Mayor Pete confirmed as Transportation Secretary – 5 things it means for travel

Feb 2, 2021

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Editor’s note: This post was updated after Pete Buttigieg was confirmed as U.S. Transportation Secretary 

“Mayor Pete” was just confirmed by the United States Senate by a vote of 86 to 13 to be U.S. Transportation secretary. Pete Buttigieg also made a bit of history, becoming the first openly gay LGBTQ member of a presidential cabinet to be confirmed by the Senate (Ric Grenell was also in the WH cabinet, but in an acting capacity – he was never confirmed by the Senate in that role).

President Biden announced the nomination back on Dec. 16.

Buttigieg ran for president in the Democratic primaries against Biden with a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, so the two men will likely see eye-to-eye on the need for a massive infrastructure push.

Buttigieg tied Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses, drawing extensive media attention in the early stages of the election. Biden has said the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend reminded him of his late son, Beau.

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Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and president of Atmosphere Research, told TPG he was surprised by the choice.

For Harteveldt, he wouldn’t have been one of his top choices for the role “simply because Mr. Buttigieg doesn’t have a lot of direct experience working in any transportation industry or transportation-related policy work. It just makes for an unusual choice.”

Harteveldt said someone who’d run a major city’s transportation systems or overseen a transit authority might have been a better fit, adding it “makes life easier for everybody, when the cabinet secretary has a reasonable degree of relevant experience.”

Still Buttigieg will have plenty of help at the agency, and the historic confirmation is getting lots of notice on social media.

 

Here’s five things we could see under a Buttigieg-run DOT.

In This Post

Big infrastructure push

Part of Buttigieg’s platform when he ran for President was a $1 trillion plan for infrastructure and the creation of 6 million jobs as part of a rebuild of the nation’s aging roads, bridges, tunnels and airports.  President-elect Biden called for a $1.3 trillion investment over 10 years during the 2020 campaign, showing significant overlap there.

Buttigieg has suggested doubling the Transportation Department’s BUILD grant program to $2 billion. It would fund train and other passenger rail projects and help cut the backlog of road repairs.

Interestingly, Buttigieg has proposed eventually charging some kind of “miles driven” fee to pay for additional infrastructure. That’s further than Biden committed to during the campaign.

Climate change

President-elect Biden and Mayor Pete have both pledged hundreds of billions of dollars to make improvements to infrastructure and to increase energy in a bid to combat climate change.

Related: How the election will change the travel industry

Biden and Buttigieg are already working to toughen carbon emissions standards as part of a broader commitment to slowing global warming. Both men have agreed on the need to rejoin the Paris Climate treaty. In fact, President Biden already signed an executive order to do just that. 

Trains, trains, trains

President-elect Biden is known as a fan of Amtrak and trains in general. He famously used Amtrak for his commute between Washington and Delaware during his years in the Senate. In fact, Biden is likely to teach Buttigieg a few things when it comes to trains.

Back in February, President Trump proposed cutting the budget for Amtrak in half for 2021 and he’s tried to cut the budgets for many other big train projects.

Related: Amtrak’s new Acela high-speed trains to launch 2021

The Biden Administration will likely, instead, add to the budget for long-distance train travel including Amtrak and increase funding for other trains, airports, ports and other infrastructure spending overall. The Biden Administration is also much more likely to work with big-city mayors asking for federal funds for big train projects.

New York, for example, has been asking for major federal funding towards efforts to shore up the busy Northeast corridor and make improvements to tracks and stations.

Related: Amtrak plans to expand new nonstop Acela service from New York

The Biden White House will likely try to push through long-stalled infrastructure projects and fund projects already underway. As you can see from the Tweet above the Biden team is enthusiastic about trains (to say the least) with the campaign saying they want “to spark the second great rail revolution.”

Bikes and bigger sidewalks

Much of the reaction to the Buttigieg nomination on social media was focused on his efforts in South Bend to improve cycling options and to expand sidewalks, helping to make urban areas more pedestrian and bike-friendly.

In a statement, the League of American Bicyclists said “we look forward to working with the former mayor of a Silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community in making biking better for all people, of all ages and abilities.”

Planes

We know that Mayor Pete loves planes. The Associated Press reported on his controversial use of private jets during the campaign. Back in July, his campaign had already spent more than $300,000 on private flights.

On Dec. 16, Buttigieg said he loved travel so much that he actually proposed to his now-husband at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD). Buttigieg said, “Don’t let anybody tell you that O’Hare isn’t romantic.”  O’Hare promptly added “place of romance” to its Twitter bio.

 

Biden has proposed spending as much as $400 billion on clean energy and increases in funding the the FAA. Look for more funding for airports as well.

Both Buttigieg and Biden are huge proponents of mask-wearing, and the Biden Administration has already ordered mask mandates on airplanes and all other transportation systems.

One final note

Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, told the Associated Press it was also a major victory for gay rights. Buttigieg is an openly gay man who has been married to his husband Chasten since 2018.

Parker said, “Pete’s nomination is a new milestone in a decades-long effort to ensure LGBTQ people are represented throughout our government – and its impact will reverberate well-beyond the department he will lead.”

Featured image by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

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