Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to reshape the MTA leadership didn’t work out exactly the way he wanted – but he installs one of his picks on the turbulent transit agency for now.

Janno Lieber will serve as vice chairman and CEO, Cuomo said Thursday, even as he urges state lawmakers to split the top positions. The governor had proposed that the titles be split between Lieber, currently head of MTA construction and development, and Sarah Feinberg, the outgoing interim chief of New York City Transit.

Dear, a respected construction and government veteran who is credited with keeping transit improvement projects going during troubled times, has been with the MTA since 2017. Previously, he led Silverstein Properties’ efforts to rebuild the World Trade Center site for over a decade.

He takes the job while the MTA struggles to recover from a pandemic that saw rider numbers drop by more than 90% in the past year and a labor shortage that has affected subway and bus travel.

“At this critical time in the state’s history, I believe the best long-term approach to running the MTA is to have two strong, experienced leaders at the top,” Cuomo said in a statement.

But with laws that would make Lieber CEO and Feinberg MTA chairman – and with current chairman Patrick Foye, who is leaving office after a little over two years – Cuomo was obliged to fill the top job under state law.

“World-class talent” wanted

The reorganization leaves another vacancy at the helm of New York City Transit, the MTA’s subway, bus, and paratransit division that has served five presidents in less than a decade. Feinberg had been in the role on an interim basis since February 2020 after the popular Andy “Train Daddy” Byford resigned after repeated clashes with Cuomo.

“The open question now is New York City Transit,” said Rachael Fauss, senior research analyst at Reinvent Albany, a watchdog group. “It will be important that it has independent, stable leadership.”

John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union and board member of MTA, told THE CITY that Lieber needed a “service delivery expert” to replace Feinberg, who has a government and communications background.

“Here’s the riddle for you: you will have a hard time attracting world-class talent to New York City Transit after Byford was so mistreated and driven out of town,” said Samuelsen. “What would have been considered one of the best jobs in the global transportation industry has lost its luster with this abuse.”

MTA staff repair a broken elevator at the Fulton Transit Center, July 21, 2021. Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

Lisa Daglian, head of the MTA’s Permanent Citizens’ Council, praised Feinberg for “dedicated and focused leadership” during the transit agency’s darkest pandemic days, but said that a substitute had to be named as soon as possible.

“There are very talented people at New York City Transit who are certainly able to serve up to the appointment of a permanent president,” said Daglian.

Feinberg retained the “interim” title throughout her tenure as head of New York City Transit and Lieber has now added “acting” to his existing titles.

“It is an appalling condition that so many people are temporary and so much talent is left,” said a traffic source that refused to be named.

Stay on the trail

Better to take on the top job at the MTA after receiving praise for keeping hundreds of construction projects going during the pandemic, including improving accessibility at 11 subway stations. He was also instrumental in shaping the Transportation Department’s next $ 51.5 billion capital plan.

The five-year plan that Lieber unveiled in 2019 focused on improving accessibility for passengers with disabilities, upgrading signals along sections of several metro lines, and improving the metro car fleet.

MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber (right) and Governor Andrew Cuomo will tour the East Side Access Station under Grand Central Terminal on May 27, 2021.

Janno Lieber (right) and Governor Andrew Cuomo take a tour of the East Side Access Station under the Grand Central Terminal, May 27, 2021. Kevin P. Coughlin / Governor Cuomo’s Office

Lieber is an advocate of working more closely with private companies and city authorities to bring more MTA stations into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Our team has been working with City Planning for a number of years,” said Lieber in March. “We think it’s very exciting because it could allow elevators and ADA access at an additional pace.”

Lawyers and MTA insiders praised Lieber for his work on transport construction projects.

“He’s someone who can step in and tackle difficult things right away without a huge learning curve,” said Danny Pearlstein, policy director at Riders Alliance, an advocacy organization. “The work he’s done to cut elevator construction costs, signal repairs, these are the things that drivers need most.”

The MTA suffered more than 160 employee deaths during the pandemic and is facing possible service cuts due to subway, bus and subway passenger traffic, which has remained well below pre-pandemic levels.

The cuts, which the MTA has labeled “right sizing,” could come through 2023 despite receiving more than $ 14 billion in federal COVID aid.

“We are still facing a crisis on several fronts,” Pearlstein told THE CITY. “Service delivery is a big deal because it puts people in transit and keeps them there.”