Prendergast named New York MTA chief

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

In a move largely anticipated by observers of the New York City metropolitan area’s public transportation system, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has named veteran transit executive Thomas F. Prendergast as the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Chairman and Executive Director.

Prendergast replaces Joseph J. Lhota, who resigned more than three months ago to pursue a run for New York City mayor. He has been the NYMTA’s interim Executive Director since Lhota departed. Prendergast, who called the appointment “an incredible honor,” must be confirmed by the New York State Senate before he can officially assume the role.

Prendergast, 60, began his career at the Chicago Transit Authority in 1975 (he is a Chicago native). He joined the New York City Transit Authority in 1982 as Assistant Director of System Safety, ascending to Senior Vice President for Subways in 1991. He later became President of the Long Island Rail Road, replacing Charles Hoppe. He left the LIRR to join Parsons Brinckerhoff, and then in 2008 returned to public transportation as head of Translink in Vancouver, British Columbia. Prendergast returned to the NYMTA He returned to the NYMTA in late 2009 as President of MTA New York City Transit.

Prendergast is largely credited with the New York City Subway system’s rapid recovery following the devastation from Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29, 2012. His tenure as NYCT President, according to an article published in The New York Times, “was tested by a series of devastating storms. During one of them, the blizzard of December 2010, the authority failed, by Prendergast’s own account. Officials estimated that 650 buses became stuck in the snow, while hundreds of passengers were stranded aboard subway cars overnight. Full service did not return for several days. ‘We got burned pretty badly, and deservedly so,’ he said in an interview last year. ‘We were late getting out of the gate.’ But the experience was instructive, Prendergast said, contributing to the authority’s decisions to halt service entirely to protect equipment before Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. As rival transit agencies struggled to recover for weeks after the storm, partial subway service returned in less than three days. Most lines were back within a week, despite unprecedented flooding to seven of the authority’s under-river tunnels.”

“The reason the subway system responded so quickly coming back was Tom’s leadership,” Lhota told The Times on April 12. “He cares more about the MTA’s customers than anyone I know and knows the system better than anyone I know.”

As head of the NYMTA, Prendergast is running the largest public transportation agency in North America. The agency’s enormous capital and operating budgets account for roughly 25% of all North American transit spending. “From the track bed to the budget to modernizing our system for the 21st century, I can’t imagine anyone having a better understanding of how the region’s vast system operates and the challenges that it faces,” Gov. Cuomo said in a statement.

According to The Times, Prendergast’s appointment “drew praise from transit advocates, business leaders, and local officials. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg trumpeted Prendergast’s ‘unique, deep understanding of MTA operations,’ citing the expansion of Select Bus Service routes and the extension of the No. 7 train to the West Side [of Manhattan]. Prendergast will face daunting challenges, like overseeing billions of dollars in storm-related repairs and reviving negotiations with transit workers, who have been operating without a contract for over a year. But he received an endorsement of sorts on [April 12] from John Samuelsen, President of the Transport Workers Union Local 100, who called Prendergast ‘the best choice that the Governor could have made.’”

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