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WEF Mobility Stewards Session

Friday, September 18, 2020

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
WEF Mobility Stewards Session
Monday, September 14, 2020

Thank you for including me in this virtual’s nice to be with Secretary General Fang, Lord Adair, Minister Scheurer, EU Commissioner Valean and other distinguished participants.

Please allow me to begin with a brief summary of the impact of Covid-19 on U.S. transportation systems, as well as this Administration’s response to it.  Then I’d like to touch on a few other topics on the agenda today.

During the depth of the COVID crisis, schedules and ridership for nearly all forms of transportation in the U.S. shrank to record lows.  Fortunately, many of these systems are seeing double digit bounce backs but there’s still a long ways to go.  Compared with this same time last year, passenger travel by air has declined only about 70 percent, much improved from a drop of 94% in March.  Ridership on public transit declined by about 75 percent vs 98% in March.  Ridership on Amtrak is down by 80 percent vs 99% drop in March.  

There have also been some bright spots. Class I domestic rail traffic for the week ending August 15th had dropped by only 6.7% compared with the same time last year.  In the last week of August, intermodal container traffic had increased by 3%, year over year.   And U.S. airlines carried nearly 13% more cargo by weight in July 2020 than in July 2019, the largest annual increase since 2010. In addition, passenger traffic—as measured by Vehicle Miles Traveled-- has declined by less than 10%.  Truck traffic has been even more stable-- remaining near the pre-Covid levels since late June.  

During this emergency, the Department has been focused on keeping our transportation systems and supply chains operational and safe.  Under a $2.2 trillion economic assistance program, the largest in American history, the U. S. Department of Transportation distributed $10 billion to our nation’s airports; $25 billion to transit authorities, and $1 billion to Amtrak, our passenger rail system. In addition, the Department supported Treasury’s program of nearly $50 billion to the airlines, travel agents, contractors in the aviation sector.  All this assistance was to meet payroll, maintain operations as well as purchase cleaning equipment and supplies.  The Department has also provided 100 million face coverings to the transportation sector.  

The Department has also provided extensive emergency regulatory relief to transportation stakeholders impacted by Covid-19.  These include:  regulatory waivers and exemptions, extensions of compliance deadlines, statements of enforcement discretion, and other actions to provide common sense regulatory relief without compromising safety. 

During this emergency, the Department has continued to move forward with its innovation agenda.  For example:  

•    The Department is in regular coordination with national and international partners to develop guidance for airlines, airports, and the traveling public in reacting to the ongoing public health emergency. As part of this, we recently released the Runway to Recovery document.

•    Regarding the movement of goods, the Department released the first-ever National Freight Strategic Plan.  It addresses the important role that e-commerce, automated and passenger-less delivery vehicles, V2X, and Unmanned Aircraft Systems will play in meeting the freight demands of the future.

•    in an historic milestone, the Department provided a limited regulatory exemption for up to 5,000 low-speed goods delivery vehicles made by a manufacturer NURO which is making contact-free deliveries at two make-shift medical facilities in California in response to Covid-19.

•    The Department is also wrapping up its Drone Integration Pilot Program, which gave the first approvals for low-altitude drone deliveries, including essential medical supplies. We have provided multiple companies – including FedEx, Google’s Wing and Amazon – with air carrier authorities to help meet expanding demand for these services.

•    Finally, let me note that enabling UAM operations is a key goal for Los Angeles before the 2028 Olympics. The Department is working closely with the L.A. County to help facilitate the funding and construction of transportation infrastructure improvements for the 2028 Olympics. Clearly, we will need to have systems in place to assure the safety, security and trust in international travel once again. 

So with that, let me turn this discussion over to the co-chairs.