The New York State Senate has confirmed Tom Prendergast as chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Prendergast, 60, told senators at his confirmation hearing "I can't think of a better job to be in."
His predecessor, Joe Lhota, who left to run for New York City mayor, was an artful politician, unafraid to cajole and confront his opponents in equal measure. By contrast, Prendergast is a railroad man, through and through.
The confirmation comes nearly three months after Governor Andrew Cuomo nominated Prendergast for the job. Long Island politicians delayed the process to seek assurances that Long Island Rail Road won't have to compete for track space at Penn Station should Metro-North begin service there. (The story was first reported by Pete Donohue of The Daily News.)
Prendergast joined the NYC Transit Authority in 1982, and became head of the Long Island Rail Road in 1994. He went on to run Vancouver's transit system, a job he held when former MTA chief Jay Walder recruited him back to New York. Walder resigned after year in office, as did the following chairman, Joe Lhota, after another year.
Prendergast inherits an agency with an annual $13 billion dollar budget and 8.5 million riders per weekday. The MTA is in the midst of repairing nearly $5 billion in Sandy damage, while seeking an additional $4.1 billion in federal Sandy relief funds to harden the system against future floods. The authority's capital plan is now funded heavily with debt, a move fiscal watchdogs have criticized.
And the authority has already said fares will rise again in 2015.
Among Prendergast's immediate tasks will be resuming a stalled negotiation with the Transport Workers Union Local 100.
The unfinished labor contract, which is nearly a year and a half overdue, lends a sense of uncertainty to the budget. When Prendergast was asked at the transportation committee hearing about ideas for realizing future budget savings, he said "collective bargaining is one, deploying the work force to get better utilization out of them."
MTA officials have repeatedly said they plan to press the union into agreeing to either three years of flat pay or pay increases offset by rules concessions that bring increased productivity. Without those three “net-zeroes,” the MTA’s chronically fragile finances would become even more problematic.
At least to start, Prendergast begins the negotiation with a certain amount of good will from the union.
When Prendergast was first nominated for the job, TWU spokesman Jim Gannon told TN: “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. 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.”