Home Transit Labor Prendergast open to more OPTO

Prendergast open to more OPTO

by Benjamin Kabak

Word from Albany on Friday that, pending State Senate approval, Tom Prendergast would become the next MTA CEO and Chairman came as little surprise. Prendergast had been a runner-up during the previous search for an agency head, and he has the experience and respect within New York City to lead the MTA. He is unlikely to leave on his own before his term runs out but faces a number of looming challenges.

Sitting atop the list is the status of the contract with the TWU. The MTA’s largest union has been without an agreement for nearly a year and a half, and the MTA budget currently assumes a net-zero wage increase. Still, on Friday, John Samuelsen’s team issued kind words for Prendergast. “It’s a good move by Governor Cuomo. Prendergast has vast knowledge of the system, and that’s really what the MTA needs – not a bean counter like Walder or a person with big financial and political connections like Lhota,” union spokesman Jim Gannon said. “We’ve always had a good working relationship with Prendergast, despite a few flare-ups here and there. But on the whole, everyone on this side of the table respects him.”

Despite the TWU’s conciliatory tone, Prendergast will not easily bend or break for the MTA simply cannot afford him to. In today’s Daily News, the newly-appointed MTA CEO and Chair spoke at length with Pete Donohue about a variety of issues facing the MTA, and labor issues took up a chunk of the discussion. In a nod to a long-standing issue, Prendergast spoke about one-person train operations or OPTO.

“There are some lines that are more conducive to one person train operation than others,” he said to the News. “There are some that are more conducive to OPTO only at certain times of the day, and there are some lines where you may never use OPTO. It’s not always about savings. It may be the savings are reinvested in other parts of the system. So, if for argument’s sake, you save (a certain number of conductor positions) and put them on platforms that are extremely crowded, and you have fewer people falling to the tracks, that’s a better utility of resources.”

Interestingly enough, Prendergast has also called for a rapid expansion of automatic train operations in order to boost line capacity. The TWU has pushed back on this issue over concerns that it could lead to zero-person train operations. All of this, furthermore, is a lot more than recent MTA heads have said on this hot-button issue and provides a glimpse into the MTA’s labor future. Prendergast, according to the article, will try to get OPTO on lines with lower ridership totals at first. The overnight R shuttle service into Bay Ridge could be a prime spot for such a test.

Meanwhile, in a nod to the union, Prendergast spoke about the need to reallocate employees and encourage worker flexibility. Prendergast wants to restore customer service agents as many of those red-vested employees lost their jobs during the 2010 service cuts. Prendergast noted that moving to OPTO could give the MTA the ability to restore some of these positions. He also discussed the concept of platform conductors — MTA employees tasked with crowd control at some of the more popular stations. It’s a nascent idea at best.

That’s the good stuff with regards to labor, but Prendergast hit upon some other issues in the interview as well. We’re in for a lot of service changes as the agency copes with Sandy damage. Vital equipment will have to be replaced sooner rather than later due to saltwater corrosion, and Prendergast warned of the system “be[ing] out of service at a more impactful level.” That fare hike scheduled for 2015 is still firmly on the table, and Prendergast is skeptical of recent calls for mayoral control of the MTA. “If you’re going to take the responsibility,” he said, “you have to have the funding to go along with it.”

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al April 15, 2013 - 3:36 pm

If OPTO (and SATO) is the goal, then he needs to look into advanced door controls and door cameras. That will improve OPTO dwell time, and at least maintain peak train headways.

Fixed platform cameras are still necessary as a way to phase in OPTO. Additionally, if you combine cameras with advanced machine vision and network them with signals and terminals, you can detect track intrusions and cut down on 12-9’s.

Ryan April 15, 2013 - 3:45 pm

The union should change regulations that prohibit trains longer than 300 feet from using OPTO.

Chris C April 15, 2013 - 5:27 pm

Thank you once again for yet another post that makes no sense at all.

Ryan April 15, 2013 - 8:32 pm

What do you mean? Not everyone knows that TWU regs require a crew member for every 300 feet of train.

SEAN April 15, 2013 - 6:08 pm

This is not my area of expertese, but Ryan even I know that post was nonsencical.

al April 15, 2013 - 11:52 pm

1) Its MTA (or NYCTA) regulation, not TWU. TWU does have a big say, but its an agency regulation at the end of the day.
2) The TWU regards anything that reduced staffing as a non-starter.

BrooklynBus April 15, 2013 - 4:25 pm

Prendergast is 100% right in his position regarding City control, that the funding must go along with the responsibility. That’s been my position all along. I don’t think that Quinn gets that.

D.R. Graham April 15, 2013 - 6:00 pm

Love it!!!! Best answer in regards to City Control I’ve heard throughout the entire argument. However, that quote does show you exactly why he wasn’t appointed Chairman and CEO the last time. Because that quote disregards the political song and dance most agency heads have to play before making a statement like that. It was a very “screw politics and the politicians” type statement. But most importantly, it was the truth! And politicians hate the truth, especially in an election year.

al April 15, 2013 - 11:54 pm

City control also invites further the state to further shirk on responsibilities. Pataki’s capital funding cuts during the 90’s would look small in comparison.

BrooklynBus April 16, 2013 - 12:30 am

Exactly what I am afraid of.

Nathanael April 25, 2013 - 7:04 pm

& recall that the City does not have unilateral legal ability to raise taxes beyond certain levels. The state does. This leaves the City permanently straitjacketed by the state.

Alek April 15, 2013 - 7:03 pm


just a reminder tonight is the Broadway fastrack and this weekend first fastrack on a weekend.

JJJJ April 15, 2013 - 9:02 pm

Use Boston as a model.

Same old stations (Bowdoin has many of the same issues south ferry does), same union issues….and yet over the past 4 years they went OPTO on the blue, orange and red lines.

Orange line saw off peak frequency improvements as a result, as operators were moved to other hours.

llqbtt April 16, 2013 - 12:30 pm

The R shuttle’s not OPTO?!

Ryan April 16, 2013 - 4:32 pm

Is it 8 cars long?


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