Archive for MTA Politics
It was back in the waning days of June when the State Senate and Assembly both passed a lockbox bill with strong protections for transit funding. This was the second time that the bill had passed the legislature, and while Gov. Cuomo had gutted the protections that prevented a raid on transit financing last time around, advocates were optimistic that the bill would gain Cuomo’s signature. Since then, though, we’ve waited. And waited. And waited.
Lately, though, there is a reason for some optimism as upstate newspapers, not usually in favor of anything that bolsters the MTA — they amazingly view it as a drain on the rest of New York State — have lined up behind the lockbox. Since the bill protects all transit money and not just that earmarked for the MTA, upstaters have reason to argue for a signature. The Buffalo News voiced its support this week, and The Press-Republican from Plattsburgh sounded off last week.
Over at Capital New York, Dana Rubinstein sees this groundswell of support as an indicator that Cuomo will soon have to sign the bill. If everyone in New York state wants these modest protections in place, the governor will have to step in and govern soon enough.
We’re hitting the home stretch of the silly part of the 2013 mayoral race. In two weeks, the first primaries will be over, and we’ll know if a run-off is in our future. The early stages of the race to succeed Mayor Bloomberg have not been particularly comforting for New Yorkers looking for a champion of progressive transit and transportation issues. Buses and ferries have dominating the discussion while a lackluster embrace of bike infrastructure, to say nothing of any truly transformative ideas, has marred the race.
In today’s papers, we have two issue summaries of the candidates’ various stances on transit and transportation, and you may wind up sighing in frustration after reading through these Q-and-A’s. Dan Rivoli in amNew York asked about MTA governance and funding, transit “ideas” and biking. He hit upon the key issues, and the candidates’ responses left something to be desired.
When it comes to MTA funding, Bill de Blasio, for instances, wants to “change the federal approach to mass transit funding and get the federal government much more deeply into the mass transit business again.” Bill Thompson wants to restore the commuter tax, and John Liu would have the city throw in an additional $100 million to the MTA’s capital budget — an amount equal to less than one half of one percent of the capital budget. Christine Quinn continues to bang the drum for mayoral control, but she doesn’t explain why. John Catsimatidis called for an MTA Inspector General, a position that has been in place since 1983, and everyone — Republicans and Democrats alike — has endorsed more Select Bus Service lanes.
In The Times today, Matt Flegenheimer conducted similar interviews with a focus on the question I posted above. The ideas for improving subway service reveal vague promises light on detail. De Blasio wants to “address outer borough subway service needs” while Liu and Quinn repeated their amNew York answers. Thompson wants to “reduce waiting times between trains and to accelerate the installation of countdown clocks across the system.” Joe Lhota discussed an city support for “an in-station recycling program…to keep platforms clean.” Catsimatidis again repeated his desires to build a monorail somewhere for some reason.
As I read through these answers, a few common threads emerged: First, everyone wants more, but no one wants to have the uncomfortable conversations about paying. We want more subway service, more bus service, more ferry service, more countdown clocks, more this, more that. But only fringe candidates with no real chances at winning have mentioned East River bridge tolls or congestion pricing as a revenue generator. (Thompson can talk himself blue in the face about the commuter tax, but that is a political hot potato he won’t pursue if elected.)
The second thread concerns ideas already in place. I’ve already dispatched with Quinn’s countdown clocks complaints, but she’s not the only one proposing something already in motion. De Blasio called for more Metro-North stops in the Bronx, which is the likely outcome of the Penn Station Access studies, and DOT and the MTA are working, albeit painfully slowly, on more Select Bus Services routes. It’s not a promise to call for something in the works.
If I truly believed the mayoral candidates would offer up something juicy during the campaign season, you could call me naive, but even for New York politicians, this is scraping the bottom of the transit barrel. No one wants to delve into the Midtown East rezoning, the Second Ave. Subway, the Triboro RX line or any discussions on funding. It’s far easier to give safe answers, but the city needs something more these days than safe answers.
Within the cozy confines of New York politics, few positions are as potentially toxic as MTA CEO and Chairman. It is, essentially, that person’s duty to deliver bad news to New Yorkers who pay only casual attention to the inner workings of the agency’s politics and economics. Straphangers remember the service diversions and fare hikes; they recall the heat and the rats. They don’t remember the times the subways work as advertised, and they certainly don’t remember fondly those who oversee the comings and goings of the MTA.
With this in mind, it was always a surprise to me that Joe Lhota opted to use the MTA as a springboard to a run for City Hall. A former deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani, Lhota served as the MTA for around a year, and as far as operations go, he was one of the better leaders in recent years. He cut costs; he streamlined some operations; and, as we know, he was at the helm when Sandy hit. Though he generally implemented plans put in motion well before his tenure began, he received accolades for getting the system up and running so quickly. Pay no attention to the March fare hikes or the current 14-month shutdown of the R train’s Montague Tubes. Those are but collateral damage.
As head of the MTA, Lhota seemed to recognize that the agency needed a steadier stream of funding sources. He fought zealously in Albany for every single dollars, and he toed a hard net-zero line in his infrequent discussions with John Samuelsen, president of the TWU. As a mayoral candidate, though, Lhota has tried to put aside everything he preached and practiced at the MTA. His ideas have included a vague plan to send the R to Staten Island and a misguided park-and-ride proposal. He decided to run for mayor because of his success at the MTA, but on the campaign trail, he’d seemingly rather voters forget about that year.
In today’s Times, Matt Flegenheimer explores those contradictions. As Flegenheimer notes, Lhota “seldom trumpets his tenure managing the authority,” referring instead to his time with Giuliani and his years in business with Madison Square Garden and on Wall St. The Times runs down Lhota’s record:
Beyond the storm, Mr. Lhota’s record at the helm of the nation’s largest subway system was complicated, marked by nimble political calculations and, occasionally, unforced errors. He slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in costs from the authority’s budget and restored many services of the agency for the first time since deep cuts in 2010. He angered workers with whom he had once hoped to reach a contract agreement.
He proposed possible fare increase packages so unappealing — by design, some suspected — that the public’s disdain for the final product, a compromise measure, appeared tempered. He reinstated the popular “Poetry in Motion” program that published verses in subway cars, but his abbreviated stay left several longer-term projects, like a plan to replace the MetroCard, unfinished on his watch.
He apologized for remarks about a state senator (“he does nothing”), Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (who, “like an idiot” made misguided service predictions after Hurricane Sandy, he said) and a member of his own board, whom he assailed as a liar and challenged to “be a man” during an uncomfortably heated public meeting about the authority’s schedule. And he remained zealously fixed on possible system disruptions — a man, some suggested, who so thrived in a crisis that at times he seemed to seek one out — investigating subway accidents or delays that might have been handled several levels below him.
But the biggest problem of all, of course, is the fare hike. Although MTA budgetary policies were in place long before Lhota took over, he continued the practice of levying a fare hike very two years. He proposed a steep initial increase to make the preferred compromise seem better than it was, and he set the MTA on a course to continue fare hikes in 2015, 2017 and every two years for the foreseeable future. It’s tough to run as the former MTA chair; it’s tougher still to run as the MTA chair who continued to raise fares.
This view may not be particularly fair to Lhota. He made the best of a tough situation, and had he continued in as head of the MTA, I’m sure we’d be assessing his tenure in a positive light right now. But he’s running for the chief executive spot of the city. He’d have less control over transit policy but hasn’t shown a willingness to port over the lessons learned from the MTA to his mayoral candidacy. That’s the prism through which Lhota the candidate is viewed, and the current image isn’t a particularly flattering one.
As the first round of the city’s illustrious mayoral campaign hits its homestretch, we’ve heard and dismissed a lot of bad ideas concerning transit. A Republican hopeful called for monorails while the leading Democratic fundraiser drew a bunch of lines on a map and called it the Triboro RX bus route. I’ve been critical of these supposed campaign promises, and as Ted Mann explored a few weeks ago, so have a few others. Is there anything worth debating?
One idea I’ve shied away from discussing keeps coming up again and again, and it is one proposal worth mentioning. That is, of course, city control over the MTA and, to a lesser extent, city control over bridge and tunnel fares. Joe Lhota has been pressing for the latter, and a few candidates the former. These topics have their origin in city history and no easy answer.
Originally, the city did control the subways through the Board of Transportation, and it was a problematic relationship to say the least. Due to a need to appease voters, mayor after mayor refused to raise the subway fares. The precious nickel remained in place for decades, and inflation meant that the subways were generating pennies in revenue compared with their initial takes in the early 1900s. The over-simplified version of history is that through an effort to shore up the Transit Authority’s finances and push Robert Moses out of power, the state-run MTA came to be. The state assumed responsibility for funding the subways and, in return, the state controls the MTA through board appointments.
As mayoral control over the MTA has waxed and waned as a campaign issue, Dana Rubinstein a few weeks ago offered up an overview of the debate:
The chance that Albany legislators representing the city’s suburbs and, whose constituents rely on the authority’s Long Island and Metro-North railroads, would voluntarily cede control of their favorite hobbyhorse to the mayor of New York City is approximately zero. The notion that the state would transfer power to the city and continue to fund mass transit at the current rate is unlikelier still.
Nevertheless, it’s a lot easier to talk about mayoral control than to discuss finding new revenue streams for the transit agency. Which is why Quinn and her rivals have been talking about mayoral control the way they have. On Friday, at a Queens press event about a proposed three-borough select bus service route, Quinn once again said the mayor should make the majority of appointments to the M.T.A.’s board, and appoint the head of the M.T.A.’s bus and subway division, New York City Transit.
“Right now, 90 percent basically of the ridership of the M.T.A. is people using buses and subways,” she said. “There is no question that bus and subway riders in the five boroughs, the majority of them New York City residents, are the economic engine of the M.T.A. But we have the voice of a piston on the board.”
On the record, the MTA and its current leadership are not looking to see the current political structure change. In a radio appearance on the Brian Lehrer Show, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast responded to the campaign. “The underlying premise of the creation of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was the need, and this is some farsighted individuals back in the 60s, that realized you needed to deal with transportation on a regional basis,” he said. “If we look just at the needs of Long Island. the needs of the lower Hudson Valley that Metro-North provides services to, or New York City in terms of its bus and subway system, we will miss that regionality. So if we start to hive off sections of the MTA and manage them specifically from the needs of that constituency base, we’re gonna get hurt on a regional basis.”
It’s hard to assess claims of regionality from the MTA simply because the organization is still so siloed. Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road don’t get along and lack interoperability. The fare structure isn’t harmonized across the various agencies and promises to streamline operations have been slow to become reality. Still, the idea that the MTA benefits the entire region is still valid. Just because the vast majority of rides originate in the five boroughs doesn’t mean the only people who benefit are city residents, and the mayor appoints four board seats, second only to the Governor’s six nominees.
So what’s the right answer? Is there one? Mayoral control of the MTA brings with it mayoral responsibilities and obligations. It’s a non-starter for political reasons, and it isn’t something New York voters should rush to embrace for economic reasons as well. It will, however, never not be a campaign issue because it sounds good on the surface. Ideas that sound good on the surface though often aren’t underneath.
Early last week, The Times ran this editorial on the transit ideas that have come out of the 2013 mayoral campaign, and I sat on the article for a few days. On the one hand, I’m thrilled that candidates have decided to focus, to some degree or another, on transit issues, but on the other, the editorial is incredibly disappointing. It praises the candidates for offering up their ideas without taking a critical look at how nearly all of the ideas have been bad ones.
In fact, the editorial proclaimed many of the transit ideas “good,” and I had to wonder if we were all paying attention to the same campaign. Without even acknowledging John Catsimatidis’ zany monorail plans, The Times praised Christine Quinn’s horrendous Triboro RX SBS route, the new-found love affair with ferries and many plans already in the works, including more Select Bus Service routes and the Penn Station Access plan. “It will take effort and political skill to turn ideas into reality, from the tiny — Ms. Quinn proposes countdown clocks outside subway stations, which would be quite nice — to the transformational. But few jobs are more important for the next mayor,” The Times said.
The worst part though isn’t the fawning over half-hearted attempts at avoiding the city’s serious mobility problems. Rather, it is the framing device The Times used to present it editorial. It launched the piece with praise of Rudy Giuliani’s move to make the Staten Island Ferries free. It is, they said, “a small daily improvement in commuters’ lives that, multiplied by millions of rides and many years, surely adds up to something monumental.” Even though the decision was “influenced as much by politics as by need,” it is “an example of what can happen when a New York mayor highlights and fixes a neglected transportation problem.” Except its not at all.
By making the Staten Island Ferry free, the city has foregone literally millions of dollars annually that could have been invested into the transit system. This money could have been used to improve other connections between Staten Island and the rest of the city. Even if the city had simply installed Metrocard machines and granted ferry riders a free transfer to the subway or bus, the annual take still would have been around $5 million. Over the course of 16 years, that’s around $80 million not available for other improvements for no good reason other than politics. Is it worth it?
Shortly after making the Metrocard’s replacement a campaign issue, Christine Quinn dragged the MTA’s countdown clocks into the fray as well. As A Division riders adjust to the comforts of life with countdown clocks, Quinn wants the MTA to expand the program so that the clocks are available outside of subway stations. Quinn claims, incorrectly, that most stations do not have clocks visible until after a customers has swiped through fare control, and she wants to make transit more efficient by eliminating the need to walk downstairs to check on the next arriving train.
“Providing riders with information is not complicated; it’s the least the MTA can do,” she said. “By taking common-sense steps and making simple changes to the way information is provided to subway riders, we take the frustration and anxiety out of daily commuting.”
The MTA hasn’t responded to Quinn’s statements, but I don’t think this is quite as big a concern as she thinks. Essentially, at an undetermined cost, Quinn wants to move countdown clocks from fare control to the surface level while other options — real-time subway tracking apps, for instance — exist. At stations where CBS Outdoors has installed their advertising screens, the MTA could incorporate the Subway Time API into the digital feeds, but this seems like a solution in search of a problem. A far better proposal would involve funding for speeding up the effort to bring these clocks to the B Division’s lettered subway lines.
In the same release, Quinn also proposed providing audio announcements on buses and subways in Spanish throughout the system and “other native languages…in communities where it is most helpful.” It’s a noble gesture, but aren’t we deluged with enough noise pollution in the subways as it is? Do we have to be told about suspicious packages or unavoidable delays in two or three other languages when we often just want to ride home in peace?
Once upon a time, Alan Hevesi, then the comptroller of New York State, fired a complaint at the MTA that the agency had been maintaining two sets of books. Claiming that the MTA hid $500 million in order to justify a fare hike, Hevesi leveled this charge at a time public sentiment toward the MTA was at a low, and it stuck. The MTA’s bookkeeping had been sloppy, but not illegally so. A judge eventually found no wrong-doing or evidence to back Hevesi’s claim, and the comptroller himself wound up in jail for his own fiscal improprieties.
Still, the idea that the MTA has two sets of books has been an enduring and popular myth. The public can easily latch onto it because they don’t feel the MTA is own their side, and politicians use it to curry favor with disgruntled voters. It came up in both 2009 and 2010, and now that a potential mayoral candidate is riding the coattails of his time with the MTA, in essence, it is resurfacing again this year.
The latest issue comes from — you guessed it — Staten Island, and it involves Senator Andrew Lanza and Representative Nicole Malliotakis. When we last ran across these two, they had recently been railing against better bus service after bemoaning the lack of transit options for Staten Islanders. Malliotakis seemed awfully concerned with a theoretical group of senior citizen drivers who would find themselves in bus lanes and panic over receiving a ticket.
Anyway, after Joe Lhota last week in a debate called the MTA “most transparent governmental organization,” Lanza and Malliotakis responded in turn. Judy Randall from the Staten Island Advance has the story:
The two lawmakers are backing Lhota rival John Catsimatidis, who didn’t appear to take umbrage at the comment during the debate, but joined them in denouncing it in a joint statement. “When I think of the MTA, many descriptions pop into my head,” Catsimatidis said. “Transparent is not one of them.”
“Joe Lhota’s statement defending the MTA is a gross untruth,” said Lanza (R-Staten Island), adding that the agency fought to defeat legislation he authored which would have required it to undergo an independent audit. “That action alone certainly undermines Joe Lhota’s laughable claim that the MTA is the most transparent agency in the USA.”
Meanwhile, Ms. Malliotakis (R-East Shore/Brooklyn) took exception with the agency’s finances. “The MTA has a $250 million surplus from the tolls it collects from the bridge,” she said. “Under Lhota’s watch, the MTA reached a debt of $40 billion. I, for one, would like to know where that money is being spent.”
Lhota responed with a statement concerning his desire to remove the MTA bridges from state control, but put that zany idea aside for now. The real issue is one of accountability and transparency. The MTA is very transparent. It posts all of its budget materials and board materials on its website as soon as these materials are available for public consumption, and anyone with a little bit of time, energy and focus can wade through them to develop a picture of the MTA’s finances. If Malliotakis, for one, would like to know where the money is being spent, she should just look for herself.
The real issue — and it’s always an issue politicians are loath to explore — concerns not how the MTA spends money but how much they’re spending and on what. It’s great the MTA has become so transparent in light of where they used to be with budget information; it’s no so great that so much money is tied up in debt payments and pension and benefits obligations. It’s shocking that the MTA is spending nearly a $1 billion per new station for the Second Ave. Subway and is constructing the world’s most expensive transit projects the city over.
At a certain point, someone in Albany has to take some responsibility for understanding and appreciating the fiscal mess the MTA has found itself in. It’s not a mess the agency is trying to hide, and it’s one out there for everyone to see without the need to subpoena, FOIA or forensically audit the agency. It’s under our noses, but our politicians would rather take pot shots at the agency than attempt to solve the problems. That’s not government at its finest.
Even though numerous lower courts have upheld the Payroll Mobility and even after New York State’s Appellate Division judges overturned the lone Supreme Court case that didn’t find the tax constitutional, Nassau County isn’t giving up. The Long Island plaintiffs will appeal this week’s decision to the Court of Appeals, the highest state court in New York’s judiciary system, Newsday reported today.
Details on the appeal as scarce for now, but it seems that Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano is content to spend more taxpayer dollars pursuing a lawsuit he has no chance of winning. Meanwhile, those from north of the city are still bemoaning the tax as well. “Dutchess County can’t afford this tax. It’s bad for the economy, whether it’s constitutional or not,” Assembly rep Kieran Lalor from Fishkill said. (This isn’t the first time Lalor has slammed the tax.)
Ultimately, though, this tax isn’t any more of a job-killer than completely defunding the MTA to the tune of $1.3 billion annually would be. The regional economy would simply dry up without this subsidy. The tax is constitutional, and it will remain on the books. If Lalor and his ilk dislike it, it’s up to them and other state representatives to find a better solution that they feel is more equitable than a payroll tax.
It took until the wee hours of the night on Thursday, but the New York State Senate, with little fanfare, finally got around to confirming Tom Prendergast as the MTA CEO and Chairman. Prendergast, the former president of New York City Transit, had been nominated to the post by Gov. Cuomo in mid-April, and after the governor failed to make a nomination for over three months after Joe Lhota left to run for mayor, the Senate dragged its heels for nearly as long. But what’s done is done, and Prendergast inherits the job, problems and all.
Following Thursday’s vote, Gov. Cuomo issued a statement praising his new MTA head, the sixth in as many years. “Tom Prendergast has a proven track record of leadership and transportation expertise, especially when it comes to the managing the vast transportation network of the MTA,” Cuomo said. “As Interim Executive Director, Tom was vital to the recovery of the MTA after Superstorm Sandy and he will continue to play a crucial role in making the MTA more modern, efficient and storm ready. I look forward to Tom’s continued success in running the nation’s largest transportation system.”
So what’s on tap for the Brewster resident who comes to New York by way of a childhood in Chicago and experience in Vancouver as well as stints at Transit and the LIRR? With mayoral candidates clamoring for city control of the MTA and more and more and more bus service, it’s easy to forget that the MTA is a state agency with long-term goals and projects well under way. With that in mind, Prendergast has to confront a series of planning obstacles up front. Let’s run ‘em down.
1. Rebuilding from Sandy and reinforcing for the next storm
While Lhota received a lot of credit for the MTA’s success in restoring service after Sandy, Prendergast probably deserves even more. He headed transit during Irene and was instrumental in implementing a storm-preparedness plan. That most of the subways were up and running a week after the storm surge swept through was an impressive feat, but the hard work is yet to come.
We’re two weeks into hurricane season and the MTA is no better prepared to harden the system now than they were in late October, and Prendergast will, for better or worse, have to focus on preventative measures. With the city’s new storm maps out, most of the Lower Manhattan subway stations are well within the flood zones, and the tunnels remain very vulnerable. Furthermore, with a 14-month R train shutdown on tap for August, L train riders have been subjected to mechanical problems due to the storm, and it’s only getting worse before it gets better. Prendergast must put forward a plan that shows how we can recovery and avoid another hurricane-related subway catastrophe. (And what’s happening with the new South Ferry station anyway?)
2. Labor relations
It’s been 17 months and counting since the TWU’s contract expired, and the union’s position has gained little traction in the press. They waited out Walder, never had a chance for serious negotiations with Lhota and now have to face Prendergast across the table. The MTA’s long-term budget forecast rests on the assumption of a net-zero labor increase, and achieving that goal will either involve stagnant wages, benefits givebacks or labor roll reductions. The riding public cannot afford another massive wage increase for unionized members just as we can’t afford to have subways enter stations at 10 miles per hour. At some point, the contract has been negotiated and finalized, and now that’s on Prendergast’s plate.
3. The future capital program
A few years ago, Jay Walder explained how the next five-year capital plan, set to cover 2015-2019, would focus not on megaprojects but rather on behind-the-scenes upgrades. Modernizing the signal system and installing CBTC is still on the table, but it would be a shame to see the era of megaprojects dry up. On Prendergast’s watch, the MTA will open the Fulton St. Transit Center, the 7 line extension and Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway. The next five-year plan should include at least a new phase of the Second Ave. line, the controversial Penn Station Access project and something more exciting than Select Bus Service Routes. On a similar note, Prendergast should work to constrain capital costs as well. Look for developments on this plan to surface within the next eight to 12 months.
4. Please swipe again
For nearly a decade, the MTA has engaged in pilot program after pilot program as it works to replace the Metrocard. The 20-year-old swipe system will soon become cost-prohibitive to maintain, but the MTA is no closer to identifying the next-generation fare payment system now than they were in 2006 when the first touch-and-go trial started. An effort to develop a system focused around contactless credit cards faltered as banks were slow to adopt the technology, and the MTA is again engaged in an internal analysis of the best steps forward. With steady leadership atop the MTA, hopefully this key project can move forward at a more rapid clip.
5. Playing politics, nicely
It nearly goes without saying that the MTA Chair must play the Albany game properly, and that’s certainly true in Prendergast’s case. State Senators are bemoaning the existence of bus lanes and flashing blue lights while still clamoring for an end to the payroll tax and whining about Metro-North’s eventual encroachment into Penn Station. It’s hard to believe that elected officials are such barriers to progress in a city built atop its transit network, but that’s where we are in 2013. As with his predecessors, Prendergast will have to learn to navigate and exploit that system on his own as Gov. Cuomo has turned out to be a passive supporter, rather than a vocal champion, of transit in the New York City region.
It’s been nearly six months since Joe Lhota resigned as MTA Chairman and CEO, and after waiting out a slow nomination process and an even slower confirmation process, the MTA finally has a new permanent leader. This evening, the New York State Senate voted to confirm Tom Prendergast as the Chairman and Chief Executive Office of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Prendergast, the former president of New York City Transit, had been serving as the interim executive director since Lhota stepped down to run for mayor on January 1, but the Senate waited until the final day of their legislative session to confirm the nomination.
“Tom Prendergast has a proven track record of leadership and transportation expertise, especially when it comes to the managing the vast transportation network of the MTA,” Governor Cuomo said. “As Interim Executive Director, Tom was vital to the recovery of the MTA after Superstorm Sandy and he will continue to play a crucial role in making the MTA more modern, efficient and storm ready. I look forward to Tom’s continued success in running the nation’s largest transportation system.”
Cuomo’s statement nearly undersells the point. Prendergast had, by many accounts, been responsible for the MTA’s immediate response to Sandy and had helped implement storm preparedness measures that minimized damage to the MTA’s rolling stock and infrastructure in the aftermath of the Hurricane Irene. He had fallen just short of the nomination in 2011, and as a career transit official with experience at the Chicago Transit Authority, the U.S. Department of Transportation, New York City Transit, the LIRR and a short tenure as CEO of Vancouver’s TransLink, comes highly recommended for the job.
After his confirmation, Prendergast issued a statement — almost too glowing — expressing his interest in the job and his praise for Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “I am grateful that Governor Cuomo has entrusted me with the responsibility of leading the largest transportation agency in North America,” he said. “The MTA faces enormous challenges to continue improving service while cutting costs and rebuilding stronger after Superstorm Sandy. Leading the MTA through these challenges is critical to the lives of millions of New Yorkers and the future of the New York economy. Governor Cuomo has repeatedly demonstrated his strong support for the MTA, and I deeply appreciate this opportunity.”
For a few months, transit advocates have been awaiting Prendergast’s confirmation. Cuomo named Prendergast to the position in early April, but State Senators stalled. According to recente reports, the Senate Transportation Committee had failed to act over concerns surrounding the LIRR’s Penn Station future. Influential Long Island state senators were reportedly requesting assurances from Prendergast that LIRR service to Penn would not be impacted by post-East Side Access plans to bring Metro-North to Manhattan’s West Side.
With his confirmation, Prendergast becomes the next in a long line of officials to head up the MTA. Turnover has been rapid, but during his sessions with Senate committees, Prendergast vowed to stay on the job. When asked how long he planned to remain as CEO and Chair of the MTA, the candidate replied, “I’m not gonna run for Mayor of the City of New York.” This line was, of course, a clear jab at Lhota who is currently seeking the Republican spot on this November’s mayoral ballot.
After the hearings and subsequent Senate vote, Prendergast side-stepped any reports of a targeted delay in these hearings, and Long Island Senator Charles Fuschillo, chair of the Transportation Committee, denied them as well. “They wanted to make sure the candidate who is going to be in the job understands it and that I have an opportunity to hear their concerns,” Prendergast said in a brief press conference after the 9:20 p.m. vote.
For his part, Fuschillo issued perfunctory praise. “Mr. Prendergast’s extensive professional experience, both within the MTA and in other public and private sector transportation positions, will serve him well as he addresses the numerous issues and challenges facing the MTA,” he said.
Those issues and challenges include, as always, a shaky budget, an unsettled relationship with the Transport Workers Union Local 100, a new five-year capital campaign, and the ongoing efforts to rebuild and protect the system in he aftermath of last October’s hurricane. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. Now, the MTA has its permanent head and, hopefully, a clear direction of the path forward.