New US transportation chief optimistic about future of travel despite COVID-19

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US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Wednesday he was “deeply optimistic” about the future of travel despite the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on airlines, airports, transit systems and road use.

The pandemic has sent tens of millions of workers home for months, slashed tourism and business travel demand and placed significant burdens on transportation services to deliver packages, vaccines and other critical goods. Much of the nation’s travel sector is again asking Congress for a new round of emergency funding.

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“We will break new ground in ensuring that our economy recovers and rebuilds, in rising to the climate challenge, and in making sure transportation is an engine for equity in this country,” said Buttigieg, who was sworn in Wednesday, in an email to staff.

In 2020, there were 500 million fewer US airline passengers screened at airports, down 61 percent. US drivers drove 410 billion fewer miles in the first 11 months of the year, down 13.7 percent. After 9.9 billion transit trips in 2019, trips fell 80 percent after the pandemic began and remain down 65 percent.

Unions, trade groups and states want at least $130 billion in additional government assistance to rescue the struggling sector hit hard by the collapse in demand.

That figure includes $18 billion sought by state transportation departments, $40 billion for bus and vessel industries and $39.3 billion for transit.

Aviation unions seek $15 billion to keep thousands of airline employees in jobs after March 30. Airports want $17 billion, while passenger railroad Amtrak seek $1.5 billion.

Congress has approved $39 billion since March to aid transit systems, $40 billion in US airline payroll assistance, $12 billion for airports, $10 billion for state transportation departments and $2 billion for bus and vessel industries.

President Joe Biden has called for $20 billion for mass transit.

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