It’s peak morning rush hour at the 23rd Street station on the 1 line, and Andy Byford can’t help himself. He’s so detail-obsessed that he is in danger of being trampled by fast-moving straphangers as they rush for their train.
The recently installed president of the New York City Transit Authority bends down to pick up scattered copies of Metro newspapers and place them neatly back on their rack. He points to the floorboards at the 23rd Street station that are fading.
“We could paint those black and at least show customers that we are on top of the details,” he says while pointing out a dingy stairwell. “It’s grubby, just not acceptable.”
When he stops dead in his tracks to stare at a jumble of crisscrossed yellow safety tape precariously holding together a broken barrier (“That looks so hokey. We need to change it!” he says), one commuter angrily shoves him from the back.
“Move!” he barks at the startled Byford, who is clearly not yet accustomed to the sharp elbows of his newly adopted city.
Byford, 52, hails from England, and his Commonwealth manners are impeccable.
“I’m so sorry,” he mutters, slightly rattled by the experience.
It’s a reflex apology, and it’s addressed to no one in particular because the exasperated commuter has already maneuvered around him, hell-bent on catching his train.
Dressed in a black suit under his Canada Goose parka and sporting the worn black leather shoes that have seen him through his previous tour of heading up the transit system in Canada’s largest city, the lanky Byford has the air of a mild-mannered accountant heading to a Midtown office.
But it’s the bold blue and white oversize name tag pinned to his coat that gives him away. “Andy Byford, President New York City Transit,” it reads.
Last month, as he set out to observe the morning rush-hour commute in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Byford was greeted by some as the subway messiah, the man who would finally fix the New York City commute. Smiling riders approached him to shake his hand and wish him well.
That same morning, as he stood near a subway station in East New York, a passing motorist honked and yelled out, “Good luck! We really need you!”