As New York’s subway system, the nation’s largest, emerges from the throes of a pandemic that has drained it of millions of riders and the fares they pay, it will have a new permanent boss for the first times in more than two years.
Richard A. Davey, a former Massachusetts transportation secretary who once ran Boston’s public transit system, was named next Wednesday president of New York City Transit, the agency that runs the city’s subways and buses and is a division of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. .
Mr Davey, 48, who currently advises transit systems around the world as a partner in the Boston Consulting Group, will take the reins at one of the toughest times in the subway’s 117-year history, as he faces an existential question: How many of his pre-pandemic runners will return, and when?
As New York continues to take cautious steps toward post-pandemic normalcy, senior officials from the governor to the mayor to top business leaders agree that a vital and robust subway is crucial to the economy of the region and its recovery.
In an interview, Davey, who will take over the transit agency on May 2, acknowledged the challenges but said the central role the subway and buses play in the city is something that attracted him to this position.
“New York is a city that depends so much on its public transit system,” he said. “And if the public transit system doesn’t work, then New York doesn’t work.”
His first priority, he added, will be to increase ridership and bring back users whose fares are crucial to financing the operation of the métro.
Prior to March 2020, the New York City subway carried approximately 5.5 million people on an average weekday. When shutdown orders sent students and workers home, left others unemployed and kept tourists away, subway ridership dropped by more than 90%. The bus system, whose passengers are more likely to come from low-income neighborhoods, minorities or immigrants, has seen its ridership drop nearly 80%.
More than two years later, the system is still struggling. Last week, the metro hovered around 58% of pre-pandemic ridership, while bus ridership was around 62%. According to current projections, metro ridership is not expected to reach 86% of pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
New York State Subway
But with more and more companies embracing a hybrid work schedule, many of the riders who begin to fill public transport again will no longer be typical five-day-a-week commuters.
Depressed ridership created a looming financial crisis for the transit agency. Before the pandemic, the MTA derived 38% of its revenue from fares, a relatively high percentage compared to other major U.S. transit systems.
Although federal pandemic aid has helped the transportation authority postpone fare increases and avoid drastic service cuts, its latest financial plan projects a $500 million shortfall in 2025 that will reach about $2 billion. dollars in 2026.
Janno Lieber, president and CEO of the MTA, said worsening system problems had led the agency to seek someone experienced in operating a complex transit system, resistance to political debates and solving financial problems.
“We face a new reality as we emerge from the pandemic,” Mr. Lieber said. “And it’s a good time to have someone who saw things broadly.”
The MTA cannot force a return to daily travel. But Mr Davey said he planned to focus on factors within his control: reliable service, public safety and trust in the system.
“We can’t tell employers to bring employees back,” he said. “But on the other hand, if the employees don’t feel safe or if we don’t provide good service, they won’t want to come back.”
While running the Boston system, Mr Davey was criticized for implementing fares that transit advocates say burden the working class and the elderly and for not doing enough to reduce delays. Working in the private sector for the past few years, Mr. Davey has focused on transportation issues, but he hasn’t overseen the day-to-day operations of a transit agency for a decade.
Although he has spent most of his life in Massachusetts, Mr. Davey is not inexperienced with New York’s public transit system. He worked at a Manhattan law firm from 1999 to 2002 and commuted daily by subway from the Upper East Side.
In 2003, he began working for the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company in Boston, which operated the Boston area commuter rail system.
After becoming chief executive there, Davey was hired in 2010 to lead the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the public transit system serving greater Boston.
New York’s transit system dwarfs Boston’s. When Mr. Davey was in charge, he oversaw about 6,000 employees, and Boston’s subways, buses and trains carried about 1.3 million passengers each weekday.
But Mr Davey said he believed the two systems were also similar.
“Boston and New York are the oldest systems in the United States,” he said. “So maintenance and lack of capital investment were some of the big issues there.”
While leading the MBTA, Mr Davey added subway countdown clocks and apps to show passengers when the next bus would arrive. He used federal stimulus money to repair aging stations and tracks.
He has also built a reputation for talking to riders and listening to their complaints. Mr. Davey ditched his car more than a decade ago and relied on Boston’s public transit system to get around. “He’s come out more than any general manager we’ve ever seen,” a watchdog group told Boston.com in 2011.
Mr. Davey is also no stranger to leading a transit organization caught in the political crossfire. By the time he ran Boston’s system, elected officials, including governors and mayors, had made fiscal decisions for years that reinforced their policy priorities but left the transit system without money for upgrades. .
New York City Transit faced similar headwinds. The agency has been without a permanent head since February 2020, when then-head Andy Byford resigned after repeated clashes with former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.
Like Mr Davey, Mr Byford took charge of the Metro at a time of crisis, when years of political and financial neglect had made the service unreliable and led Mr Cuomo to declare a state of emergency on the system.
When Mr Byford left two years later, he was widely praised for helping to reverse the decline of the system.
Mr. Davey had a generally positive working relationship with Boston’s mayor and governor; they both backed his eventual leadership of the city’s failed bid for the 2024 Olympics.
But at the transit agency and as Massachusetts transportation secretary from 2011 to 2014, he lobbied for politically unpopular policies.
Among them was an effort that led to a gas tax hike to help fund public transit and repair roads, and fare increases that Davey said were needed to make up for shortfalls. MBTA’s financial resources while maintaining service at acceptable levels for customers.
“Mass transit plays a very important role in state and regional politics,” Lieber said of Davey’s experience in Boston. “And Rich participated in that.”
In New York, Mr Davey said he would try to minimize fare increases and service reductions, but would explore adjusting subway operations and bus routes to changing habits. footfall as the city emerges from the pandemic.
Mr. Davey will also approach the work from the perspective of someone who has studied public transit systems around the world, including New York City. In 2017, as a consultant, he worked on the Subway Action Plan, an $800 million bailout for emergency repairs that helped stabilize the system.