Feb 8, 2021 - Politics & Policy

"Axios on HBO": Pete Buttigieg talks future of flying, cars and cities

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On "Axios on HBO," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told me what it was like to be sworn in as the first openly gay U.S. Cabinet member to be confirmed by the Senate — with the oath administered by Vice President Kamala Harris, and his husband, Chasten, holding the Bible:

Her husband, Doug, and Chasten have become good friends. And just think about that sentence — that the vice president's husband is friends with the secretary of transportation's husband. That's not a sentence you could have said very long ago. And it's a reminder of the changes that are underway and a reminder that we've got some work to do as a country ... so that one day that's unremarkable.

Other highlights from our conversation, socially distanced outside the Transportation Department:

  • On ways the pandemic has changed transportation forever, Buttigieg said his department will be thinking more "micro": "We think trains, planes and automobiles. But what about bikes, scooters — wheelchairs, for that matter? And getting around in a way that's a little closer to home."
  • On the U.S. considering a requirement for a negative COVID test for domestic flights, as new CDC rules require for international flights: "There's an active conversation with the CDC right now. What I can tell you is, it's going to be guided by data, by science, by medicine, and by the input of the people who are actually going to have to carry this out."
  • On the need for the U.S. to lead China on autonomous-vehicle technology: "Why should we be playing catch up? America should be leading the way. ... [I]f we do establish and maintain unquestioned global leadership when it comes to automated vehicles — and, for that matter, electric vehicles — the number of good-paying union jobs that come with that is compelling."
  • On electric vehicles: "There are some things that are going to require policy support — to give you one example, charging stations. ... [T]he president has made a commitment to deploying half a million charging stations. ... Now we've got to figure out how to deliver on that."
  • On "transportation deserts": "A lot of people know about the idea of food deserts, where you can't get access to fresh food. There are transit deserts —disproportionately in Black and brown neighborhoods, where people can't get access to economic opportunity. Other times the reverse happened. Investment came, but it came in the worst possible fashion, like a highway dividing a thriving Black neighborhood. ... [W]e have likely a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a generational investment. We've got to make sure ... that it has a lot to do with racial equity in terms of where the dollars go."
  • Window or aisle? "[D]efinitely window seat, because I'm a big napper."
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