Pete Buttigieg Wants To Make Transportation In America 'Sexy'

Buttigieg, who has called for the U.S. to be a global leader in high-speed rail, said there's nothing he loves more "than bringing attention to an unglamorous topic."

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said he wanted to introduce a variety of new, “sexy” ideas regarding transportation in a Rolling Stone interview published on Friday.

“There’s nothing I love more than bringing attention to an unglamorous topic that deserves more attention,” Buttigieg said, in response to the interviewer noting that he was bringing name value to a governmental department that is often overlooked. “Even as mayor, I was an evangelist for smart sewer technology because it was, in my view, really exciting. So I’m relishing the opportunity to do that with a lot of things in transportation, some of them well understood and already considered fairly sexy in the policy world, some of them pretty obscure.”

During his time as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Buttigieg signed off on a move toupgrade the city’s sewer system with so-called “smart” monitoring sensors that could detect water congestion. Ultimately, this saved$100 million that would have otherwise gone towards replacing pipes.

Buttigieg told Rolling Stone that he wanted to apply the same fresh thinking to his new role, adding that infrastructure needed to be a bipartisan priority due to America’s “slipping competitiveness” in comparison to “countries that have not hesitated to make big infrastructure investments.”

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaks to Amtrak employees during a visit to Union Station in Washington, D.C., in February.
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaks to Amtrak employees during a visit to Union Station in Washington, D.C., in February.
Alex Wong via Getty Images

As examples of planned priorities, he listed the Department of Transportation’s commitment to building electric vehicle charging stations and infrastructure like complete streets — roadways that are not just drivable, but also walkable and bikeable.

These changes will have an “intimate connection” with the environment, he said: “If they can encourage some of that mode-shifting that recognizes that not every trip needs to be in a single-occupant vehicle, that has a climate impact.”

“I can’t think of maybe a less-sexy phrase for some people than ‘land use,’” Buttigieg joked. “But when I’m thinking about automated vehicles and the challenges that presents, it’s not just the safety and the operational questions of the vehicle; it’s what happens in a world where we don’t need nearly as many surface parking lots because most people experience cars as a service rather than as a possession.”

Changing Americans’ attitudes about cars as possessions aligns with previous remarks Buttigieg has made about amping up public transportation across the country.

In February, Buttigieg said that he wanted to support investment in high-speed rail, arguing that there was no reason why the U.S. had to “settle for less” when compared to other nations with more developed train systems, like the U.K. and Japan.

Read the full interview here.

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