U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced on his blog that he will not serve a second term as an Obama cabinet member. No timetable was given for him to step down as he will remain in the post until his successor tapped by President Obama is confirmed by Congress.
The American School Bus Council (ASBC) had previously invited LaHood to take part in a Love the Bus event scheduled for Feb. 12 in Arlington, Va.. An ASBC spokesman confirmed for STN that LaHood will be in attendance.
There is speculation about potential candidates to replace LaHood in Obama's cabinet. An industry insider said one name being bandied about is Deborah Hersman, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, who holds a commercial drivers license with a school bus endorsement and has spoken several times to the industry at national conferences. Another potential candidate is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
LaHood said on his FastLane blog that he wrote to President Obama that it was "an honor and privilege" to lead the Department of Transportation for the past four years and that he was most proud of the "DOT team" he served with.
He also noted several accomplishments over the past four years, including the department's "Distracted Driving Initiative; the reduction of highway fatalities to "historic lows;" implementation of the $48 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act to begin fixing the nation's roads, bridges and transit systems; and updated Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for light-duty vehicles and newly proposed rules for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.
"Each of these remarkable accomplishments is a tribute your hard work, creativity, commitment to excellence, and most of all, your dedication to our country," LaHood addressed to department employees. "DOT is fortunate to have such an extraordinary group of public servants. I look forward to continuing to work with all of you as the selection and confirmation process of the next transportation secretary moves forward. Now is not the time to let up - we still have a number of critical safety goals to accomplish and still more work to do on the implementation of MAP-21.
"I've told President Obama, and I've told many of you, that this is the best job I've ever had. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to work with all of you and I'm confident that DOT will continue to achieve great things in the future."
NAPT President Alexandra Robinsons said LaHood early in his tenure committed to help remind the public about the important link between "safe and reliable" student transportation services and childhood education.
"He understands the critical link between safe and reliable student transportation and our public education system, and delivered on his promise to help us explain that nexus accurately, clearly and succinctly. He also made the time in his busy schedule to participate in two of our industry's national media events," she added. "All of us in school bus transportation, and particularly the members of NAPT, thank him for doing so, and for the positive message his interest in our work and his commitment to our success signals to the public."
NASDPTS Executive Director Bob Riley said LaHood demonstrated an interest in and support of the school bus community via his blog and appearances at the 2011 ASBC Love the Bus event and his scheduled visit next month toTuckahoe Elementary School. He also answered an ASBC request to direct NHTSA to work that ASBC in developing materials designed to remind the public about the value of the yellow school bus to society and that nation's public school system.
"The members of NASDPTS and the entire yellow school bus community thank Mr. LaHood for the significant role he has played in helping to bring our message to the public," Riley added.
Meanwhile, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials commended LaHood's leadership over the past four years, echoing the accomplishments in overseeing a decrease of 5,000 highway fatalities per year and the focus on distracted driving and investments in highways, transit and high-speed rail
"It has been a pleasure working with Secretary LaHood, and we wish him well," said AASHTO Executive Directors John Hosley in a statement. "The secretary's announcement today that he plans to step-down from his position comes at a crucial time for the industry. AASHTO looks forward to continuing to work with Secretary LaHood and his successor to fully implement the reforms included in MAP-21 and to identify a long-term, sustainable funding source for our nation's transportation system."
American Bus Association CEO Peter Pantuso pointed out that LaHood has also supported the motorcoach industry, which has battled against knee-jerk reactions to several high-profile crashes over the past several years. Last week, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland announced that rulemaking on requiring lap-shoulder seat belts in motorcoaches will be finalized by the end of this year. That rule is expected to be based on scientific crash-test results that the motorcoach industry has pushed for.
Pantuso also lauded LaHood's promotion of the "Motorcoach Safety Action Plan" and overseeing the shutdown of nearly 30 illegally operations motorcoach companies last summer.