The people mover
On the podcast: Andy Byford has run three of the world's biggest subway systems. What's he going to do for an encore?
One theme I like to explore in my choice of interview subjects is simple competence. I’ve always been fascinated by people who are good at their work. Goodness knows we hear enough from the other kind. And one sign of competence is transferable skills: if somebody can take what they were doing to another venue, it suggests that maybe, any success they had the first time isn’t just a fluke.
Which brings us to Andy Byford. He ran Toronto’s subway system for five years. And then he left to run the New York City Transit Authority. And then he left to run Transport for London. It hasn’t always been fun: he quit in New York after the state’s then-governor, Andrew Cuomo, started undermining and second-guessing Byford’s management. And there was never a plan to any of it. He ended up running London’s legendary Tube because he needed to go home to England to renew his visa for the U.S. — and then he was stuck there because of the early COVID lockdowns.
Mass transit is a huge part of city budgets, of citizens’ lives, and increasingly, of our politics: one of the less often-discussed dividing lines in North American politics is between people who drive to work and people who take transit. In last year’s Ontario election, the Liberals tried to build their comeback on making transit cheaper for consumers; the Conservatives preferred to build highways. It went better for the Conservatives. Byford, who has never owned a car, had interesting things to say about this dividing line in our interview. He had interesting things to say about just about everything. He came ready to talk, this guy, and the result is a fascinating glimpse into the world beneath (some of) our feet.
Here’s this week’s episode of The Paul Wells Show on Apple Podcasts:
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The Founding Sponsor of The Paul Wells Show is Telus. Our Title Sponsor is Compass Rose. I’m grateful for the support they all provide. In Toronto, I’m the inaugural Journalist Fellow-in-Residence at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. Our Ottawa partner is the National Arts Centre. Antica Productions handles production for the podcast. The Toronto Star and iPolitics distribute and promote The Paul Wells Show.
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Come to Ottawa! The biggest challenge of all!
Sounds like a good person to appoint to a commission to investigate LRT WTF.