“While I accept that politicians represent the people and that they hold the purse strings, sometimes you just need to give the experts the time and space to do what needs to be done.”
Operating a metro, buses, streetcars, paratransit and rapid transit services the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) runs the third largest transit network in North America. With its history spanning back to 1921, TTC now serves 540 million passengers a year. It offers passengers a reliable service which embraces the door-to-door ethos – running special services for the elderly and disabled – which has been a key challenge for many transit agencies. So, who is in charge of putting the customer at the heart of its services? This job lays in the capable hands of TTC’s Chief Executive Officer, Andy Byford. Byford recently took some time to talk to SmartRail World reporter, Sarah Wright about his experience of the industry, the challenges of budgeting and his fundamental part in the modernisation of the TTC. What drives Byford to bring about change for his customers and the commission? Let’s find out…
SW: How did you get into the transport industry?
Andy Byford (AB): As a kid growing up in the English navy city of Plymouth, I toyed with joining the Royal Navy from school but I ended up going to university instead. Upon graduating, I went to a careers fair and made a beeline for the London Transport stand as both my grandfather (a bus driver for 40 years) and my father worked there. I liked the sound of a career in operations/customer service and here I am, 27 years later!
SW: What do like most about your job?
AB: The opportunity to improve things in an industry that is the life blood of a city. It gives me immense satisfaction to know that, on most days, my team has got millions of people from A to B safely and without delays. I joined the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) because I knew it would be good for my development. As a career railwayman, I knew a lot about subways but the TTC runs buses, para-trans service, streetcar and light rail too! It was also in desperate need of top to bottom modernization, a 24/7 challenge that is exhilarating and frustrating in equal measure.
SW: What is the biggest challenge in your role?
AB: Politics. Toronto is without question, the most political environment in which I have ever worked – and that’s saying something after London and Sydney. While I accept that politicians represent the people and that they hold the purse strings, sometimes you just need to give the experts the time and space to do what needs to be done.
SW: What will be some of the biggest differences between transport now and in 10 years’ time?
AB: More automation, more use of autonomous vehicles and revised travel patterns as citizens increasingly embrace new technology and ways of working.
SW: What’s your favourite rail journey?
AB: Without doubt, the Great Western Main Line where it runs between Starcross and Teignmouth on the way to Plymouth in Devon. The railway is perched right next to the English Channel, navigating a series of tunnels hewn by the legendary engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. On rough days, waves actually buffet passing trains!
SW: Thank you Andy for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us, we look forward to hearing from you at SmartMetro!
Interested to know how Andy Byford helped with the modernisation of the Toronto Transit Commission? Join him at SmartMetro in Copenhagen this November where he will be joining us as an expert speaker. Find out more here.
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