not yet known who will take over Feinberg’s role heading up the city’s transit system, as the MTA is still searching for a replacement, the senior official said.
Foye is expected to take over as interim president of the state’s economic development arm, Empire State Development, according to the official.
As chairperson of the MTA board, Feinberg will take on a more political role of overseeing the monthly meetings and steering policy for the agency, while Lieber as CEO will manage the agency’s day-to-day operations, the MTA official said.
Lieber will continue to hold on to his current positions responsible for capital planning and projects across the MTA, as well as its real estate department.
“Sarah, Janno and Pat are not only fiercely dedicated public servants, but proven leaders who kept the metropolitan region’s transportation network operating efficiently through the worst public health crisis in a generation, and thanks to their tireless efforts, our essential workers were able to get to their destinations and help save lives,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Moreover, they oversaw and pushed through historic change and construction progress across the MTA, giving the system the upgrades that will better serve riders for generations. On behalf of all New Yorkers, I thank all three of them for their ongoing service and have full confidence they will continue to work their hearts out in their new roles.”
Feinberg took over the helm of the city transit division after the departure of Andy Byford last year, just as the pandemic tore through the city and ridership plummeted by more than 90%.
The transit gurus will face the challenge of brining more riders back as the MTA still relies on almost $15 billion in federal COVID-19 relief to balance its budget.
In response to the nominations, the executive director of the transit advocacy group Riders Alliance released a statement Tuesday calling on the newly-proposed MTA bigs to focus on getting the public transportation system back on track as riders return.
“Governor Cuomo is responsible for providing New York’s millions of riders with fast, frequent, and affordable public transit service. It’s also his job to fix the subway, making it reliable and accessible to all New Yorker,” said Betsy Plum. “The governor’s new leadership at the MTA needs to focus on the basics: Upgrading subway signals, making stations accessible, and delivering seamless public transit service to the millions of riders who need it now and the many more returning each day.”
Riders Alliance activists rallied with politicians and accessibility advocates in the Bronx Monday calling on President Joe Biden to add $20 billion in federal funding to help the MTA, along with a $3 billion annual boost to transit coffers.
However, the Governor’s late-night maneuver irked the government watchdog group Reinvent Albany, which in a statement released Tuesday called on state lawmakers to reject the bill to split the leadership position in two.
“Given the massive scandals once again rocking Albany, we would find it stunning if the legislature would make a backroom, last minute deal nullifying a major reform championed by one of the leaders that brought the MTA out of its historic decline. The endless politicization of MTA governance needs to stop,” the group’s statement read.
The unified leadership position was restored in 2009 after a commission under former MTA board chairman Richard Ravitch found splitting that the two left the term-limited chairperson role with limited authority over the agency, while the other job — then called an executive director — was more akin to a head of a state agency without accountability to the MTA’s board.
“The Ravitch report recommended that an independent Chairman lead the MTA board, and the board have the authority to appoint a CEO — what is considered a best practice for corporate boards in the private sector,” Reinvent Albany’s statement continued.