Marina Alderete Gavito is the newest member of VIA Metropolitan Transit's board of trustees. Bexar County Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of her appointment Tuesday.
"Gavito's appointment is a welcome and exciting addition to the VIA Board," outgoing Chair Hope Andrade told the Rivard Report in a text. "She is joining VIA at a milestone moment in the agency's path, where we mark 40 years of service and look to the future of public transportation as a time for driving innovation and opportunity."
Gavito, 36, is an innovation business development director at USAA and previously served as Tech Bloc's executive director – a position that managed cloud company Rackspace assigned her while the tech industry advocacy organization started to grow into its own. She replaces outgoing trustee Bobby Perez, the vice president for general counsel and corporate relations for Spurs Sports and Entertainment.
"[She] has deep roots in our community and a celebrated record of service. She is an enthusiastic transit advocate who represents the future of leadership for San Antonio, Bexar County, and for VIA," Andrade said. "I'm looking forward to her contributions with the Board in advancing mobility in our region."
In early January, Mayor Ron Nirenberg appointed Gavito to the Airport System Development Committee, a 21-member group tasked with tackling challenges facing San Antonio’s aviation industry. She also serves on the boards of the Ella Austin Community Center, Bexar County Children’s Welfare, St. Mary’s Alumni Association, and is chair of Move San Antonio.
A frequent VIA bus rider, Gavito said she sees room for improvement in the ways VIA utilizes technological solutions to serving 14 member cities and unincorporated areas of Bexar County.
"We need to use technology to help our more vulnerable areas of town," she told the Rivard Report, and there already is momentum at the metro transit authority to do that.
In its second Codeathon last week, VIA challenged coders, designers, and tech experts to develop problem-solving or service-enhancing products.
"I love that VIA is saying, 'Here are our problems ... help us solve it,'" Gavito said.
As a technologist, she hopes to explore ways VIA can improve its mobile application. While it allows passengers to easily pay for fares, goMobile still needs work in terms of its mapping and GPS features, she said. "San Antonio is ripe for transportation disruption."
Sometimes she uses the 97 bus to get from her home to USAA's downtown office, she said, which takes about 45 minutes. Driving shaves off a mere 15-20 minutes, so it's worth it to take the bus and not have to deal with traffic, she said. But catching a bus that comes every 45 minutes is tricky – as is making sure to catch the last bus home.
"I have the luxury of calling Lyft," she said of the ride-hailing app. If you don't have a smartphone, money, or alternative transportation, "then you are literally [out of luck]."
Reliability and frequency are two of the biggest barriers to increasing ridership, she said, adding that she brings her experience of living in Chicago for five years without a car to the table. "I very much understand [mass transportation] from a user-experience perspective."
City Council approved a fiscal year 2018 budget that included additional funding aimed at cutting hour-long wait times between buses in some parts of the city in half. If more funding is approved in the 2019 budget, VIA could cut wait times even further on some routes. Most of its funding comes from a half-cent sales tax. Public transportation entities of a similar size in other major cities get a full cent.
Andrade announced her pending departure from the 11-member board last month, but Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Nirenberg have yet to announce their recommendation for her replacement. The VIA board, however, will select chair by a vote.
Two VIA board members left their positions last year to run for state offices; Steve Allison is running in the Republican primaries for Texas House District 121, and Tex Morgan is a Democratic candidate for commissioner of the Texas General Land Office. Allison was replaced by former Alamo Heights Mayor Louis Cooper, appointed by the Greater Bexar County Council of Cities. Morgan, a City of San Antonio appointee, has not yet been replaced.
Bexar County Commissioner Paul Elizondo (Pct. 2) nominated Gavito to the two-year position. Her term expires Dec. 21, 2020.
“I know she will be a great addition to the board and help solve and bring new perspectives to the transportation needs of our county,” Elizondo stated in a news release.