107 Bill Peduto, Leading the Pittsburgh Technology Evolution & Answers “How Many Self-Driving Cars are Riding Around Pittsburgh?
Bill Peduto was elected to the office of Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh in November 2013. Prior, he worked for 19 years on Pittsburgh City Council. A self described “Reform Democrat”, Bill Peduto wrote the most comprehensive package of government reform legislation in Pittsburgh’s history.
During Pittsburgh’s ongoing financial crisis, Bill Peduto has been the consistent voice of fiscal discipline. Decades of financial mismanagement and antiquated policies have left Pittsburgh with the highest debt ratio and lowest pension funding in the nation. He helped to write a new budget, lobbied to get others on board and after a year of hard work he was able to lead the city into a new five year plan. He wasn’t afraid to make the tough votes to secure Pittsburgh’s future.
Adding his own charity fund-raising activities, such as Executive Producer of a documentary about the Allegheny Observatory and the only politician who laces his skates as a member of Pittsburgh’s Celebrity Hockey Team and it is pretty easy to see — Bill Peduto is not your typical Mayor.
Connect with Bill
If you liked this interview, check out episode 83 with Kristi Woolsey where we discuss the future of work and how technology will change the workplace.
Watson: Bill, thank you so much for coming on my show. I really appreciate it.
Bill Peduto: It's a pleasure.
Watson: I've got to admit, I’m particularly excited about this interview. I don't want that to go to your head or anything, but I want to start off by asking you about the smart city pitch that you did yesterday. I saw a little bit of the video.
Bill Peduto: You got to link it to this podcast so people can see it.
Watson: We'll link to it for sure. Can you just tell folks a little bit about what the smart city pitch was, and also talk a little bit about how you prepare a pitch like that, because that's a pretty big deal. We're talking about 10 for tens of millions of dollars.
Bill Peduto: Well, yeah. So the department of transportation challenged midsize cities- only midsize cities. What will the future of transportation be? Don't think about it in the scope of what is available now. So in other words, don't say, ‘well, we're going to add another bus stop or we're going to add another light rail stop.’
No. What about sensor detection that is now being used in every automobile that's being produced? What about autonomous vehicles that are now being tested in cities around the world? What about electric vehicles? What about powering them without fossil fuels? What about making areas connected that were separated because in the 1950s, we built highways that ran through neighborhoods. Think about all of that, and then not just about the mobility of transportation, but social mobility, giving people opportunities to get to work, to get to the doctor, to be able to take care of the basics. Then, put it all together in a plan, and present it to us. So, 78 cities took it up and from that seven were chosen to be finalists.
We're in pretty good company where it's Austin, San Francisco, Portland, Denver, Columbus, and Kansas City. Pittsburgh pitches a very unique place because we saw the devastation that happened through urban planning. We called it urban renewal. The 1950s, when we went to neighborhoods with demolition balls and tore out the heart of areas like the Hill District in East Liberty and the North Side. We saw that we built roadways around them and built tunnels and bridges, and people led flood down to the city into the suburbs. But we also saw during the past 35 years of economic collapse, the hollowing out of these neighborhoods.
So our mission is, ‘if it's not for all of us, it's not for us.’ We want to be able to use technology to help restore these neighborhoods, to give people the opportunity to get to their workplace, just like the old days. We built roads and used the river and rails to get products to market. We want a new economy that gets people to work, and we want to be able to utilize new partnerships with Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, Google, and Uber in order to be able to see all this 21st century transportation be piloted here.
Watson: Absolutely. That's something that I've seen. I go to some of these other conferences and other towns, some of the towns that you mentioned. I think that, quite honestly, as someone who was born and raised in Pittsburgh, you say, ‘oh, I'm from Pittsburgh.’ You know, I'm half expecting them to maybe not even know where that is or what our story is. Recently, I've come across people when they get excited, their eyes light up because they've heard, ‘oh, that's a food destination’ or ‘oh, that's one of the new up and coming places,’ but they don't necessarily know the details of what we have to offer. So that's really exciting. Hopefully we end up winning that.
Bill Peduto: I gotta tell you one short thing with that. I was in Tallinn Estonia. It's an absolutely beautiful city. Just Google it sometime and look at the photos. You'll be like, ‘oh my gosh, I got to go there.’ I was checking into my hotel and there was a group behind me, three or four people from Japan. They said, ‘are you from the United States?’ I said, ‘yes.’ They said, ‘where from?’ I said, ‘Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.’ They said, ‘oh, Pittsburgh! Hospital city.’
Watson: Wow. I guess everyone has their different idea of what the city represents. The tech side of things is really kind of the emergent narrative along with some of the food stuff. We have these very big tech brands coming into town, as you mentioned, Google, Uber, Facebook, all these other big players. You also mentioned self-driving cars, which is something that I'm dreaming of. That was actually my question. How many self driving vehicles are in the streets of Pittsburgh right now?
Bill Peduto: They don't like to share the numbers, but there are several that Uber is testing primarily in the Strip District and Lawrenceville, but also crossing the river, going over to the North Side and soon, a little bit more. There's also a few that Carnegie Mellon's testing in Oakland. I don't know the exact number. A few dozen cities around the world are actually at the stage that Pittsburgh's at. There's a city in Sweden, Gothenburg, that is going to have about a hundred Volvos that will be on the road probably by the end of the year, or beginning of next year.
Austin, Texas and San Francisco are two of the cities that are leading this, but Pittsburgh is not far behind. If we have the opportunity to partner with these groups, with Carnegie Mellon, with Uber, we can actually leapfrog those other cities and be able to have on demand autonomous vehicles within the next few years.
Bill Peduto: Within the next few years!
Watson: I mean, you don't have to tell me that.
Bill Peduto: Well, people are like, yeah, that's Jetson stuff. That's never going to happen. It's happening. It's happening so quickly that even the automobile industry has been surprised. So, every major manufacturer from Ford to Subaru to everyone else is already testing as well.
Watson: Yeah. So I’m curious. I'm on the side of like I buy into, it's going to be soon. It's going to be here sooner than we realize, but one of the things that gets thrown out as a potential obstacle to that becoming a reality is the regulation of the self-driving vehicle. If there's an accident, who's at fault what safety precautions are in place? As someone who's working in the public space, I'm curious if you could elaborate on where you see that regulation burden really falling on? As Pittsburgh is one of these cities where the tests are being made, how much of a hand do you have in that, and how much are you hampered or helped by the state or federal level?
Bill Peduto: Yeah, a lot of it comes out of the state. The feds opened it up to be able to pilot that. Now, the state in Pennsylvania, we have legislation that has bipartisan support to be able to move forward. I think we'll be the second state after Texas. It will require additional insurance, and that will require someone's behind the wheel, you know, in case something would go wrong.
In the cases with CMU and Uber, there's two people, there's somebody behind the wheel, and there's somebody watching that person behind the wheel, but the regulations are already starting to be caught up. The industry is helping to guide them, not write them. There are so many different watchdog groups right now to make sure that safety is always first. Also, understand this: the last time you got on a plane, it was a driverless plane, other than taking off and landing, that thing goes. Most of the boats that are in the ocean are guided by a system. It's not somebody just sitting there turning a wheel. Trains, too. I mean, transportation automation is just catching up to what other automation has already had happened.
If you think back 10 years ago, the iPhone didn't exist. There was no smartphone, and your smartphone didn't contain a computer. In 10 years, the whole world's in your hand. Five years ago, the sharing economy didn't exist. All of a sudden, nobody even thinks twice about ordering an Uber, looking to see what Airbnb is in another. Just imagine what 10 years is going to bring in this field.
Watson: Yeah. It seems so far away until it's here, and then it's like, ‘well, why didn’t we always have this?’
Bill Peduto: That's exactly what will happen.
Watson: Yeah. So, I'm going to change the pace here a little bit. A big part of my show is understanding the journey of the people that I'm interviewing and their path to where they've gotten to. There's a lot of young listeners out there who are really taking those kinds of first steps towards whatever dreams they're pursuing or career path that they're going to follow. So, I'm curious, I'm actually going to take it way far back. Did you fit a particular high school stereotype?
Bill Peduto: I sort of was a friend of all tribes in high school. I was the student body president, big surprise. I played sports, but I was friends with people who were part of every activity. I didn't really isolate into any one group, but I had a very strong core group of friends who I'm still friends with to this date who were my closest friends. There was a group of about six to eight of us that pretty much stayed together for most of the time, but I was never in any one clique. My best ability, I would probably say, was not my academic ability, but my social ability.
Watson: Would you say that that's something as you've gotten interested in politics, or pursued a career down this path, that you've worked to cultivate or has it basically come naturally and you've kind of focused on sharpening other skills?
Bill Peduto: So, I would say my social skills when I was younger are stronger than my social skills today, which is kind of weird to say, but it's true. Then the other part of it, is in this job, is the ‘Pittsburgh famous,’ you know, because you're on TV. I've never had antisocial feelings, but when you go to the grocery store and there's like somebody talking, there's someone behind them, then somebody there, and they want to talk to you about the pothole that they called in three times about. It makes you not want to go out. So, I find myself more and more in these past two and a half years, staying at home and doing things that weren't what I would usually do in the past. That's just on the social side.
I talked to other mayors about it and they talked about the same thing. It's weird because a good mayor is a good communicator, and you have that set of skills that I think you're born with. You hone those skills throughout your life, and then you get into the position and they become almost a detriment at times to your own well-being.
Watson: I hear you. To kind of follow up on that, as a leader, you kind of mentioned that there's an archetype that most mayors have to fall into. Are there any leaders, political or otherwise that you've studied or try to emulate in your own style of leadership for the city of Pittsburgh?
Bill Peduto: Yeah, but I mean, they're not political leaders. My heroes are Mahatma Gandhi., Martin Luther King, and Mother Teresa. The reason is self-sacrifice and belief of cause beyond belief of self, and I think those are really, really good characteristics in public leadership. Whether you're running a nonprofit, you're a teacher, or you're in an elected office, and I'll never be able to meet their standards, but they just give me hope that there were those that were able to do so.
They also were able to win and do amazing things without much political power being given to them to do so. So how did they build that? That's what I like to study. How were they able to do so without having to resort to the typical use of power, but being able to compel people? How were they able to get through their losses, which they each had, and then at the end still remain victorious?
Unfortunately, two of them were taken away from us through violence, but. At the same time, they also changed the world, and did so doing what they believed. That's the best example. As far as the type of personality of mayors, I don't know if it's that there is a type of personality that makes a good mayor, or if people with a personality or are interested in the position, but I know this, there are very few positions where the personality of a politician really gets exemplified and becomes personified in the city, or the municipality, or the district that they represent as much as a mayor.
A mayor and their city sort of combine. I think a good mayor is allowed to take down a bit of themselves to promote a bit of what they want to see for their city governors, to a lesser degree presidents, to a higher degree. Those are really the positions that I think about when people think about a big personality. I think a mayor needs to have a big personality, but that personality can't be bigger than the city they represent. They have to embody that and let it sort of go out.
Watson: I’m curious how you hold onto that, or how that's balanced between different political seasons, where you're in office, you're executing? How do you balance being the executive branch of the city versus being on a campaign portion of the season, and how you have to maybe temper or highlight certain parts of your personality, or do you feel like it's almost the same thing on both sides?
Bill Peduto: So, I'd prefer to lose and be me than to win and be in any way held back.
Watson: Is that something you have to negotiate with maybe your staff or the people who are campaigning with you?
Bill Peduto: I'm sure that my staff cringes every time I tweet. So it's like, they want control over what I'm doing, and especially when my tweets are after 11:00 PM. So no, I would prefer that when I'm done with this job, that people don't say ‘he was a really good mayor,’ but that they say ‘he was a really good person.’ I don't want to lose me because of a job. It's crazy. So, I'm happy with who I am, and I just wanted that to be the way that I'm not only perceived, but the way that I go about my day to day business of being an executive for a city. It's weird. I mean, politics gets its own little world of like how people would consider how it's run, but I've got 3,500 employees through the authorities and the city budget.
We spend about a billion dollars a year. My job is just to make sure that it's being executed the most efficient way possible, the most effective way possible, and in the most equitable way possible. I cover those three areas, then I do my job well.
Watson: Absolutely. That's a great note to start wrapping up on. Bill, if we could direct people to check something out in the digital world, if they want to learn more about you or connect with, you mentioned Twitter.
Bill Peduto: Yeah. Twitter. I will load your inbox though. Right now, I just watch my followers drop because it's hockey playoff season and I have a lot of opinions. Twitter's the best way to follow, and to stay in touch. Our webpage, billpeduto.com, even though it's not campaign season, we really haven't updated it completely, but we keep it active with what's happening around town. That may be a little bit less about city government and more about how you can get involved in Pittsburgh. Then the city's website, pittsburghpa.gov. We have all the information. The press releases come out on a daily basis. If you really want to know what's going on in this town, check it out.
Watson: Absolutely. All that will be linked at goingdeepwithaaron.com/podcast. The best place to find the show notes for this and every episode of the show.
Bill, thank you so much for coming on here, and I really appreciate it.
Bill Peduto: Thank you.