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Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is currently the only Republican in President Barack Obama’s cabinet. In the past four years, he has overseen the most significant public works program since the New Deal, including more than 15,000 transportation projects. He has championed bike and walking paths, high-speed and intercity passenger rail and streetcars. He helped set new automobile fuel efficiency standards and instituted tough new rules to protect airline passengers. He also launched an aggressive campaign against distracted driving. Recently, he announced his retirement as soon as a successor is confirmed. As he leaves, an investigation into the Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s battery failures remains. Diane interviews Secretary LaHood.
- Ray LaHood U.S. Secretary of Transportation and former Republican member of the United States House of Representatives.
Video: Inside The Studio
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the U.S. infrastructure system is falling way behind other countries. He called for a bold plan to fund repair and renovation projects for the nation’s roads and bridges. In particular, LaHood says small construction businesses would benefit from a robust transportation bill. “I don’t think you’d be turning off people in America because they know America is one big pothole right now,” LaHood said about funding infrastructure.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The only Republican cabinet member currently serving in President Obama's administration has announced he is stepping down. Ray LaHood has served has transportation secretary for the past four years. He says it's been the best job he's ever had in public service, and he's committed to sticking around until a successor is confirmed.
MS. DIANE REHMSecretary LaHood joins me in the studio. We'll talk about the accomplishments and the challenges he's faced at the Department of Transportation. I hope you'll join us. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, Mr. Secretary. It's good to have you here.
SECRETARY RAYMOND LAHOODGood morning, Diane. Thank you for inviting me back.
REHMOur pleasure. Let me ask you first about this Dreamliner and the battery that seems to be at issue. All of Boeing's 787 Dreamliners are grounded. Tell me what you see as the future for that Dreamliner.
LAHOODWell, we'll know more about the future after we finish our investigation. We're doing a top-to-bottom review. We're doing it with our FAA top people, with Boeing's top people, the people that engineered the plane. We're doing it in Seattle and other places where parts are manufactured. And we will know a lot more once we finish the top-to-bottom review.
LAHOODBut we are focusing on the batteries, the lithium batteries. This is all-new technology. This plane is essentially an all-electronic plane, and we think there's a problem with the lithium batteries. And that's what we're trying to get to the bottom of.
REHMYou know, it's interesting because this morning on Marketplace, Dinesh Keskar of Boeing said that the battery is not the problem. Do you believe that?
LAHOODWell, that's the reason for the review. Rather than me speculating on what the cause is -- I know that there's a lot of focus on the battery, and so we'll see what they come up with. They actually made a request of us that is under consideration to test fly the plane now with their people, and we're considering that so they can really figure out if the battery should be the focus or if other things should be.
REHMBut it was interesting that you vouched for the safety of the Dreamliner even after that fire broke out on Jan. 7 in the battery at Boston's Logan Airport. So clearly you thought that was just sort of a fluke?
LAHOODWell, look, I was making my judgment on advice that we were getting from our experts at FAA and from Boeing. But the very next day, as soon as there was another fire, we grounded all of the planes. So we make these judgment calls based on the best information that we have, always with safety as the number one priority.
REHMAnd how long do you think this whole study is going to take?
LAHOODWell, I don't know. I think it'll take as long as it takes to find out what happened.
REHMAnd in the meantime, all of these 787s are going to be grounded.
LAHOODThey're all grounded and -- but Boeing has asked us for the ability to test fly these planes. And we're evaluating that, and we'll make a decision.
REHMBut, you know, it's interesting because some of the eruptions, if you will, in the batteries haven't occurred in the air. They've occurred on the ground.
LAHOODThat's right. That's right.
REHMSo I mean, that makes me wonder how useful it will be to test fly them.
LAHOODWell, I think their idea is that they would test fly them under certain conditions...
LAHOOD...land the planes and then see what happens to the batteries once the plane is on the ground after flying, which is what happened in some instances here.
REHMSo we shall see. And I presume you would hope while you're still on your watch?
LAHOODWell, I've told the president that I'm going to stay until he finds someone else, and they're working their way down the list. They're announcing some -- a cabinet position this morning -- or this afternoon, excuse me, at the White House and so -- not transportation. But when the president gets around to announcing my replacement and that person is confirmed, I will move on to -- into the sunset.
REHMWhat are you going to do after you leave?
LAHOODWell, I don't know, really. It's a first time in 36 years of public service that I don't know what I'm going to do. I was a congressional staffer for 17 years and then decided to run for Congress. I was fortunate enough to get elected, served 14 years. When I left that post in Congress, I had no idea the President would ask me to serve in his cabinet. But as I said, it's been a great job. And so I don't know. Well, we'll walk out the door and see if the phone rings.
REHMYou've said it's been the best job you've had in public service. What's made it so good?
LAHOODThe ability to work with somebody that has a real vision for transportation, meaning the president. The president really does. When I took this job, the president said to me, we need to implement more passenger rail in America. Some will be high speed. Some won't be. And we've done that over four years.
LAHOODAnd for the first time in the history of our country, we're developing the next generation of transportation for the next generation: the ability to really work with somebody who has a vision and to carry that vision out and to work with people all over the country, whether they be governors or mayors or transportation stakeholders, and implement, I think, one of the strongest safety programs in America in all modes of transportation, I think the ability to say to passengers it's not right that you have to sit on a tarmac for three hours -- our tarmac rule, which is now in effect, which has almost eliminated all tarmac delays.
LAHOODAnd that's history making in the history of aviation. So we've done a lot, Diane, and we've done it because we have a president who has a vision about transportation.
REHMSecretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is with me. Do join us, 800-433-8850. What has it been like for you as the only Republican in this administration with the Tea Party coming along and wishing to sort of get in the way of additional spending?
LAHOODWell, we have worked very hard over four years with the Congress, with our cabinet colleagues to implement a very strong transportation agenda. And we've also done it with governors and mayors. We've inaugurated a streetcar program around the country in communities that wanted streetcars.
LAHOODWe've developed mass transit systems and improved mass transit around the country for communities that wanted to do that, involved right here in this region of the country with the continuation of the Silver Line, connecting Downtown Washington to Dulles Airport, which is 50 miles to the west of Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia and improving airports around the country with modernization programs.
LAHOODAnd so it's been a real comprehensive approach to transportation. And we've not been dissuaded by our detractors. We just haven't. We have a vision. It's the president's vision. We know that when you do big things, there'll be people that don't want to do big things. And there'll be naysayers. I have never been dissuaded by the naysayers, and I won't be.
REHMYou know, I grew up here in Washington with the streetcars taking me from place to place. I never understood why we got rid of them in the first place.
LAHOODYeah. You know, Diane, there are communities all over America that are now implementing streetcar projects that once had streetcars. I remember growing up in my hometown of Peoria and riding the streetcar to downtown Peoria.
LAHOODAnd then I also remember them paving over with blacktop, tearing up the streetcar.
REHMWhat was the rationale for taking out streetcars?
LAHOODThe advent of the cars. People wanted to get in their cars. They didn't -- the cars, you know, they didn't want the tracks interfering with your ability to drive down these busy streets. And I think it was the advent of cars. I mean, people love cars. I just went to two car shows, one in Detroit and one here in Washington. People love new cars. They like to drive their cars. I think the advent of cars put an end to streetcars in communities. And now, we're going back to the future, as I like to say.
REHMHow about the oil industry? Do you think it had anything to do with that?
LAHOODI think it really more people's love of automobiles, nice, shiny cars and the freedom that the automobile gave you. You didn't have to wait at a bus stop or a streetcar stop to get in your car and the freedom that that gave to people.
REHMAnd look at the mess the buses have created.
LAHOODWell, look, there are a lot of people now, with high gasoline prices, that are turning to other forms of transportation.
LAHOODThey have to. And...
LAHOODAnd so we've been a part of developing a transit system around the country that includes clean-burning buses. So it's -- I think it's been good for communities.
REHMWell, clean-burning buses. But talk about vehicles which take up large portions of streets and avenues.
LAHOODWell, look, in communities like Washington, D.C., we know that Washington was built for the horse and buggy. It wasn't built for these big SUVs or buses. So i.e...
REHMExactly. And it's got the worst traffic mess.
LAHOOD...i.e., now we have bus lanes in a lot of communities like Chicago, like Washington, like New York. And now, communities like New York and Chicago and other communities are going to congestion pricing in terms of their ability to drive around communities.
REHMAnd when we come back after a short break, we'll talk about another push of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's bike lanes. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is with me. He has made many, many inroads literally into the way we move around this country. You're very proud of the bike lanes, are you not?
LAHOODWe're very proud of the bike share program, particularly in communities like Washington, D.C., Denver, Colo. Rahm Emanuel, the new mayor of Chicago, has hired the fellow who developed the bike share program here in Washington, Gabe Klein. He wants to develop one of the biggest bike share programs. People in communities like Chicago, like Denver, even communities like my own hometown of Peoria, Ill., people want alternative forms of transportation. They want to be -- if -- some people want to ride their bike to work.
LAHOODAnd some people want to take a bus. Some people want to take a streetcar. And what we've tried to do over four years is in those communities where they want options, we've made those options available. And so i.e., Washington, D.C. has one of the largest bike share programs where you can rent a bike. And there are bike lanes now on the street, a little bit of irritation to some people, but I think people are becoming accustomed to them now and realize that this is a form of transportation for people.
REHMYou know, you are so enthusiastic about what you do, what you have done, what you see coming. Why are you stepping down now?
LAHOODWell, Diane, I have been in public service. I'm in my 36th year. And I've been married 45 years. And my wife really prevailed on me to say, we have 10 grandchildren. They live in Illinois and Indiana. And we just -- now is a good time personally. This is one of the most conflicted decisions I made. When I met with the president, he said, you just stay for another year or two.
LAHOODAnd I just -- my wife and I just really decided this was the right time to go. And I really believe in this idea of going out while they're applauding. I've seen a lot of people in public service who stay too long, maybe get thrown out of office if they're elected. And I just think they're applauding right now for all of the good things we've been doing. And it's a good time to go out.
REHMTell me about infrastructure around the country and whether you think the roads, for example, the highways are getting the attention they need.
LAHOODAbsolutely not. At one time, Diane, we were the leader in infrastructure. We built the Interstate System. It's the best road system in the world, and we're proud of it. But we're falling way behind other countries because we have not made the investments. Congress passed a two-year bill. Ordinarily, they would pass a five-year bill.
LAHOODIt was only a two-year bill because they couldn't find enough money to fund a five-year bill. The next decisions that will be made by this Congress, by this administration will have to be bold if we're going to continue our efforts to fix up our roads, to keep our highways in the state of good repair, to fix up unsafe bridges. We need a bold plan and a bold way to fund it.
REHMDo you think it is up to both the president and the Congress to share in that bold plan? Or is it going to be the president working against the Congress?
LAHOODIt will be up to the Congress and the president. Look, for all the talk within the Republican Party about helping small businesses, there are a lot of small businesses that are in the road construction business, the bridge construction business that would benefit from a bold infrastructure bill, a bold transportation bill, a five-year bill with some very bold ways to fund it. And I don't think you'd be turning off people in America because they know that America is one big pothole right now.
REHMHave you talked to your own Republican colleagues in that way?
LAHOODI have. I just talked to the new chairman of the House Transportation Committee. I met with him about 10 days ago.
REHMWho is that?
LAHOODIt's Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, following in his dad's footsteps who I served with when I was on the transportation committee in the House.
REHMAnd what did he say?
LAHOODWhat he said was is that he gets it when it comes to the idea that we need some big, bold plans for roads and bridges and infrastructure. And I think he realizes that it's going to take leadership from the Congress and the president in lockstep to get back -- America back to the place where we're number one in infrastructure.
REHMHow optimistic are you? Realistically, how optimistic can you be, considering the record of this Congress up to now?
LAHOODGreat question. I'm optimistic that the president's going to be bold. When the -- look, the president has been focusing on immigration and gun laws and filling his cabinet post. When he gets around to this issue, I think you'll see a very bold move by the president.
REHMHow soon do you think he'll get around it?
LAHOODWell, I think it'll be a little bit longer because he's still trying to fill five or six cabinet posts.
LAHOODAnd he would like -- obviously, immigration is really tops along with this gun -- you know, the gun issue, but transportation and infrastructure are not too far behind.
REHMMr. Secretary, we've talked a lot on this program about gasoline taxes. Couldn't more have been done had the gas taxes in this country been raised to a realistic level?
LAHOODWell, obviously, there's going to be a discussion about that and a big debate about that and other issues having to do with how to fund infrastructure. The thing that probably should've happened in 1993 when President Clinton was president and Congress passed an increase in the gas tax, if they would've indexed it to inflation, we'd have the resources that we need to do all the things we need to do in America.
LAHOODAnd that has to be a part of the debate, whether to raise the gas tax, what other revenues do we -- how do we get other revenues? Is it through tolling? Is it through other things? And if we do it, do we index it? And I think that's what the debate will be about.
REHMHow much money, realistically, do you think you need -- you would need in order to take care of the kinds of projects you're talking about: bridges, roads, all the infrastructure in need -- desperate need of repair?
LAHOODBillions of dollars over the next five years, billions. We've calculated it, and it's in the billions, just for roads and bridges, just to keep up with state of good repair.
REHMHow much of a factor do you think gas is going to play in the next five, 10 years?
LAHOODWell, you know, Diane, over the last four years, we worked with our colleagues at the EPA under the president's leadership to raise what we CAFE standards, gasoline standards. So by 2025, cars and light trucks will get 54.4 miles per gallon. Now, that will increase -- that will decrease the amount of gasoline that obviously people will be using in their automobiles and decrease the amount of gas taxes that will be collected.
REHMHere's the first email for you. "Please ask the secretary why the automobile companies still can't make decent high-mileage cars. Years after the bailout, only Ford, a company that did not take bailout money, has a fair car. But no one is yet getting close to 40 miles a gallon."
LAHOODEvery CEO of every major domestic and international company stood with the president when he announced that by 2025, cars and light trucks will get 54.4 miles per gallon. Everyone has agreed to that. They have certainty now. And so now every car manufacturer -- foreign and domestic -- are making either totally battery powered or hybrids.
LAHOODAnd I believe every family in America by 2025, if they don't have a hybrid of battery-powered, they will certainly be thinking about buying one. I really believe that. And so the car manufacturers do get it. They signed on to this. Again, leadership from the president to say we need to take CO2 out of the air, clean up our communities, no better way to do it than raising these gasoline standards.
REHMAll right. We've got lots of callers waiting. I'm going to open the phones to make sure our listeners are part of the program. Let's go first to Bali (sp?) in Lajas, Puerto Rico. Good morning to you, Bali.
BALIYeah. Good -- well, good morning. My question is about the privatization program of the FAA, and here in Puerto Rico and I think Midway in Chicago are the two -- are two airports that are being thought of being privatized. I know that here it's a big controversial issue because it's a public good. It's going to be handed over to a private Mexican company for over 40 years.
BALISo my question is when you privatize such a good, which is the San Juan Airport, our own entrance and exit of this island, who is to benefit from the privatization, the private company or the public that owns the good? And -- because it seems like they're going to end up with all the profit. We end up paying all the debt.
LAHOODWell, look, there is -- there are two proposals that are being considered by the FAA and the Department of Transportation. Ultimately, we'll have to -- I'll have to make a decision if I'm still at this post. Somebody who's at this post will make that decision about whether to allow Puerto Rico and Midway, Mayor Emanuel, to sell off that asset.
LAHOODAnd a lot of the decision has to do with does it benefit the taxpayer, and does the asset continue to have value to the flying public? And those decisions are further down the road, but who really benefits? And does the airport continue to be the kind of facility that provides the service that people have come to expect? I mean, those are the key questions.
REHMPrivatizing somehow has not come through with promised benefits for the public. Why should the Puerto Rico or O'Hara Airport be any different?
LAHOODYeah. In the case of Chicago, it's Midway Airport.
REHMMidway. Forgive me.
LAHOODYeah. But that -- those are decisions that we will make with Puerto Rico and the city of Chicago, but our view would be, you know, making sure that the flying public is going to continue to be well served by this airport.
REHMBut where's the pressure coming from? Why is there a thought of privatizing those airports?
LAHOODBecause of the amount of money that would be paid to Puerto Rico and to the city of Chicago from a private investor.
REHMBut would the taxpayers benefit or would their fees be raised?
LAHOODWell, that -- those are the questions that have to be answered, and that's the analysis that has to be provided from financial folks that will look at this and evaluate it. And in the end, we have to make sure that taxpayers are being well served and that the services are being provided through the airport.
REHMYou've been around as long as I have, and you know full well that when this kind of privatization occurs, taxpayers seem to get hit with the bill most often.
LAHOODWell, look, elected officials -- the mayor of Chicago will ultimately make this decision, and the governor of Puerto Rico will ultimately make this decision. They are accountable to the people, and I -- who's ever in my post is accountable through the fact that the president is elected. And so we'll see how it turns out.
REHMAll right. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Sabrina in Virginia Beach. Good morning to you.
SABRINAGood morning. Thank you so much. I first want to convey that I'm enjoying the interview, so I thank you for it. And I want to congratulate you, Mr. Secretary, and your administration's accomplishments as well as your career transition. And hearing you speak about Dreamliner, I was encouraged by our contributions.
SABRINAI work for the U.S. Postal Service. And we've always screened for packages by asking if it contains anything liquid, fragile, perishable, potentially hazardous, but now, with the addition of lithium batteries and perfume, what has happened with the Dreamliner has reinforced the importance of us also doing our part in partnering with Transportation to ensure that our airways are safe.
LAHOODWell, thank you for what you're doing.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. You know, the Postal Service is expected to make an announcement this afternoon, probably to cut off Saturday postal service except for package delivery, one more thing citizens lose out on. Doesn't make me happy. Does it make you happy?
LAHOODWell, in -- during the 14 years that I served in Congress, I represented a rural area, and I could tell you people in rural areas really have enjoyed six-day mail service.
LAHOODAnd -- but, look, the Postal Service is facing huge, huge deficits, and their only revenue really comes from the services that they provide. And I'm sure it was a tough decision, but we'll see how it turns out.
REHMAll right. And let's go to Waynesboro, Pa. Hi there, Pat.
PATGood morning, Diane. Faithful listener. And may I -- before I say my comment, I'd like to say that this morning, I walked out to the -- my short driveway, put three cards in my mailbox, put the flag up, and I think of that every time I go there, that I have faith that those letters and cards are going to go to where they're going to be.
PATAnd I know that's a wonderful feeling as an American.
PATBut I had -- why I called was your comment and question to Secretary LaHood about trolleys and why did we ever get rid of trolleys. And I'd like to recommend a documentary that was on PBS some years ago called "Taken for a Ride." And it was about Los Angeles and how the car companies, bus manufacturers, oil companies colluded to destroy the trolley system in the city of Los Angeles.
LAHOODI'll try and take a look at it. Thank you.
REHMI think that sounds very interesting. Thank you, Pat, for your call. I want to ask you quickly: What about the future of Amtrak?
LAHOODThe future is very bright for Amtrak. Ridership on Amtrak is at an all-time high. Amtrak is actually making money, and they're providing a good service, particularly on the Northeast Corridor. On-time arrivals are at an all-time high. The trains are full. People love riding the train from Washington to New York. Within three -- a little over three hours, you're in downtown New York.
LAHOODYou can work. You can sleep. You can talk to your friends. It's a great way to travel on the Northeast Corridor.
REHMAnd let's hope it extends and expands. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd we're back with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood who has announced his resignation. He will stay in his position -- he's promised President Obama -- until the president appoints and a new person is confirmed. Here's an email for you. It's from Dennis, who says, "How will the majority of Americans be able to afford either a hybrid or battery car? He says he believes everyone will buy one -- unrealistic in my view." Do you think the price is going to come way down?
LAHOODI do. Look, Diane, I think as the technology -- as the car companies develop technology, these will become very affordable. I mean, I'll just give you an illustration. My wife and I have home in Peoria. We have one car there. We have a Ford Escape hybrid. We love it. It's an '09. We bought in '09. We bought it new. It was a little more expensive, but we saved an awful lot of gasoline as a result of it, and we're still driving it. So the life of these cars is long. And I do think as the technology is further developed, people will be able to afford them.
REHMDo you travel back and forth a lot, or do you...
LAHOODYou know, not much. We get home about every two or three months.
LAHOODWe spend, you know, most of our time is here in Washington.
REHMBut your friends, your relatives are probably back there in Peoria.
LAHOODYeah. No. We have five grandchildren in Peoria and four in Indianapolis, and so...
LAHOOD...obviously, we like to get back there once in a while.
REHMAbsolutely. Here's another from Jim in Florida, who says, "Here in Florida, we've had a high-speed rail proposal and debate for years now. Please comment on the possibility of getting the service and what goes into the decision-making process both locally and at the federal level."
LAHOODWhen the president announced this high-speed rail initiative three years ago, Florida was well-positioned, and we were going to make available $2.3 billion for a line between Orlando and Tampa and eventually Orlando to Miami. And unfortunately, the governor made a decision not to accept the money after 10 years of planning, 10 years of work. This, I think, was a huge disappointment to the people who would spend a decade working on this. And there were nine companies, private companies in Florida -- on the day he made the decision not to accept the money -- ready to invest private dollars.
REHMSo why do you think he did not?
LAHOODI think a governor without a transportation vision.
REHMHe also has a political vision, does he not?
LAHOODWell, he had just been elected, and I think he felt that this is not the direction he wanted to take his state. And what I've said many times is there was only one person that I found in Florida that did not want to start the high-speed rail program.
REHMOne person. All right. Let's go to Middlebury, Ind. Good morning, Sandy. You're on the air.
SANDYHi. I'm calling to say thank you to representative -- I'm sorry -- to Secretary LaHood. I am a former air traffic controller, and I was on the executive board of NATCA at Chicago Center. And several years ago, you were on a committee of other congressman. You came in and helped this -- took a look at what the controllers were saying, and eventually, very soon after that, our conditions improved. And I don't remember what the specifics were, maybe you do, but it was wonderful.
LAHOODWell, one of the things that I'm very proud of is our controllers. They work very hard. They have a very tough job, and guiding planes safely in and out of airports is a no non-sense business. And 99.9 percent of our controllers get it right every day, guiding planes safely in and out of airports. I'm very proud of the work our controllers do. And I'm also very proud, within 100 days of coming into this job, we reached an agreement with NATCA, the controller's union, on a contract that has languished for 5 1/2 years. And that really helped us establish a great relationship with our controllers.
REHMWhat about the complaints that many are overworked, that they have to continue with long hours, that they get sleepy on the job?
LAHOODWell, we have worked very closely with the union on workplace issues and tried to resolve those wherever we could. I think we have about as good a relationship with NATCA union as it's ever been had with the DOT and the union. And whenever I visit a city, I always take time to visit the controllers, to talk to them, to listen to them, and when there are issues, we try and address them.
REHMLet's go back a little in history to President Reagan's firing of the controllers, air controllers. What do you think that did to the stable good, experienced controllers?
LAHOODWell, it was demoralizing, first of all, for those that were controllers, and it meant that a whole cast of new people needed to be trained. And it -- training a controller is three to five year process.
LAHOODIt's very complicated. These are very complicated jobs and...
REHMSo as a Republican yourself, would you wonder why President Reagan made that decision?
LAHOODWell, as somebody who's involved with the FAA day in and day out and knows the importance of guiding planes safely in and out of airports, I'm very proud of the relationship that we've had during the time that we've been in this job with safety as the number one priority as it is for the controllers.
REHMNow, isn't there still a question going on with the airlines about disclosing all the fees within a ticket price?
LAHOODWell, we -- we've developed a rule that will require that all of the fees are disclosed. That when you go on a website, if there's a cost for a pillow or a blanket or isle seat, that all of that has to be disclosed as well as all of the taxes that you pay, so when you get to the bottom line, you know exactly what you're paying for.
REHMBut isn't there still a fight about third-party tickets?
LAHOODThat's correct. And we're working on that right now.
REHMNow, explain exactly how that works.
LAHOODWell, there are ways for people to buy tickets without going directly to the website of an airline. You can go, you know, to somebody else.
REHMTravelocity or one of those.
LAHOODExactly. Exactly. And we're trying to work with them so that all of the fees are disclosed wherever you go, whether it's to Travelocity, whether it's directly to the airline website or to any other website. People need to know exactly what the cost of a ticket and what goes into the cost of a ticket.
REHMNow, I want to ask you about Feb. 12, 2009 because you talked about it as one of the saddest days you've ever had. Talk about what happened and why.
LAHOODWell, you know, four years ago, 49 people perished late in the evening in Buffalo, N.Y. And, Diane, every one of these persons who boarded this plane thought that the pilot was well-trained, thought the plane was mechanically OK. And the truth is what we found out is the pilots weren't well-trained. They did completely the opposite of what they should have done when there was ice on the wings. And as a result, 49 people perished.
LAHOODAnd because of the work of the families of those that were deceased and the work of our people, we have put together now a training program for pilots, so that when they get in the cockpit, they know what to do when there's an emergency on a plane. And we also want to make sure that pilots are well-rested. These pilots flew across the country from the West Coast to the East Coast before they started working.
LAHOODAnd we all know that all of us that had flown coast to coast know what a problem -- how tiring that can be. Then they went and got in the cockpit of a plane and were not trained enough. As a result of that tragedy and with the work of the families, we put together now some rules that will train pilots to make sure they know what they're doing and also more rest for pilots, too.
REHMI'm glad. Let's go back to the phones, Birmingham, Ala. Good morning, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETHGood morning. And I just want to say, thank you, Mr. Secretary. I'm sad to hear that, you know, you're no longer going to be serving us. But I want to get back to the infrastructure question in which President Eisenhower was emphatic that our national security rested on good infrastructure. And I use highway system every day, and it's wonderful. Why isn't the national infrastructure a part of our defense budget?
LAHOODWell, it is a very good question. And you talk about someone with a vision, President Eisenhower had a vision. He knew that we needed to have a very good road system in order to get people in and out of communities in the case of emergencies or in case of a disaster. And over time, Congress made the decision to make infrastructure its own budget to raise the money to build roads and bridges from the gasoline tax, and it worked very well for 50 years. We built the interstate system over 50 years using the highway trust fund as a way to pay for it.
REHMSo what's happened to the highway trust fund?
LAHOODPeople are driving less, and people are driving more fuel-efficient cars. And as a result, the highway trust fund is diminished over the years.
REHMSo why couldn't moneys to improve highways, bridges come out of defense spending?
LAHOODWell, look, the defense department is facing huge, huge cutbacks. And I think the last thing that the secretary of defense is going to want to do is take any of their resources and put them towards transportation.
REHMThanks for calling, Elizabeth. Tell me your views on driverless cars.
LAHOODWell, it's the wave of future. Google is investing an enormous amount of money. I've actually ridden in the Google car here in Washington. They brought one to D.C., brought it to DOT. I get in the car, drove around the Beltway a little bit. I didn't drive it. The car was driving itself.
LAHOODWell, look, a lot of new technology, a lot of computers, a lot of chips that tell the car where to go, and Google is continuing to invest an enormous amount of money. I was just out at Google in California, spent the day there, went through their lab where they have all these Google cars, and they have all these smart people, all these smart engineers trying to figure out how to take this type of driverless car to the next level.
REHMSo you're a fan?
LAHOODI think its -- look, we have to think outside of the box. And at this point, we'll be watching very carefully. They just hired away one of our top people from our safety organization to go to work for them.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You know, speaking of Google, you have really made distracted driving something of a crusade.
LAHOODWell, we have. We started four years ago. No one was talking about distracted driving. No one even knew what distracted driving was. And only 11 states -- excuse me -- 18 states had passed laws four years ago. And now 39 have. We've gotten the police involved with enforcement. We've gotten a lot of younger people, a lot of teen groups. We've got insurance companies, like State Farm and Allstate.
LAHOODSome of the car companies have taken an interest. We're right at the starting gate on this, Diane. We're right at the place where we were when we wanted to take drunk drivers off the road. People said you couldn't do it. We're right at the place where we were when we started our seatbelt program. Now, because of good laws, good enforcement, 86 percent of us buckle up when we get in a car.
LAHOODThat was not true 20 years ago. It was not true 20 years ago that we could get drunk drivers off the road. We're going to make progress on distracted driving but it takes personal responsibility, good laws, good enforcement and putting down those cellphones while you're driving.
REHMNot only cellphones...
LAHOODThe texting device.
REHMEverything. I also, however, have to remind you how long it took to get the automobile companies to agree to the airbags, to the seatbelts.
REHMI mean, talk about...
LAHOODYeah, and the child restraint seats. Think about all of our -- when we were raising our children, we'd kind of throw them in the backseat of the car and take a trip, and they wouldn't even have seatbelts on. And now, today, the generation of children that my wife and I raised grew up on child restraint seats. And so that's why 86 percent of us buckle up. They learned it when they were younger.
REHMHere's a final email from Lee in Kent, Ohio, who says, "One of our current governor's first acts was to reject passenger rail dedicated stimulus money that would have been a tremendous benefit to Ohio. How to advance these necessities in the face of such resistance?"
LAHOODWell, I'm sure that when the interstate system started, there were governors who said we're not going to have a road running through our state. Fifty years later, we have an interstate system that connects America. Over time when the politicians catch up with the people, this will happen. And I believe 25, 30 years from now, the majority of America will be connected with passenger rail.
LAHOODThis is what the people want. The people have a vision about this. They want alternative forms of transportation. They want to get out of their cars. They want to get out of congestion. They want to be able to ride trains again. The people are way ahead of the politicians on this.
REHMThe people are way ahead of the politicians, but you remain an optimist as to what can be accomplished despite those politicians.
LAHOODWell, look it. I've been to 49 states. I've been to over 200 cities, and the reason I'm an optimist is 'cause everywhere I go, people want street cars, buses, light rail, high-speed rail, more passenger rail, and we're trying to stay up with the people.
REHMI hope you do and continue as long as possible.
REHMThank you so much.
LAHOODThank you, Diane.
REHMTransportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who leaves office as soon as President Obama finds his successor, which is going to be hard to do. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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