So anything big happen when I was gone?
After a New Year’s trip to Paris, I arrived back to a New York City with a brand new part of a subway as the Second Ave. Subway opened to the public on January 1. I was skeptical the agency would be able to hit its target date, but under extreme pressure from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the four-stop extension of the Q train arrived with champagne and a party on New Year’s Eve. Already, Upper East Side residents who now live a ten-minute one-seat subway ride away from Times Square have been raving about the new service, and I’ll have more details, thoughts and photos from the Phase 1 subway stops later this week. But first the news.
As the first part of the Second Ave. Subway has opened, current MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast has said he will step down from his position and retire from public service within the next few weeks or months. Prendergast has been in charge of the MTA since June of 2013 when he was elevated from his job as President of New York City Transit when Joe Lhota stepped down to run for mayor, and Prendergast was recently confirmed to a term set to run through 2021.
“Opening the Second Avenue Subway [last] weekend was a crowning achievement for the MTA and I’m proud to have been a part of such a historic moment. It has not only changed the daily commute for hundreds of thousands of customers, it has helped change the face of the MTA – showing the public we can meet the deadlines we set for ourselves,” Prendergast said in a statement. “It’s never easy to leave an organization after 25 years of service, but I do so knowing that the MTA will continue to serve the public so well and that our Governor will ensure New York continues to have the most robust transportation system in the country.”
While Prendergast will serve just shy of four years as MTA head, his departure continues a recent trend in turnover atop the MTA. Not counting interim agency leaders, Prednergast’s eventually replacement will be the MTA’s fifth chairman since the end of Peter Kalikow’s term in late 2007. As a comparison, the agency had only five chairmen from its founding in 1968 until the end of Robert Riley’s term in 1991. The turnover has led to shifting priorities and, at times, a lack of direction, but with Prendergast at the helm, the agency had steadied its direction a bit (though the multi-billion-dollar elephant in the room that is the MTA’s capital costs has been largely ignored for years now).
In recent months, Gov. Cuomo had taken a keen interest in MTA goings-on, for better or worse, and with Prendergast’s departure, Cuomo will have an opportunity to further extend his hands-on approach to the MTA. Kenneth Lovett of the Daily News, who broke word of Prendergast’s departure, had an early list of potential replacements. This rogues gallery includes current Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye, NYC Transit President Ronnie Hakim (who could be the first woman in the job), NYS DOT Commissioner Matt Driscoll, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, one-time U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari, Joe Lhota in a repeat performance, and Cuomo confidantes Rick Cotton or Larry Schwartz, the latter of whom currently sits on the MTA Board.
It’s too early to know for now who will take over for Prendergast or who is even a front-runner, but the list of challenges on hand for the MTA in the coming months and years is substantial. In the short-term, the current TWU contract expires on January 15, and the union is asking for raises and other benefits. Fare hikes are set to go into effect in March, and the agency is knee-deep in planning both Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway and logistics for the upcoming L train shutdown. Meanwhile, the MTA’s cost problem should be front and center for any incoming CEO/Chair.
As Prendergast’s departure nears, I’ll assess his legacy. For now, the MTA heads into another period of change and uncertainty at the top just as work wraps on the agency’s signature project of the past decade. What comes next from Cuomo and from Prendergast’s successor is, for now, a bit of a mystery.