Sarah Feinberg will be nominated to become the first woman to lead the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the largest public transit system in North America, responsible for running New York City’s subway, buses and two commuter train lines, transit officials said on Tuesday.
Ms. Feinberg, 42, a close ally of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, has steered the city’s sprawling subway system through the pandemic, which has killed scores of workers and sickened thousands more while decimating the transit system’s ridership and cratering the agency’s finances.
She also oversaw the first overnight shutdown of the subway in its history. The move allowed for intensive cleanings, but some public transit advocates said it went on for too long and hurt essential workers who rely on the trains during off hours.
Ms. Feinberg has urged the city to provide more policing of the subway system and more homeless outreach resources following a spate of high-profile attacks on riders and transit workers in recent months.
But that has also led critics to accuse her of exaggerating crime in the subway and scaring off riders at a time when the system is trying to convince people to return. Subway ridership still stands at less than half of its prepandemic level of 5.5 million daily weekday riders.
“I am thrilled to be stepping into a position that allows me to continue to play a significant role in how our subway and bus systems operate, but to also have even more of an impact in shaping the future of the agency, and of transportation in this city and region,” Ms. Feinberg said in a statement.
“There should be no higher priority than ensuring we are doing all we can to bring ridership back — and as ridership comes back, so will the city’s economic recovery.”
Mr. Cuomo will nominate Ms. Feinberg to become the chairwoman of the M.T.A.’s 21-member board, which is appointed by state, city and regional officials. Her nomination would have to be confirmed by the New York State Senate.
Some transportation advocates and watchdog groups have criticized the process through which Ms. Feinberg was tapped for such an important job.
Rachael Fauss, the senior research analyst for Reinvent Albany, a watchdog group, said the chair of the transit agency should be independently nominated by its own board members rather than handpicked by the governor. That model is followed by many corporations and nonprofit organizations and was recommended by a 2008 commission on overhauling the transit agency led by a former M.T.A. leader, Richard Ravitch.
“There should be no last-minute back room deals on a major governance change for the state’s largest authority that serves millions of riders and manages a $17 billion operating budget,” Ms. Fauss said.
Ms. Feinberg would replace Patrick J. Foye, the current M.T.A. chairman and chief executive, who is leaving to become interim president and chief executive of Empire State Development, the state’s economic development agency.
But Ms. Feinberg would only assume part of Mr. Foye’s job.
Janno Lieber, who oversees the transit agency’s capital projects, will be appointed by Governor Cuomo to take over for Mr. Foye as chief executive of the transit agency. He will be in charge of running day-to-day M.T.A. operations and oversee the agency’s ambitious effort to modernize the transit system.
“The COVID crisis proved — once again — that mass transit is New York’s linchpin, in good times and bad,” Mr. Lieber said. “Now we need to keep building a system that connects people from all communities to jobs, education and opportunity. I look forward to taking on this important new role and to lead M.T.A. in support of the New York City region’s economic revival.”
Mr. Foye said he was proud of the way the transit agency had responded to the pandemic, especially the transit workers who made sure that essential workers and emergency responders were able to get to their jobs when much of the city was shut down.
“I know the strong gains we have made will continue,” Mr. Foye said.