TransLink president Tom Prendergast heads to New York City

This morning (November 5), news broke that TransLink president Tom Prendergast will resign from his position as head of the regional transportation body and take a job in the United States, as president of New York City’s public-transit system.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is the largest public transportation system in North America, so the move is a big step up for Prendergast, and likely a highly lucrative one.

But Prendergast—who joined TransLink in July 2008—does not have a spotless record working in British Columbia.

TransLink is currently in need of an additional $260 million a year just to maintain current service levels.

In recent years, TransLink has also come under scrutiny for allegedly placing land developers’ concerns over those of public transit users.

And while construction of the Canada Line was approved long before Prendergast took the reins of TransLink, under his tenure, costs continued to balloon, Cambie Street merchants closed their doors one after another, and there remained serious questions about whether or not the Canada Line’s projected ridership numbers will ever be able to financially sustain the rapid transit line.

In addition, as any frequent user of Metro Vancouver’s buses will tell you, pass-ups are a greater problem than ever before.

With these issues in mind, I was curious about why the MTA—which is essentially at the top of the public transit game in North America—decided to bring Prendergast onboard to run MTA New York City Transit.

I put in an interview request for MTA chair and chief executive officer Jay H. Walder, hoping to hear him explain the decision. The request was denied, and the media release below was supplied to the Straight in lieu of any real information.

Note that not a single accomplishment related to Prendergast’s time at TransLink is mentioned. Here’s the release.

For Release

MTA Names Thomas F. Prendergast
As President of MTA New York City Transit
Former Head of Subways and LIRR Returns to NY
After Leading Vancouver’s Transit System

Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Chairman and CEO Jay H. Walder today announced the appointment of Thomas F. Prendergast as President of MTA New York City Transit (NYCT). Prendergast joins NYCT from Vancouver, where he is the CEO of the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority, known as TransLink. A world-renowned transit expert, Prendergast is no stranger to the MTA, previously serving as President of MTA Long Island Rail Road and Senior Vice President of Subways at NYCT. Prendergast will assume his new role on December 1. He replaces Howard H. Roberts, who resigned yesterday.

“Tom is a leader who brings an extraordinary variety of experiences from around the world to a system that he already knows extremely well,” said Walder. “Tom’s work running one of the most technologically sophisticated systems in Vancouver will be invaluable as we take the MTA to the next level in performance and customer service.”

Prendergast, 57, brings more than 30 years of transportation experience to NYCT. He began his career at the Chicago Transit Authority and worked at the Federal Transit Administration before joining NYCT in 1982. He rose through the ranks, eventually running the subway system from 1990 to 1994. He then served as President of MTA Long Island Rail Road from 1994 to 2000. He joined TransLink in July 2008 after working in the private sector for eight years. During his time in the private sector, Prendergast worked in the engineering and construction management consultation sector and was directly involved in the delivery of transportation infrastructure and construction projects.

“It is a tremendous honor to return home to lead the outstanding men and women who run one of the world’s great transit systems,” said Prendergast. “I look forward to working with Jay Walder to implement the customer service improvements that New Yorkers deserve. Running New York City Transit is one of the great challenges and honors in the profession, and I will bring all of my energy and passion to the job.”

Prendergast holds a B.S. in Socio-Technological Systems Engineering from the University of Illinois and is a graduate of the Harvard Program for State and Local Government Executives.

# # #

Aaron Donovan
Deputy Press Secretary
Metropolitan Transportation Authority

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Evil Eye

Nov 5, 2009 at 4:11pm

Pendergast came.

He saw.

He left.

Ha, ha, ha - he saw TransLink for waht it was a Mickey Mouse organization that was a complete waste of time..

Bus Ride Uh

Nov 5, 2009 at 4:11pm

How very nice of ole Tom(American) to leave in the middle of a Translink labour strike involving HandyDART and MVT Canadian Bus(American Company) and wash his hands clean before anyone started to investigate how an American for profit company that was the highest bidder won the HandyDART contract.


Nov 5, 2009 at 4:12pm

I don't pretend to know all the angles and curves that Translink has to deal with, while struggling with a billion dollar deficit financing, but it seems to me, that there is no better time than at this critical juncture, to reconsider light rapid rail transit, in the greater lower mainland. The median that separates the east-west 401 lanes is now disemboweled from Port Mann bridge and approaching Abbotsford. What better time to, rather than a 3rd (HOV) lane, install an LRT system on this valuable property, that has the potential to run all the way out to Chilliwack, (and beyond?). No private property concerns here, and with the rapid build-up of residential areas all the way out to Chilliwack, it seems like a win-win situation. Gordon Price is quoted as saying "the truckers have won". If we don't address this problem, we'll also be saying "the automobile lobby has won, once again". It's not too late to reconsider, and divert those sparce funds to a more futuristic program.

going forward

Nov 5, 2009 at 4:45pm

I think it's a shame he's leaving. He tried to expand the transit system in this region to help people (in and out of cars) and goods move around the region in a manner that will improve service and make transit more attractive to a larger proportion of the population. In order to do that, TransLink needs to raise funds for appropriate infrastructure, funds that our "green" provincial government with a passion of 1950s era transportation ideas wouldn't allow. For example, look at what could be built for less than the price of the $3 billion and climbing Gateway project: So much for a 'sustainable region'. Thanks for the auto-dependent future Mr. Campbell and friends.

BTW, there is a much more comprehensive write up of what Pendergrast was trying to do here:

Eric Chris

Nov 5, 2009 at 7:01pm

Tom really doesn’t have a good understanding of livability and sustainability and has been trying to turn Vancouver into another Toronto where people commute hours each day on transit. His idea of sustainability is operating soot blowing diesel buses on our zero emission hydro-electric trolley bus routes to save money.

He’s better off in NY where he can make tons of money, and I wish him the best. TransLink already has dozens of VPs, presidents, directors and CEOs doing next to nothing for tens of millions of dollars. Running transit doesn’t require much more than one person making $100K in my opinion and we are being taken for a ride by all these $300K transit executives at TransLink.

At least Tom had the decency to leave TransLink and probably felt guilty for being paid his $300K salary to attend meetings all day. His fellow executives at TransLink are parasites. They make out as if they are running NASA and worthy of their $300K salaries when all they do is waste our money all day and act as puppets for the provincial government which really makes the decisions at TransLink.

Evil Eye

Nov 6, 2009 at 7:40am

Well said Eric!

Here is the real problem, Vancouver insists on building hugely expensive metro lines on routes that do not have the ridership to sustain them. Prendergast knew this as he is a heavy-rail metro man and by knowing so, also saw a massive financial iceberg on the horizon that Captain Gordo was steering into.

TransLink's "Board of Experts", was an oxymoron, as they are some of the most inept, transit ignorant people around. Prendergast saw this and was ashamed.

TransLink's bureaucrats are some of the most incompetent, gold-bricking, arrogant bunch of "Peter Principle" types ever assembled in one place, as Prendergast soon found out.

The provincial politicians, turned out to be two-faced, integrity-challenged no-minds who only did what the "Great Gordo" told them to do.

Prendergast, seeing Vancouver and Vancouver transit for what it was; got out of Dodge fast!

Eric Chris

Nov 6, 2009 at 1:19pm

EE, I agree, TransLink is imploding and Tom is smart enough get out before the it too late.


Nov 7, 2009 at 2:56am

"TransLink has been plagued by “significant operational issues” and has not worked hard enough to manage its finances, according to a report by B.C.’s comptroller-general Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland.

The report, released Friday, partly blamed TransLink’s woes on conflicting interests and “ineffective communication” with the regional mayors’ council, its board of directors and the provincial government."

Thanks Cheryl, we already had that figure out long ago.

Mr. Buzzer

Nov 18, 2009 at 8:30am

If you look at MTA's structure, NYC Transit is comparable to Coast Mountain Bus Company, not Translink. In other words, it looks like Tom assessed the situation and called a few buddies to get him the hell out of here even if it meant a lesser postiton than the ones he held before.