Home MTA As 2nd Ave. Subway opens, MTA Chairman Prendergast announces retirement

As 2nd Ave. Subway opens, MTA Chairman Prendergast announces retirement

by Benjamin Kabak
MTA Chairman & CEO Tom Prendergast and Gov. Andrew Cuomo post after the inaugural New Year's Eve ride of the Second Ave. Subway. (Photo via Gov. Andrew Cuomo on flickr)

MTA Chairman & CEO Tom Prendergast and Gov. Andrew Cuomo post after the inaugural New Year’s Eve ride of the Second Ave. Subway. (Photo via Gov. Andrew Cuomo on flickr)

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.

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Tuck January 9, 2017 - 12:40 am

Looking forward to seeing your additional coverage about the 2nd Avenue Subway. For us, it has been a godsend. We can now get to Canal Street, from the 72nd Street Station, in 15 minutes. It makes the commute to elementary school each morning a joy. We also get a seat.

I would like to know when the countdown clocks will be working. I’d also be curious to know what the impact has been on the Lexington line, primarily the 6 train.

Lawrence Littlefield January 9, 2017 - 7:04 am

Of course if Cuomo wants questions asked and problems confronted, he could always appoint me.

The nightmare scenario is yet another Mayor/Governor who wants to run for President. And therefore wants to suck money out of the future, and defer cost to the future, beyond the next Presidential election in the hopes of heading out of town. While sweeping problems under the rug, and only sacrificing those who don’t matter.

Immigrants can’t vote, those in their 20s and 30s generally don’t.

Haterade January 9, 2017 - 8:44 am

When assessing Prendergast’s “legacy” try not to forget:

His time as SVP/Subways
His time as President of the LIRR
His time at STV after he left the LIRR
His time back at MTA HQ.
A mixed bag to say the least.

I’m glad phase I is done but all of the high-fiving and back-patting over a $4B project that is late and took the better part of a century to produce is a little self-serving. Cuomo is trying to position himself to run Trump, which is his prerogative, but he shows nothing that would indicate that he’d win any of the states that Trump won. If he is the nominee I see this is as being Mondale II.

Larry Littlefield January 9, 2017 - 8:48 am

His entire generation needs to be skipped, and ousted from Congress and the state legislature. They’ve done enough already.

We need an economic/fiscal “Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

Bolwerk January 9, 2017 - 2:01 pm

I see Prendergast as a guy who was a pretty good administrator who probably wasn’t up for doing policy work. Cuomo made him his pet monkey.

I don’t really think Cuomo is going to run, or get very far if he does, but Cuomo has two advantages over any Dem besides maybe Hillary: a large donor base and media connections to rival Trump. Four years of Trump incompetence might well be the perfect recipe to get Cuomo or something like him in office. Blech. All the Dems would need to do is fight off another Bernie insurgency, if there even is one (there’s only one Bernie and he’s old as fuck).

Larry Littlefield January 11, 2017 - 10:20 am

Who is out there that anyone has a reason to want to see elected President? Cuomo could be elected President for the same reason he ended up Governor — no other acceptable option.

And speaking of no acceptable option, name the person you would like to see as Governor of NYC when he is gone. Is there anyone who isn’t a total right wing nut case such as Paladino, and also isn’t a public employee union stooge dedicated to the proposition that the people of NY get too much in public services in exchange for too little in taxes and fees — at the highest state and local tax burden in the country?

Bolwerk January 11, 2017 - 3:16 pm

That’s fairly easy to answer. Agree with them or not, people like Sanders or Teachout obviously hold wide appeal for pretty concrete reasons (jobs, student loans). For that matter, so does Trump, at times for reasons that even make some sense.

I think in the case of the so-called centrists, there’s some cognitive dissonance you don’t find with harder core right. One, they’re crowd pleasers. Two, they play lip service to “progressivism” but ultimately are hostile to so-called social democracy – leaving as the only politically viable alternatives to neoliberalism the authoritarian strands of nationalism and populism that have been cropping up: Trump, AfD, Le Pen, Farage, #altright, etc..

Both de Blasio and Cuomo fit into that crowd. They’re almost indistinguishable from Bloomberg and Pataki except for some wider tolerance on some social issues.

Rufus January 9, 2017 - 9:00 am

For some reason , there is only 1 countdown clock at the new stations outside of fare control. For some reason, I cant figure out they have the old countdown clocks from the A division stations plastered everywhere – with only the day and date. Why on earth, they would put all those up just for day and date is beyond me.

BruceNY January 9, 2017 - 1:27 pm

Totally agree; why two different types of countdown clocks? And they hung exit signs about three feet in front of them along the platform so you can’t see them from a distance!

JEG January 9, 2017 - 9:59 am

As a rider, the new stations are tremendous. Being able to get on the subway at Second Avenue and 72nd Street, and get out on the West Side of Manhattan a few minutes later is amazing. Of course headways on the line can be a bit long, but we knew that would be the case before the line was up and running. Otherwise, the trains are quite full after stopping at 72nd Street (every seat filled 20 to 50 people standing). I haven’t seen the difference on the Lexington Avenue line, but I would imaging will all the people being pulled off the 4, 5, and 6, those trains must be less crowded.

BruceNY January 9, 2017 - 1:29 pm

I really do hope that the instant popularity of the line will act as a catalyst for getting Phase 2 moving. Whoever the Congressperson is for East Harlem (I don’t believe it’s Carolyn Maloney) ought to be pitching a fit how his/her constituents will have to wait for many more years before they have access to the 2nd Avenue Subway.

Joseph Steindam January 9, 2017 - 2:25 pm

Phase 2 is entirely in the district of Adriano Espaillat, who took over the 13th District seat from Charlie Rangel this year. However, Carolyn Maloney still needs to be an advocate for SAS, since the MTA needs to be pressured to figure out how to deliver Phases 3 and 4 of the SAS (Phase 3 is entirely in her district, Phase 4 is split between Nydia Velazquez and Jerry Nadler). Really, all of NYC’s elected officials need to be working with the MTA to figure out how they will deliver this project, and do so at a less substantial price.

BruceNY January 9, 2017 - 5:53 pm

I don’t think anyone in government has been as vocal and persistent an advocate as Carolyn Maloney. She started polling the neighborhood to gauge interest in the idea more than 15 years ago.

smotri January 9, 2017 - 3:01 pm

It took too long to build and was too expensive, I agree, but the new subway is revolutionary for people like me who used to be stuck with only the Lexington Avenue line. It would also be revolutionary for people in East Harlem and all along the intended route of the fully-built-out line and I hope this happens, as not only the residents of the Upper East Side have been deprived of the benefits of subway service for too long.

Peter January 9, 2017 - 2:01 pm

What’s the backstory here? I find it hard to believe Prendergast really feels ready to end his career at this point. Is this tied to Cuomo’s micromanagement? It must be galling for the man to have to go around talking up the wisdom of Cuomo boondoggles like the LGA Airtrain and draping LED lights over all the bridges and tunnels. I think he’s tired of being the lapdog.

Tower18 January 9, 2017 - 2:33 pm

He may know that difficult times are ahead, and he’ll never be able to bow out on such a high as this moment right here, right after Phase 1 opens.

SEAN January 9, 2017 - 3:26 pm

Perhaps;or Prendergast just doesn’t have the power of the Schwartz as Mel Brooks notes in Spaceballs. And let the Schwartz be with you! LOL

Tuck January 9, 2017 - 6:43 pm

One more point about the 2nd Avenue subway, 72nd street station. Already, it is incredibly busy in the morning from people arriving at the station, getting off the Q. Thinking it odd for what seems like a residential neighborhood (mine), I realized it is likely serving (well) the many hospital workers employed at Sloan & NY Presb/Cornell. They must be quite pleased. No under-utilization here.

Also noticed there is no West side (of 2nd Avenue) entrance for the subway at 86th street. Surprising.

Tower18 January 9, 2017 - 7:42 pm

That is surprising about the 86 St station, as there is/was a hole on the NW corner of 86th/2nd for crane access, and they tore down the corner of the building there. It’s in the process of being rebuilt, so I wonder if an entrance will be incorporated into the building, as at 83rd, when it reopens.

Bruce R McCallister January 9, 2017 - 8:41 pm

I just came out of 86th St. tonight about 6:45. Wow, it was quite a crowd–lines to get on the escalator from the platform, all escalators to the street full. It would be handy to have an entrance on the west side of 2nd since there’s a lot of businesses/stores in that direction.

Meanwhile, only four turnstiles at the mezzanine? All the emergency door exits had to be opened to accomodate the crowd exiting.

JEG January 9, 2017 - 7:54 pm

Think about all the employers in the neighborhood: Memorial Sloan Kettering, Weill Cornell, New York–Presbyterian Hospital, and Hospital for Special Surgery, as well as tons of medical practices; Rockefeller University and other research facilities; Sotheby’s at the corner of York Avenue and 72nd Street; Marymount College and Hunter College; and all the employees of hundreds of small businesses that don’t live in the immediate neighborhood.

Guest January 9, 2017 - 9:32 pm

Hunter College/Memorial Sloan Kettering and Rockefeller University are also currently expanding in the area too.

pat January 10, 2017 - 8:16 pm

There’s no freaking garbage cans on the actual 72nd Street platform.

Matt C - STL January 11, 2017 - 9:58 am

As someone who does not live in New York, but as kind of a transit geek, I’ve wondered why there is not a push to fund expansion similar to what has taken place in LA, Seattle and quite a few other places around the country through a sales tax? Measure M in LA is raising $120 billion on a 1/2 cent tax for transit expansion in a county that is not much larger than New York City population-wise. Is it because the MTA is a state controlled entity?

Larry Littlefield January 11, 2017 - 11:50 am

The answer is that NY already has the highest state and local tax burden in the country, and taxes have already been increased — including sales taxes — to pay for transit, but there is still zero money available to expand or even maintain the system.

The most recent increases were a 1/4 cent PAYROLL and self employment tax, and a 1/8 cent additional sales tax.

All the money is going to debts and pensions.

smotri January 11, 2017 - 12:04 pm

All of it?

Larry Littlefield January 11, 2017 - 1:08 pm

How much of all those additional MTA taxes enacted in the past two deccades is available for future MTA capital plans?

How about the state “millionaire’s tax” enacted as a “temporary measure” during the last recession?

Matt C - STL January 11, 2017 - 12:33 pm

The tax burden is high, but it’s not the highest in the country – http://cfo.dc.gov/sites/defaul.....0Study.pdf LA’s is similarly high across most income levels and it’s passed multiple increases.

But, in line with what you wrote, is the perception there that even if an increase were passed, it would be essentially wasted in overruns and shoring up old debt? If the MTA were able to produce a detailed plan like LA did for Measure M, would people even believe it?

Larry Littlefield January 11, 2017 - 1:07 pm

The DC research is only for homeowners, and does not include business taxes and other indirect taxes.

Stephen January 11, 2017 - 1:20 pm

Those of us here in bucolic New York City pay state and local sales taxes as well as state and local income taxes, so we’ve got quite the tax burden.
But for me it boils down to the fact that I don’t trust any politician when they say ‘this money will go to education, transit, and raising unicorns.’ They tell us the money is locked away in the proverbial lockbox for that particular task, but no sooner is the lockbox built, you have the same politicians unlocking it to steal the money to put it into the ‘general fund’ so that they can pass it around to their cronies.
Am I skeptical of any tax bump building the subsequent phases of the 2nd Ave subway? Yes.
But, if there was a way to actually collect that money and have it stay locked away, then we can talk. But do we start collecting the money before we have good plans for the next phase? There is a reason we have the saying ‘The devil is in the details.’
Of course, another problem for temporary taxes is the definition of temporary.

Larry Littlefield January 11, 2017 - 4:11 pm

Politicians are hardly going to announce that taxes are being raised or services cut in the present as a result of what they did in the past which is now the present.

But that is the reality.

BruceNY January 11, 2017 - 7:59 pm

I don’t know how it is in California, but here we have a Governor that has intentionally avoided funding the MTA (lockbox? Yeah, right) and only shows an interest in the MTA when it’s time to swoop in on opening day to appear at the ribbon cutting and to take credit.


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