Mayor Pete has now become Secretary Pete. Earlier this week, Pete Buttigieg received official confirmation as transportation secretary from Congress and is now part of President Biden’s cabinet at the White House. That makes him the most influential politician in the transportation sector (well, theoretically at least).
Now that he’s in charge, it’s time to tell him what to do. So we asked FreightWaves staff writers to offer up their one suggestion or thought associated with their respective beats.
“Getting an infrastructure package passed – whether as stand-alone legislation or part of a larger relief bill – should be atop the DOT’s agenda. Congress will debate what is ultimately included in the legislation, but as transportation secretary, Buttigieg plays a pivotal role in laying out the administration’s goals, which lawmakers can use as a blueprint.
“A long-term reauthorization of the FAST Act – the $305 billion surface transportation bill signed into law by the Obama administration in 2015 – should anchor any larger infrastructure package that the Biden administration looks to get done in 2021.
“The big question will be how to pay for it – whether by raising the gas tax, initiating new user fees or through leveraging private money. Biden’s Build Back Better plan doesn’t provide details on funding, and that’s where a narrowly divided Congress will attempt to find consensus.”
“What will happen with federal legislation and regulations on the question of independent contractor vs. employee classification? There is a new Department of Labor rule on the issue that we have written about but that is largely expected to be put on hold – if not completely scrapped – by the Biden administration. General consensus is that Democrats prefer regulations that are more likely to view an independent contractor as an employee.
“Beyond the proposed federal rule, we have the ongoing showdown in California over the AB5 law, which did a sweeping reclassification of many workers as employees, creating chaos, and we have the court injunction that so far has kept AB5 out of trucking. But that may end. Then we have Prop 22 in California, which exempted drivers from places like Uber and DoorDash from AB5. As the gig economy continues to expand, what will be the federal government stance on it?
“Direct the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to establish regulations for how carriers safeguard IT systems in their offices and fleets and mandate reporting of cyberattacks and data breaches for inclusion in the Safety and Fitness Electronic Records (SAFER) System. Additionally, the agency should establish a centralized public database of those cyberattacks and databases.”
“As freight movement by truck has increased over the years, accounting for more than 80% of all goods moved in the U.S. in 2019, the nation’s infrastructure has not kept pace to provide safe truck parking options for drivers.
“The trucking industry needs to join forces to find solutions to address the truck parking shortage. The Federal Highway Administration and NATSO, which represents private truck stop chains like Pilot, Love’s and TA, must work together to put drivers’ safety ahead of profits to accommodate truck drivers hauling critical medical and other supplies during this pandemic.
“States also must be included in the truck parking discussion, as some are choosing to shut down rest areas because the sites are expensive to maintain due to cleaning and policing the lots. However, barricading these sites is forcing truck drivers to park on ramps or along the shoulders of interstates, which proves dangerous for the motoring public and the drivers. All stakeholders must work together to develop funding options to create more truck parking.”
“The incoming secretary of transportation should lead the effort to increase the number of dedicated lanes for heavy trucks on the highways. Lanes separating trucks from cars would provide the much-needed pathway to truck platooning, or linking two or three trucks together in a convoy, and allow the industry to advance the usage of autonomous technologies.
“The benefits of truck-only lanes and platooning are significant, notably leading to fleet productivity improvements and reducing the number of drivers needed, a current headwind most carriers are facing. Dedicated truck lanes could be paved to accommodate increased gross weights and longer trailer combinations. Reduced emissions and improved fuel economy, potentially in the high-single-digit percentage range, have been cited as benefits as well. Last but not least, the reduction in the interaction between passenger vehicles and trucks can improve highway safety and reduce congestion.”
“The new DOT secretary should support a contemporary approach to highway funding that would replace over time the nearly bankrupt Highway Trust Fund. As electric vehicles become more prevalent, a better way to assess their impact on the roads is needed.
“One of the last contributors to the trust fund is the anachronistic federal excise tax on new heavy-duty trucks. The FET dates to 1917 as a funding mechanism for World War I. It has no relevance today other than raising the cost of buying a new truck.
“If it is untenable to eliminate the tax altogether, then supporting a phaseout or limiting it to the first $50,000 of the price of a new truck would be a move in the right direction. As trucks get more expensive because of added safety technology, the FET burden grows. Pairing that with a serious study of highway maintenance funding would contribute to a manufacturing and industrial policy our country lacks.”
“The dramatic and secular surge in e-commerce ordering and fulfillment will result in more commercial vehicles of various types sharing city streets with motorists, taxicabs and other forms of mobility. What plans, if any, does DOT have to strike an effective balance between urban congestion and commercial needs?”
“The first order of business is nursing the aviation system back to health from the pandemic’s devastating impact on passenger travel. Airlines and airports are part of the nation’s infrastructure backbone. Air transport is important for mobility, but lots of cargo for businesses and consumers also moves in the belly of passenger aircraft. There are other important issues to address – alternative fuels and carbon emissions, investing in the next-gen air traffic control system for efficiency and safety, airport funding schemes – but none of it means anything if airlines and service providers go out of business or permanently lay off tens of thousands of employees.
“Border closures and quarantines were useful tools early in the crisis, but once the COVID-19 spread begins to slow and more people are vaccinated, it’s time to move to a more sophisticated approach. Medical science appears to indicate that the airplane environment is very safe because of HEPA filtration and air exchange – as long as everyone is abiding by face mask and other rules. Following industry recommendations for preflight COVID testing makes sense. DOT can set standards on what tests will be accepted. A ‘digital passport’ documenting one’s test and/or vaccination status could also help. And then set up vaccination stations at airports to quickly vaccinate frontline pilots, ground handlers, ticket agents and mechanics.”
“Since the Class I railroads privately invest in their networks, the rail industry’s needs are slightly different from other transportation modes. However, one issue that keeps resonating among all of rail’s stakeholders is the need to improve data integration into the entire supply chain. Another big question is how can we use data in such a way to ensure that the freight rail industry remains vibrant and competitive in the decades ahead. This is where promoting the exchange of supply chain data among stakeholders comes in.
“The Surface Transportation Board, an independent federal agency, and Congress typically have been the ones charged to handle the first question of what data should the industry provide to ensure rail competition. So that first question isn’t as much in DOT’s purview.
“However, what is in DOT’s purview is how to promote the sharing of data across the supply chain so that the railroads and other stakeholders can be more efficient in moving volumes from point A to point B, thereby improving overall U.S. competitiveness. It also could help the railroads solidify their role in the supply chain. This question about supply chain data is within DOT’s purview because DOT has the capacity to address the issue holistically.
“DOT can also address questions about supply chain data needs from a technology standpoint or from a standardization standpoint. DOT can provide guidance on how the federal agencies and freight stakeholders can find the best answers – or at the least ask better questions.”
“Expand the existing border bridge for commercial trucks in Laredo, Texas, as well as fund the addition of a fifth international commercial bridge between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. More than 2.5 million trucks pass between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo annually, and the number of trucks has been increasing every year.”
“Climate change is a global issue that leaves no industry, business or consumer untouched. We must work together to create sustainable supply chains to secure a safe and healthy environment for all.
“There is no single solution that will magically fix everything, so a combination of strategies is needed, such as using alternative fuel vehicles powered by electricity, green hydrogen and renewable natural gas; investing in alternative fuel vehicle infrastructure to make it a reality; making transparency a priority; collaborating globally to establish more regulations, guidelines and incentives for the adoption of greener transportation solutions; and working to eradicate the disproportionately large negative impacts that climate policies and other regulations can have on lower-income consumers and people of color by providing sufficient subsidies and aid programs.
“Government officials should use objective, fact-based research when considering the importance, priority and effectiveness of different transportation initiatives for people and the planet.”
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