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2019 Perspectives and Priorities: VTA Board Chair Teresa O’Neill

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2019 VTA Board Chair Teresa O’Neill shared her perspectives and priorities for the agency at the January 10 VTA Board of Directors meeting.  

Here is a slightly edited version of her remarks for our blog. To hear the full remarks, watch the recorded meeting.

I want to thank the board and the community for the opportunity to serve the people of the Santa Clara Valley as chair of the VTA. These are extremely interesting times for this organization as well as our entire region. I’m reminded of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities-- “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Spirit-choking traffic congestion and housing shortages are caused in part by an abundance of employment opportunities and capital available for investment. However, for those on the receiving end of inadequate transportation or housing, the prosperity of many of our businesses may not provide comfort. If this community with abundant resources, capabilities, and openness to reinventing the world cannot solve these issues and provide the quality of life that people in California expect to enjoy, who can?  And what does it say about us if we don’t?

So where does VTA fit in? Right smack dab in the middle, geographically, and with more programs, products, and responsibilities than probably any other transportation agency in Northern California. In order to deliver to our community, everyone who is part of VTA must be completely mission-focused: “Solutions that move you.”  Anything that doesn’t serve that mission must be set aside. How do we fulfill that mission and provide transportation solutions and move people where they need to be? 

For the next year, I am proposing that the board have four main areas of focus: 


Financial Sustainability
Transportation Innovation
Workforce Development
Board Governance
 
Financial Sustainability-- While all transportation is subsidized in one way or another, VTA must have structure and services that can deliver on the mission without incurring ongoing deficits.  The public has shown great confidence in VTA and other agencies by providing us with several ways to fund transportation. We have to deliver on that faith before we ask for more funds. 

A group of board members will work with staff to flesh out the plan to implement the recommendations of the Financial Stability Committee. Our systems, processes, and workplace must reflect the practices of the 21st century to ensure we are operating in the most efficient way possible. Let’s be public stewards and provide services the community wants and needs.  

Transportation Innovation-- We must consider every option to move people where they need to go. While VTA may not be the provider of every solution, the agency should be a facilitator and convener. We must form better regional networks with existing systems such as ACE and Capitol Corridor to ensure they work seamlessly with VTA.

While the world is buzzing with all things autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence, we have available technology at the ready that can improve travel times. This includes a county-wide traffic signal system that uses one coordinated technology. There are no excuses for not doing this. We must find a way to superimpose changes on a sprawling valley not conducive to transportation efficiency.

It is imperative that VTA electrifies our network. We are cleaning up electric generation, but greenhouse gas emissions from all vehicles continues to increase.  This is an existential threat to us all.

Workforce Development-- Transportation is a people business, and VTA’s highly-skilled and dedicated employees are at the forefront. Innovation comes from people. We need to examine our work environment to ensure that all VTA employees have the support, training opportunities, and mechanisms to innovate and improve how they fulfill their part of VTA’s mission. We need to grow together and be willing to change when change is warranted.

Board Governance-- Board members are not exempt from this need to change. A stronger board will make for a stronger VTA.  While we all juggle serving on multiple boards and councils, we need to be fully engaged with VTA.  We can improve the way we educate new board members and provide on-going development for all board members.
 
I am working with VTA General Manager Nuria Fernandez on an upcoming “Future of Transportation” workshop. We should also identify other workshops that will help us be more effective board members to fulfill our key role in shaping strategy. Board members must be willing and prepared to be effective advocates for the requirements of transportation to our residents, the business community, and our representatives in other levels of government. 

I want us to implement a program where VTA board members regularly meet with our legislators here in their district offices to help them understand the details of our transportation needs.  Our board members must lead the way in reaching out to our peers in neighboring regions to build solutions, even if it means we don’t have complete control.  When have we ever had that in the end anyhow? 

It’s imperative that we build better bonds with our neighbor regions to help them improve their local economies. We can’t and shouldn’t expect everyone to come to Silicon Valley to work.  We must find it within ourselves to be better leaders, to know when to stand firm, when to find consensus, and when to fight for ideas that may not be initially popular. 

I will convene a board working group to look at a range of board governance practices.  I’ll enlist the help of Board Member McAlister to help me brainstorm how to improve board engagement and effectiveness.

This year, we face some of the most difficult times VTA has encountered. I truly believe with all of us dedicated to VTA’s mission, we can deliver on our promises to our customers, taxpayers, and employees. With everyone’s participation, we can make difficult choices to achieve financial stability.

Let’s start delivering the 2016 Measure B projects. We will open our beautiful BART stations and start experiencing the possibilities of an expanded transportation network.  We will explore the best way to incorporate first and last mile alternatives into our system in as safe a way as possible and do it quickly. These things will re-establish our confidence, and with some well-earned swagger, we can take on the many social challenges in front of us. I hope we will all be on board for the ride ahead. 

Thank you again for a chance to be part of this future with you.
 

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