- President-elect Joe Biden is expected to announce former South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg as his nominee for transportation secretary on Wednesday, according to reports from The Washington Post and other outlets.
- Buttigieg left his mayoral office in January 2020 amid his campaign in the Democratic presidential race. At that time, Buttigieg unveiled a detailed plan to invest $1 trillion in building "sustainable infrastructure of the 21st century." This plan prioritized improved transportation access, electric bus investments, improved electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, bridge repairs and increased funding for safer street design, among a multitude of proposals. Buttigieg dropped out of the presidential race in March.
- The expected announcement from Biden follows weeks of rumored nominees for the transportation secretary seat, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Transportation and infrastructure officials across public and private sector organizations alike have shown overwhelming confidence in Biden's expected nomination of Buttigieg. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) said in a statement that Buttigieg "understands the power of public transportation in meeting the social and economic needs of communities," while the Transportation Trades Department said Buttigieg's "deep passion for policy will serve him well in this role."
Other supporters of the nomination include Peter DeFazio, chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, who said in a statement that Buttigieg's experience as a mayor makes him "acutely aware of the infrastructure challenges facing cities across the country."
Buttigieg's previous leadership experience in local government could give him an edge in this role, despite never holding a position directly in the transportation sector. As mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg oversaw the development of Commuter Trust, a public-private transportation partnership that was one of nine projects to win $1 million in support from the Bloomberg Philanthropies' Mayors Challenge in 2018.
James Anderson, head of the Government Innovations programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies, said in a tweet on Tuesday that "there's no more important agency for a former mayor to lead than this one."
When you consider the dismal state of public transport, the need for sustainable mobility to reduce carbon emissions, and need to connect rural to urban core, there’s no more important agency for a former mayor to lead than this one. https://t.co/4f0s4RIrf3— James Anderson (@JimOnCities) December 15, 2020
Buttigieg would take the reins from Elaine Chao, the DOT's current transportation secretary under President Trump. Chao was a trailblazer in bringing innovative technologies to the forefront of transportation, most notably through the creation of the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology Council in 2019. Chao was also a driving force behind the DOT's autonomous vehicle (AV) guidelines and efforts to accelerate drone adoption.
In an emailed statement to Smart Cities Dive, Ben Haynie, vice president of product at TransLoc, said it will be crucial for Buttigieg to continue advancing technologies to support existing transportation needs without overwhelming current systems.
"With the rise of ecommerce, increased transit services, ridesharing and other types of transportation, streets are more crowded than ever. Adding new innovations, such as AVs, will only build on these existing challenges," Haynie said. "We need to provide the tools and information communities need to address these challenges head on, including and starting with building a data infrastructure that creates transparency across all services in a city."
"By investing in technologies that promote data literacy across all city departments, we can create needed transparency and allow services to effectively work together to support their communities," he said.