MTA more prepared for snow

A bus rests atop a pile of snow and ice on 39th Avenue in Woodside following the December 2010 blizzard. Photo by Christina Santucci
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New York City Transit President Thomas Prendergast said Tuesday the MTA’s performance in the near-catastrophic blizzard a year ago was inadequate but that the agency had learned much and has made vast changes since then.

“When we appeared before this body for more than four hours last January, you were understandably very unhappy with our performance, as you were with the performance of other city operating agencies for what was inarguably an inadequate response to the Dec. 26, 2010, blizzard,” Prendergast said at a City Council Transportation Committee hearing in downtown Manhattan.

The snowstorm paralyzed the city and left some Queens streets unplowed for days as residents struggled to get to work, buy groceries and get medical attention. Subways, buses and the Long Island Rail Road stopped running and service was not restored on some lines for several days.

Transportation Committee Chairman James Vacca (D-Bronx) told Prendergast and other transit officials that “we want to insure straphangers that all is being done that can be done to avoid a repeat of that storm that immobilized our transportation system.”

Prendergast said, “Many of the changes we were able to quickly execute were tested with great success during subsequent snowstorms in January and February. They were recently tested again during Hurricane Irene and the first winter snowstorm of this season just before Halloween.”

Prendergast said Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials learned that they cannot always keep the transit system running regardless of the weather.

“There was a mantra to run at all costs,” Prendergast said. “There are times when you have to change that mantra, where it’s clear that you can’t continue top-rate service.”

Among changes Prendergast mentioned — some right after the 2010 storm — were the appointment of an emergency team to look after passengers in immobilized vehicles and more detailed and reliable bus service status information on the website, as well as improvements in bus operating procedures for evaluating and responding to bad roads.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Vacca suggested that straphangers may be taking a “wait-and-see attitude” on whether everything is ready for a snowy winter.

But Vacca praised and thanked Prendergast for a “very thorough report.”

Vacca spoke in a manner of great concern about the status of the transit system in bad weather. It no doubt also concerned members of his committee, although it was difficult to gauge their concern.

Vacca had to gavel the hearing into session with no other committee members present. They trickled in throughout the hearing, with committee member Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) showing up just before the hearing was adjourned.

Committee members Darlene Mealy (D-Brooklyn), David Greenfield (D-Brooklyn) and Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan) were absent.

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

Posted 1:09 am, December 8, 2011
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