Beverly Silas hopes to be a part of a transportation transformation in Austin. Sworn in last week as the Travis County Representative on the Capital Metro Board, Silas is a visionary and a leader who brings to the board “a sense of community needed for decisions to be more transparent and communicated on a greater scale”, her knowledge of transportation issues, and over three decades of experience in public affairs and public relations, which can be used to help improve the agency’s tarnished image.
Silas was the Director of External Affairs and spokesperson for AT&T-Texas before retiring from the company after 31 years. Retirement was like a fresh start for Silas, who went on to become the founding Executive Director and CEO of Envision Central Texas, a non-profit concerned with sensible growth, the CEO of Concept Development & Planning, LLC, a full service communications firm, and founder of Beverly Silas & Associates, a public affairs and public involvement firm.
Since participating in a nine-month policy research project, Silas has been interested in transportation issues affecting Central Texas. The project, a comparative analysis on transportation funding, was part of her master’s degree program from the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs. She was hired as a contractor for Capital Metro shortly after receiving her Masters in Public Affairs with a concentration in transportation.
The Travis County Commissioners Court appointed Silas to the state-mandated restructured board. The legislation, meant to help the ailing agency, went into effect on January 1, 2010. It increased the size of the board from seven to eight members, reduced the number of elected officials required to sit on the board, and instituted new requirements regarding the professional experience of certain appointees. Silas is one of two women on the new board and the only African-American. Some of the challenges inherited by the board include the much delayed passenger rail line, financial difficulties, and labor issues.
At the new board’s first meeting on January 8, 2010, they formed four committees to attempt to tackle some of these problems. Silas, who is on the search committee for a new general manager and the rail line implementation committee, finds these to be the most pressing issues. The nationwide search for a general manager is just getting started, said Silas, with CapMetro staff members reviewing firms qualified to process applications for the position. Silas would like to see a visionary who utilizes best practices, is respected by his/her peers, and is knowledgeable in transportation issues take on the role.
According to Silas, the Red Line is expected to begin service sometime in the first quarter of 2010. Silas hopes to more forward with more transit-oriented development (TOD) in Central Texas, with affordable housing and stores centered around pedestrian-friendly transit stops.
When asked about the fare increase taking place on January 18, Silas said that it is very much needed. Austin receives the lowest percentage of money used for operations from the fare box compared to all other cities in the United States with public transit. The rest comes from grants, sales tax revenue, and federal stimulus money. However, she is proud of Austin for being compassionate and offering reduced fares for those with financial hardships, such as students, the elderly, and the disabled. She is hoping to expand the line down the road, in terms of hours and number of lines, as population grows. Silas points out that there are costs associated with running these lines and that the demand has to be there. She eventually wants to see commuter rail from Leader to San Marcos, downtown Austin to the airport, and even out East, to Manor and Elgin.
She expects more opportunities for revenue generation to come up in the future. Currently, University of Texas students ride free on public transportation. The contract with the university expires in about a year, which will give the agency an opportunity to sit down with the university and revisit the contract.