Home New York City Transit NJ Transit brain drain continues as Hakim jumps the Hudson

NJ Transit brain drain continues as Hakim jumps the Hudson

by Benjamin Kabak

Following up on last week’s report, one-time MTA executive and current New Jersey Transit Executive Director Veronique Hakim has accepted the position as president of the New York City Transit Authority. Widely considered as the number two transit gig in the country behind MTA CEO and Chair, the TA president is in charge of the vast network of subways and buses that currently serve over 8 million New Yorkers per day. Hakim, a 20-year vet of the agency, is the first woman to be appointed to the job, and her arrival comes at a time when the subways are sagging under the weight of ever-increasing demand.

Hakim’s appointment is another in the revolving door of transit politics, and some have grumbled about the “inside baseball” nature of her return. She spent 23 years at the MTA, as an attorney with both New York City Transit and Capital Construction, before heading up the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and New Jersey Transit. Yet, she’s a qualified pick who’s earned praise from others in the industry, and it’s high time the men’s club atop the MTA’s leadership positions is broken. “Our transit network is the lifeblood of the entire region, and I am glad to welcome Ronnie back to New York City Transit and to entrust her with the responsibility of ensuring safe and reliable service even as ridership grows every month,” MTA Chairman and CEO Prendergast said. “Ronnie’s comprehensive transportation experience, her detailed vision for the future and her demonstrated ability to bring real improvements to customers make her the right person to tackle New York City Transit’s challenges now.”

Her tenure begins on December 28, the Monday in between Christmas and New Years, and she’ll take over from interim head James Ferrara, who will remain as the President of MTA Bridges & Tunnels. “Having spent more than two decades of my life at the MTA, I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to lead New York City Transit at a time when surging ridership is affecting every element of its operations,” Hakim said. “Subway and bus customers have high expectations for the network they rely on every day, and I look forward to meeting their expectations of safety, reliability and quality at New York City Transit.”

Meanwhile, Transit’s gain is someone else’s loss, and the someone else in this case is our neighbor to the west. For New Jersey Transit, Hakim’s departure is another in a long line of troubles for the agency in recent years. Kate Hinds summed up seven of them for WNYC yesterday afternoon, and tops among those was brain drain. In addition to Hakim, NJ Transit has lost its rail ops head who was involved in planning for a new trans-Hudson tunnel, its capital program head, and a travel forecast official. This is a problem for an agency that’s struggling to maintain, let alone grow, amidst lukewarm state support but increasing ridership demands. Considering how tough it’s been for transit agencies to replace top talent lately, NJ Transit may be on the precipice of a problem. More on that later.

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10 comments

NJS November 18, 2015 - 10:12 am

I think the men’s club was broken a long while back. Helena Williams was head of LIRR for a long while.

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Benjamin Kabak November 18, 2015 - 10:14 am

Indeed she was for a few years, and she served as interim head of the MTA at one point.

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Douglas John Bowen November 18, 2015 - 12:34 pm

Mr. Kabak is quite gentle in labeling NJ Transit’s state support as “lukewarm.”

But it’s hard for us Jersey rail advocates to legitimately grumble over Ms. Hakim’s choice to return to New York, whether it’s “inside baseball” or not. She tried her best, reached out for input, while with NJ Transit.

She deserved better and — hard as it might be for the pessimists east of the Hudson to believe — she may find same in New York.

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Nathanael November 26, 2015 - 2:57 pm

The lack of support from the governor or the legislature does tend to cause even remotely competent people to leave NJT. This isn’t even surprising.

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Larry Greenfield November 18, 2015 - 12:38 pm

The TA does not serve “…8 million New Yorkers per day.” It provides 8 million rides per day, serving more like 4 million New Yorkers if each of them takes a round trip. It’s a big job, nevertheless.

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Larry Littlefield November 18, 2015 - 1:00 pm

Twenty years of transit experience is a good thing, but a lawyer? The legal strategy with regard to capital construction is the contractors sue for more money and the MTA settles and gives it to them.

David Gunn was an MBA.

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AMH November 18, 2015 - 2:35 pm

“Hakim’s appointment is another in the revolving door of transit politics… Yet, she’s a qualified pick…and it’s high time the men’s club atop the MTA’s leadership positions is broken.”

You summed up my reaction very well. I’d be thrilled if she used her legal training to reform incestuous contracting practices.

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SEAN November 18, 2015 - 4:03 pm

Lets hope she lasts beyond a year or two.

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Old New Yorker November 19, 2015 - 9:43 pm

I hope the first thing she does is fire their Director of Corporate Communications, Marc Mednick.

I’ve had unpleasant interactions with him. The man has nothing but disdain for his fellow human beings, and treats them with contempt. He’s not fit to run an HO train layout, let alone the New York Subway system.

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Nathanael November 26, 2015 - 2:58 pm

Wow. We tolerate that sort of unpleasant-interaction behavior in expert engineers or even accountants or lawyers… but in a COMMUNICATIONS position, which is basically PR, alienating people like that is completely and utterly unacceptable, fire-for-cause behavior.

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