The head of Transport for London has resigned after just over two years in the job, a period marked by political controversy over the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the transport organisation’s finances.
TfL on Thursday said Andy Byford will leave for the US in October, where he spent two years running public transport in New York before returning to the UK in June 2020 to lead the capital’s transport authority.
Byford is well regarded by public transport chiefs and his resignation comes as a blow to them TfL.
He will leave having achieved two of the goals he set out when he joined: opening the long-delayed Elizabeth line and stabilizing TfL’s finances.
“For me, it’s not how long you’re in a job, it’s what you achieve and whether you leave it in a better state than you found it,” he told the Financial Times on Thursday.
TfL has been forced to survive for two years on short-term government funding deals amid bitter disagreements between ministers and Sadiq Khanthe Labor mayor of London.
But the government agreed long term deal at the end of last month which will allow the government to support the restoration of the transport network until March 2024.
Ministers agreed to inject around £1.2bn into capital and subsidize fare losses as passenger numbers recover more slowly than expected, bringing the total pledged to support TfL during the pandemic to more than £6bn.
But the deal includes tough clauses, including the need for TfL to find between £500bn and £1bn of new revenue-raising measures from April 2023.
Byford’s successor will also have to deal with controversial pension changes, which are expected to clash with unions.
Byford quit the New York Underground after falling out with political bosses and said his time in London was “overwhelming” with “almost non-stop negotiations”.
But he said that was not a factor in his decision to leave and return to North America for family reasons.
“Politics has been stressful, but I like it. . . no offense on my part,” he added.
He said Khan had offered TfL “tremendous” support and that the deal finally agreed with the government was “acceptable”.
One transport chief said the “mood music” between Khan’s mayor’s office and the government had improved since Liz Truss became prime minister and replaced Grant Shapps as transport secretary with Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
“Just when it seemed like a lull would come, [TfL] will be shocked that the commissioner is stepping down,” said Nick Bowes, chief executive of the Center for London think tank.
“There are still huge challenges ahead for TfL and the mayor will need to act as quickly as possible to get a new commissioner in place,” he added.
Byford first joined the London Underground in 1989 as a master at Regent’s Park station, and went on to hold senior positions at the public transport networks in Sydney and Toronto.
Andy Lord, TfL’s chief operating officer, will replace him on an interim basis.
Lord joined TfL in 2019 as head of London Underground and this year became chief operating officer for all TfL operations.
He spent nearly three decades in commercial aviation, including more than 25 years with British Airways.