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SXSW 2022: Pete Buttigieg rides on Austin public transit, talks ‘climate decisions’ in travel

Returning for his second year in a row at SXSW 2022, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg took to the stage for a town hall with festival-goers to talk about sustainability in transit, job growth and reconnecting communities.


After a test ride with Mayor Steve Adler on Austin's new red line light rail at MLK Station just hours before gearing up to speak at the Austin Convention Center on Wednesday, Buttigieg spoke on his many concerns as transportation secretary: accessible transit for all, lowering roadway deaths to zero and tackling climate change.

More than 38,000 people were killed in traffic accidents last year, many of them entirely preventable but too often viewed as the “cost of doing business,” Buttigieg said. With the passage of President Joe Biden's $1 trillion infrastructure bill, Buttigieg said investment in infrastructure is deeply important to his department.

“I don't believe it has to be that way. Especially because we've seen that specific steps that have been taken in a number of places have dramatically reduced the rate of roadway fatalities,” Buttigieg said. “That's part of what we're going to put this money toward, making it safer to get to where you need to be and to be behind the wheel in this country.”

The Harvard graduate and first openly gay secretary to serve in the president’s cabinet said that South Bend, Indiana, was one of the first cities to adopt dockless bike and scooter share systems while he was serving as mayor.

“Every transportation decision is a climate decision whether we recognize it or not,” Buttigieg said. “As a matter of fact, in the U.S. economy, the biggest sector in terms of contributions to greenhouse gas emissions is the transportation sector. Which means in my view, that that's a challenge for us in transportation to try to be the biggest part of the solution.”

Amid climate change-fueled barriers in the way and skipping “about 40 years in terms of investing at the rate we really should have,” Buttigieg said he believes the 2020s will be a transformative time for the future of clean transportation.

"We have an opportunity to prepare... to make sure that the development of these innovations benefits us in terms of public policy goals, benefits all those other things I was talking about that makes us safer, makes us more equitable and more climate-ready."

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