Local Transit Advocates Weigh In On Pete Buttigieg As Transportation Secretary

With Mayor Pete Buttigieg poised to become the next US Secretary of Transportation, GBH news reached out to four well-known local transit advocates to get their take on what to expect.

Former Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Jim Aloisi supported Buttigieg during his presidential run and says Mayor Pete is a good choice to be the Transportation secretary. Aloisi says although Buttigieg may not have the broad experience that some think is required for the cabinet position, that could actually be a positive.

“Someone who actually doesn't have a lifetime of deep roots in transportation policy is likely to be more open to learning and into thinking about new ways of doing business," he said. "I think it's an exciting choice and a really good opportunity for advocates like me to have a Transportation secretary who will be open to new ideas and not come with preconceptions and not come freighted with the old status quo, which has not been serving us well.”

Aloisi is looking forward to Buttigieg spending less on highway expansion and more on mass transit, especially rail, and reducing the use of diesel powered buses and trains to make all transportation less polluting.

Chris Dempsey, director of Transportation 4 Massachusetts, is also optimistic about the new Transportation secretary, though he said that Buttigieg's experience to date does not match the role in terms of its breadth, focus on transportation, and size.

"But he's picked up some lessons from his time as mayor of South Bend that are instructive for communities across the entire country," Dempsey said. "He's done things like change the way streets in South Bend are allocated between pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. We know we need to do more of that in communities across Massachusetts and again across the country."

Stacy Thompson, executive director of Livable Streets, said although she is optimistic, some of Buttigieg’s policies while Mayor of South Bend were controversial.

“He does not have credibility with the Black and Brown community," Thompson said. "We think about housing and transportation together. And he had a beautification policy that ended up tearing down homes in Black and Brown communities. You can't build bike lanes and tear down homes at the same time.”

Jarred Johnson, executive director of Transit Matters, credits Buttigieg with improving South Bend’s streets by limiting car use and providing more access for cyclists and pedestrians but acknowledges there were civil rights concerns regarding some of his policies.

“I think those concerns are valid," Johnson said. "And even though I'm cautiously optimistic, I think myself and other transit advocates are going to be watching closely and making sure that he tries to remedy those concerns.”

All agree that there is hope that the new Biden administration with Buttigieg at the helm of the Transportation Department will provide the federal funding needed for big projects in Massachusetts, like rebuilding the MBTA, redesigning the Mass Pike in Allston, expanding passenger rail and lessening the air pollution and greenhouse gases produced by the transportation sector.