TTC CEO Andy Byford says that his legacy in Toronto will ultimately depend on whether a “culture change” that he presided over stands the test of time.

Byford made the comment during a one-on-one exit interview with CTV News Toronto on Tuesday afternoon, in which he reflected on his time at the TTC ahead of his departure later this month. Byford is leaving the TTC to become the President and CEO of the New York Transit Authority.

“I would say that culture change is the thing I am most proud of. They key thing is that it needs to endure and be embedded, though I can’t see it sliding back to how it was,” he said. “I think you failed as a leader if you make a cultural transformation that only survives as long as you were there. So I would like someone to continue that and focus on getting excellent performance not through coercion but through a highly-motivated, highly-trained and positive workforce that does things because they understand why it is important.”

During his time at the TTC, Byford was instrumental in the rollout of Presto and also helped to get the Toronto–York Spadina Subway Extension back on track following a myriad of cost overruns and delays that ultimately led to the dismissal of two senior employees.

The subway extension is set to be fully operational on Dec. 17.

Byford told CTV News Toronto that his biggest accomplishment may be the presence of a workforce that increasingly takes pride in what they are doing.

He said that a 10,000 employee workforce has been a big part in improved customer satisfaction numbers, which now exceed the 80 per cent threshold.

“I am hugely encouraged by talking to frontline members of staff who tell me that they definitely feel that the prevailing culture at the TTC has changed to be one that acknowledges rewards and recognizes the decent majority while not letting the errant few of the hook,” he said. “I went to my training centre the other day and the trainers said they have noticed a remarkable transformation in the attitude and approach of not only new recruits but also people who have done 10, 20 or even 30 years and who are doing the recertification and are super engaged and very much up for the modernization of the TTC.”

Byford leaves Toronto with ‘heavy heart’

Byford’s upcoming departure comes as a five-year plan for the transformation of the TTC comes to an end.

Though he said that he never put that plan in place with his exit mind, he did concede that its completion is “one of the reasons” that he feels it is an appropriate time for him to move on.

He said that he leaves the TTC with a “heavy heart” but confident in the fact that it is headed in the right direction.

“I will always remember the TTC and I will always have happy memories of living in Toronto and working here,” he told CTV Toronto.

Taking over a scandal-plagued transit system

Byford will join the New York Transit Authority at a difficult time.

Last month, the system was the subject of a lengthy New York Times investigative report, documenting a “crisis” that the newspaper said has been brought to the forefront by chronic underfunding and a “drumbeat of transit disasters this year.”

Though the scale of the issues in New York may be at another level than the ones he dealt with in Toronto, Byford told CTV Toronto that some of the issues faced by the TTC have “huger parallels” with the issues in New York, most notably the challenge of “limited investment and aging infrastructure” at a time of rising customer expectations.

He also pointed out that the per-rider subsidy given to the New York system is higher than that given to the TTC, which actually receives the lowest per-rider subsidy of any transit system in North America.

“I am going to New York with my eyes open. I know that it is a tough gig and that there is a lots to do there. Their subway in particular has really struggled over recent years. The politics are pretty intense and the media scrutiny is going to be super intense but I have done my due diligence and I am really up for the challenge,” he said.

TTC Deputy CEO Rick Leary has been appointed to take over Byford’s job on an interim basis as of Dec. 22.