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NYC Transit prez admits blizzard missteps

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New York City Transit President Thomas Prendergast admitted to a City Council committee last week that his agency faltered in preparations for the Dec. 26 blizzard and stumbled in reacting after the storm laid waste to the transit system.

Prendergast spoke for the better part of four hours Friday in response to questions and at times testy representations from angry members of the Council Transportation Committee.

The public hearing began with Committee Chairman James Vacca (D-Bronx) introducing Prendergast, who was flanked by Department of Buses Senior Vice President Darrel Irick and Carmen Bianco, senior vice president for subways. Vacca asked Prendergast for a copy of his report on the blizzard and its aftermath.

When Prendergast replied that he had nothing written, Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) took loud exception.

“This is outrageous,” Quinn shouted. “You are disrespectful. I am inclined to adjourn this hearing.”

Prendergast promised to make a written report to the committee along with answers on data posed later in the hearing.

“The facts are damning,” Vacca said. “We know that the MTA, despite widespread reports of an approaching blizzard, did not activate its snow emergency plan until many hours after the storm hit, when it was too late to make the difference that it really would have made.”

“This is a wake-up call,” Vacca said “We are lucky that no one lost their life.”

Prendergast said an earlier weather forecast called for 1 to 3 inches of snow.

“We were lulled into a false sense of security on our own,” Prendergast said, adding that his agency failed in emergency preparedness and did not establish a situation room to direct the Transit Authority’s response operation to the aftermath of the blizzard.

He said his agency, once it determined a blizzard was approaching, should have put the system on Plan 4, the highest alert.

Prendergast said the TA also failed to give straphangers the latest information on service on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority website the morning of Dec. 27 and should have been more dedicated in efforts to rescue hundreds of passengers stranded in an A train in Queens.

“We were flawed from the beginning,” Prendergast said.

“It’s beyond shocking,” Quinn told Prendergast. “I sit here more worried about the future of the transit system to deal with a future snowstorm than I was during the last snowstorm.”

After a short recess, the hearing resumed with appearances by several union officials.

“You have just received a big snow job from management,” said Angelo Tanzi, president of Local 726 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, representing bus drivers and mechanics in the Staten Island bus division of the MTA.

Commenting on the MTA assurance that cost-saving was never a consideration during the blizzard’s aftermath, Tanzi said, “It’s all about money.”

Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union distributed copies of what the union called a “White Paper — MTA Response to the Blizzard of 2010.”

The 17-page release takes issue with reports and updates on mta.info before, during and after the snowstorm.

Queens councilmen at the hearing included Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), Peter Koo (R-Flushing) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside).

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-260-4536.

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