Home MTA Prendergast out, Hakim in, as search begins for new MTA head

Prendergast out, Hakim in, as search begins for new MTA head

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 stepped down last Tuesday following a 25-year career with the MTA. (Photo via Gov. Andrew Cuomo on flickr)

In the hullabaloo over the opening of the Second Ave. subway, the revolving door that is the MTA Chair/CEO position started to turn again as Tom Prendergast announced that he planned to retire at the end of January, and as January came to an end last week, Prendergast did just that. After 25 years heading up the LIRR, New York City Transit and the entirety of the MTA, Prendergast worked his last day on January 31. He will be replaced by current New York City Transit President Ronnie Hakim on an interim basis with Fernando Ferrer overseeing the MTA Board.

“Ronnie Hakim is ready to embrace the challenge of running the nation’s largest transportation network during this transition. She is a true transportation professional who has dedicated her life to improving the commute for millions of New Yorkers and I am confident that in this new role she will continue doing that as we reimagine and modernize the MTA for the 21st century,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement announcing the interim succession plan.

When Prendergast first announced his retirement in early January, it did not come as a surprise to Cuomo as the two had been taking about it for a few months. Transit advocates and politicians had hoped that the governor would be ready to name a permanent replacement at the time, but instead, Cuomo has opted to engage in a search committee — which includes Prendergast and Ferrer — to find a suitable candidate for the top spot at the nation’s largest transit agency. Joining this committee will be one-time MTA head Joe Lhota, Kathryn Wylde of the Partnership for NYC, RPA Chair Scott Rechler, TWU President John Samuelsen, and former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater.

At one point, Lhota had been mentioned as a potential replacement, but he put this speculation to rest via his Twitter feed:

So who is, then, on the short list? Hakim is under consideration for the job, but according to The Times, Cuomo, who has taken a heavier hand of late with the MTA, could opt for one of his loyalists. Lawrence Schwartz, an MTA Board member, and Rick Cotton are on the list along with NYSDOT Commissioner Matthew Driscoll, Port Authority head Patrick Foye (who desperately wants to leave the PA), Anthony Foxx and John Porcari (though Porcari has told confidants he’s not interested in the job). If chosen, Hakim would be the first woman tabbed for the job.

Prendergast’s ultimate successor though has his or her work cut out for him or her. The L train shutdown is looming large with little public-facing urgency from MTA and NYC DOT to resolve what will be a disruptive situation, and the next board head will have to confront steep declines in subway performance and spiking capital costs while navigating the transit politics of Cuomo which may be well-intentioned but wrongly focused.

So it is again another time of transition atop the MTA. Prendergast leaves with his legacy more or less on the positive side. System-wide subway ridership is up, but he never solved the problems with buses. On-time performance has slipped precipitously, but the MTA opened four new stations under his watch. And he oversaw a period of labor peace (though without enacting any badly-needed work rule reforms). It’s a pivotal time for the MTA (though when isn’t it?), and we’ll have to see how long this executive search can drag on as time ticks toward the L train shutdown.

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SEAN February 7, 2017 - 11:11 am

Nothing against Ronnie Hakim, however I think it’s time to look towards our global pier transit systems to find the right candidate. Toronto, London& Paris are three cities that come to mind, but I’m sure there are others.

Bolwerk February 8, 2017 - 9:42 am

Ha. Remember how Walder was treated?

SEAN February 9, 2017 - 10:38 am

Of course I did, but don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Bolwerk February 9, 2017 - 11:44 pm

I’m not, but why would anyone want the job?

SEAN February 14, 2017 - 7:22 pm

That’s another topic all together, but I agree with you. There’s no upside since there are so many special interests wanting a cut of the action. It’s better to let the five families run the MTA. As dumb as that sounds, at least everyone would know whose in charge despite the corruption.

Please don’t take what I typed literally.

Chris C February 7, 2017 - 2:01 pm

Once again this shows a distinct lack of any sort of succession planning for a vital state organisation.

Prendergasts retirement should have been planned for and recruitment started much earlier so that his permanent replacement starts as soon as he retires (even delaying it if necessary rather than this constant swing door of interim leaders.

BTW it is very bad governance to have the current post holder involved in the recruitment of their replacement.

Pete Falina February 8, 2017 - 9:51 am

Looking at the photo, a possible caption stuck in my head:

Larry Littlefield February 9, 2017 - 7:59 am

If the Governor wants a revolution, he could always hire me. That would mean lots of questions asked and answered, publicly. I’m pretty sure that isn’t what anyone wants.

Here are a few.

Why do the door positions change with every car class? If they didn’t forget platform doors, the MTA could simply install walls at the platform edge everywhere the doors were not, drastically reducing the area where people could fall or be pushed.

Why will a large existing bank be hired to run the MTA’s payment system, when NYC’s financial sector is shrinking to a handful of corrupt, much-despised firms. With “branches” at every token booth and commuter rail station, and a transaction card that every transit commuter would have to carry, the MTA could cause two or three pretty significant new banks to come into being overnight. It’s risky, but so is relying on the existing companies.

What is the rate of long run productivity gain in every department at every MTA agency, and how was it achieved?

What share of MTA revenues is merely sucked into the past, and how is that communicated to its customers?


Bolwerk February 9, 2017 - 3:40 pm

Hey, there’s an idea. Turn the MTA into a bank for low-income people, like a postal bank. Those token booth agents can become tellers!

Larry Littlefield February 9, 2017 - 7:03 pm

The Post Office proposed such a thing for itself, as a way to avoid going under, but Congress will not allow it.

I don’t think the MTA could competently run a bank.

But were it not for the TWU and a institutional scleroses, it could allow one to three new banks to use its infrastructure (dedicated telecom lines to the booths and Metrocard machines) in exchange for sharing the cost of the station agents, who would also become tellers for some transactions, operating its fare media payment system (and thus delivering customers).

You’d have to go to a central location to get a loan or apply for an account, perhaps, but the new fare payment machines could double as cash machines.

How about a couple of new, honest banks with strong ethical rules in their charters? The MTA also has money to invest, another service. And floats bonds, another service. New banks could start with that, gradually proving themselves to earn a bigger share of the business, then seek other customers.

Adirondacker12800 February 9, 2017 - 7:17 pm

A credit union could handle it… at lower costs than a for profit bank.

Larry Littlefield February 10, 2017 - 8:19 am

The only difference between a bank and a credit union is the ownership structure, and who gets the profits. Mutuals, such as Vanguard, are another example.

After the last 20 years on Wall Street I’m surprised these and other alternatives aren’t popping up all over the place.

The trend has been the opposite. I don’t know if you are too young to remember, or have forgotten, but Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield was a mutual with a charitable mission. It got state permission to de-mutualize, with lots of stock and bonuses for executives, in exchange for a bonus paid to members of Local 1199, which then endorsed the incumbent politicians.


When I say long term care insurance will turn out to be money stolen, people point to New York Life, a mutual with a long history and a AAA rating. What is to stop them from making some campaign contributions and pulling the same stunt.

In any event, a credit union may be cheaper. But it had better be willing to pay up for IT, lest all the money of its participant be transferred to some unknown account in some other country.

Bolwerk February 11, 2017 - 1:37 pm

Adirondacker might be onto something though. There is already one or more unions of credit unions that work together to allow credit union members to do a lot of basic tasks at each other’s branch’s and ATMs (the latter is through the CO-OP network). I’d trust an organization like that before I’d trust snakes like Chase, plus a union of credit unions is less likely to go for-profit than insurance companies.

The MTA could become a limited service pseudo-credit union (deposits and savings, but no risky retail services). As far as managing deposits goes, that can be done by competent local credit unions, who can share returns with the MTA. Maybe wholesale loans could be made to small local depository institutions. Hitching your wagon to one company seems like a horrible idea.

Well, I say chew on the idea. Maybe there’s a politician we can pitch it to. It’s not like access to banking isn’t a major problem for low-income people. And it’s not a horrible idea for the MTA’s bottom line either.

Adirondacker12800 February 11, 2017 - 5:07 pm

My credit union offers everything, for regular old retail consumers, that commercial banks offer. The “checking” account is a NOW account but … it offers everything retail customers want. Probably don’t offer jumbo mortgages and no money down liar loans but for most people that isn’t a concern. At lower fees. And better interest rates.

… credit unions don’t make a profit so that wouldn’t do much for the MTA. The rent on the token booth would…

Bolwerk February 12, 2017 - 11:08 am

My credit union sent me an e-mail a few days ago saying, “Increase your purchasing power with our low rate personal loan.” Sounds like a plan!

Credit unions are supposed to price their products in a way that is beneficial to their members, so for the purposes of most other financial services the MTA would probably act as an investor.

Maybe the MTA could work out a deal to offer products through Credit Union Service Organizations, with Credit Unions acting as clients. These are for-profit and serve to help credit unions pool resources to offer higher-end products.

(Not sure the MTA could legally be a credit union, since legally credit union members’ own shares in the union.)

Larry Littlefield February 15, 2017 - 7:52 am

The MTA can’t own a credit union, owned by members, or a bank, owned by stockholders.

Were it not for the power of the unions and Wall Street, it could use its assets — millions of customers, an internal telecommunications net work to transactional employees in hundreds of locations — to shed most of the cost of fare collection and processing. (No new organization is going to pick up the high cost of public benefits). Creating one to three new financial organizations in the process.

Larry Littlefield February 12, 2017 - 5:18 pm

I don’t think existing credit unions can run a massive payment system such as MTA fare collection. Now one of those fintechs back by some VCs, on the other hand…

John-2 February 9, 2017 - 4:26 pm

From a subway standpoint, the MTA’s going from one of it’s rare bright periods (with the Hudson Yards and SAS Phase I opening), to what looks like a few years coming up with a lot of grumbling, first with the M train shutdown, followed by the L train repairs of the Sandy-damaged tunnels.

So there’s little for the Governor to do a victory lap about for a while (other than possibly reopening lower South Ferry), and Cuomo’s m.o. has been to be there for the big events and let him MTA chairman be the one to deliver the bad news and take the brickbats. Whomever they pick for the job better be good at doing that, since the next major positive events probably won’t arrive until the end of the decade.

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