In July, Mayor Sylvester Turner appointed a Houston native and local banking executive Teresa Morales to serve as the newest member on the board for the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Morales, 55, is a senior vice president in Amegy Bank's corporate banking division and attended her first board meeting on July 26, where she and other board members discussed - as she calls it - the "ambitious" draft of MetroNEXT, the transit authority's latest plan for the future of Houston's public transportation.
She took the board position of transit guru Christof Spieler, who reached the eight-year maximum for transit board service this year, and she'll be a part of the board until April 2020.
On July 27, the day following her first board meeting, Urban Edge connected with Morales and Metro press officer Jerome Gray to talk about her goals and experiences with Metro.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Your first board meeting was yesterday afternoon. How was it and what did you go over?
Morales: It was my first meeting and it was really interesting because we talked about the plans for the future for what is called MetroNEXT. They had different plans that they went over. Kind of what they would like to see and the more realistic things that could possibly happen. In light of all of that, they, of course, went over how we are going to pay for it and our budget constraints and that was – I think – the significant discussion. No decisions have been made, but there’s going to be an on-going discussion.
We’re going to have a workshop next month in August where we are going to continue our discussions.
Was there any particular part of the MetroNEXT draft that you were most excited about?
M: Well, if you look at the plans for the region it’s significant – I think it’s about $35 billion – and it’s exciting and it would be extremely difficult to come up with all those funds. If there was a way for us to work with partners and other municipalities, federal governments, maybe even the private sector to come up with the funds for that, the potential is so exciting. Not just for our generation, but also for other generations.
It’s definitely a bold plan, but I think it’s needed if you think about how we’re growing and where we’ll continue to grow and we’ll have to tackle transportation. A bold plan is needed, but how are you going to come up with the money needed to pay for it.
Gray: One thing that I will point out, just so you know. What they are going to do during the workshop is discuss thing from financial projections, but also our steps forward because we are going to go back out to the public for another round of input on the possibilities there. We have this big, bold vision, but as Miss. Morales pointed out, this is a limited plan depending on the money available. So we are going to be getting public input on all of that.
M: The bold plan is what I would like to have happen, but that’s probably not going to happen.
So what are the details of the plan that you’d most like to focus on?
M: The thing that stood out to me the most was the commuter route. Connecting the outlying neighborhoods, like Katy.
Where would you like to see Metro going during your time with Metro, since your appointment lasts until at least 2020?
M: It’s going to depend on our limited budget, but I do think that we have transportation issues that we are going to have to deal with and it’s how we can look at new ways to deal with the high capacity transportation given our limited resources. So it would be just coming up with new creative ideas because we do have limited resources.
Is there a specific city in America or around the world that you’d love Houston’s transportation to model after?
M: Well, I have not been there, but I have heard that Japan has an extraordinary transportation system and that they have this huge population and they are able to get their citizens transported very quickly and efficiently in very large numbers.
What I understand is they have public money and private money to fund that system.
I imagine that Metro does the same?
G: No. Ours is all public money.
Is Metro thinking about expanding to private funds?
G: They have been investigating and looking into that potential. Certainly, going on to the future with this MetroNEXT, that’s something that’s going to be on the table.
How often do you take public transportation now, Miss Morales?
M: Mainly I use the Red Rail Line and usually if I go to the Medical Center or NRG, I use that system. It’s efficient. It’s quick. You don’t have to worry about parking, especially in the Medical Center.
What was your motivation in accepting the mayor’s appointment to the Metro board?
M: Well, it’s one of the most important boards in the region, so of course it was an honor, but in addition to that, I have to say, if you think about Metro and the two types of customers they serve: one would be individuals using their private cars now that we would like them to start to use public transportation and then the other customers are the individuals that they rely on public transportation because they have no other means. And so, I have experience with both of those categories and that was my main motivation, as well.
Previously you were the VP of Amgey Bank, so how will your experience there help you with your goals on the Metro board?
M: Right now I’m the senior vice president in their corporate banking division, so I deal with a lot of clients whose revenues are similar to Metro, so I have experience – financial experience to these types of entities, so I think I’ll add value there, but also on a personal level I have a lot of deep contacts within the community and I have experience using public transportation in my childhood and my adult life, and I think all of that can add value.
For more information about the MetroNEXT plan, visit our break down of the plan here.