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ART bus maker promises that issues will be resolved

As illustrated in this brochure from BYD America, this 60-foot, articulated battery-electric bus – like the ones that will be used for the Albuquerque Rapid transit project – is a brand-new line of buses

As illustrated in this brochure from BYD America, this 60-foot, articulated battery-electric bus – like the ones that will be used for the Albuquerque Rapid transit project – is a brand-new line of buses. BYD says it’s working overtime to fix the problems with Albuquerque’s buses. (Courtesy of BYD Website)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

The company accused by city officials of providing substandard buses and charging stations for the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project and failing to meet its contractual obligations said Wednesday that it’s working overtime to resolve the issues.

“Our team in California and the team we have on the ground in Albuquerque will address every identified issue and deliver the world class buses we are known for,” Macy Neshati, senior vice president with BYD America, said in a statement late Wednesday. “Taxpayers will not pay a dime until we do.”

The company, also known as Build Your Dreams, issued a lengthy statement in response to revelations made Tuesday by Mayor Tim Keller and Lawrence Rael, the city’s chief operating officer.

During a news conference at City Hall, Keller and Rael outlined a series of problems with the controversial project that will keep ART from launching for the foreseeable future. Those issues include numerous problems with the nine 60-foot articulated battery electric buses that have been delivered and the company’s failure to deliver an additional 11 buses by the Oct. 4 date set forth in the contract.

Rael also detailed many of the problems with ART during a separate conference call with the Journal’s editorial board.

The city has identified several problems with the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project buses that have been delivered so far. BYD America, the company manufacturing the buses, has pledged to put the resources in place to make it right. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Neshati said in his statement that BYD is working closely with a city inspector who has been working at the company’s California plant since production began to review each bus before it is delivered.

He said the company knows there are issues with the schedule and with items identified by the city and added that the company is working to address those issues.

“BYD is committed to manufacturing and delivering world-class electric vehicles with cutting-edge battery technologies,” Neshati said. “And where we’ve fallen short with ART, we will put the resources in place to make it right. Our commitment is simple: any concerns that the city has will be fixed, and we won’t rest until we’ve exceeded the city’s expectations.”

Rick DeReyes, a spokesman for the city, said the inspector referred to by BYD is actually a city contractor monitoring the construction of the ART buses. But he said that doesn’t mean the inspector is able to see everything that happens with production at every moment.

Nevertheless, the city welcomed BYD’s pledge to fix the problems.

“The city of Albuquerque is equally committed to resolving the issues with the buses and chargers with BYD America, and we’re looking forward to getting the job done right,” DeReyes said.

Among the problems outlined by the city:

• The buses have not gone through the certification process in Altoona, Pa., which is required for the city to be reimbursed for them by the federal government. Rael said one of the ART buses put through the certification process didn’t pass.

• Some of the buses can’t be charged because the charging system doesn’t work.

• Axles on the buses are leaking oil.

• A third-party certification officer wouldn’t certify the chargers that have been installed. “The chargers themselves are not operable because they’ve used what looks like Chinese equipment and probably a different standard for how they built these boxes,” Rael said.

• Fully charged batteries on the buses are supposed to last for 275 miles, but testing the city has done indicates the charge is good for only 200 miles, which means the city will need additional buses for ART unless that problem is resolved.

• Roughly 23 to 24 issues have been detected with each of the buses, although not all of the problems are major. They include things like inconsistency in the locations of restraint belts used to keep wheelchairs locked in place and cracking and separation with the battery cages that house the bus batteries.

While the company didn’t dispute most of the findings, it did point out that the same types of chargers are being used in other cities.

“Our buses will be approved by the Federal Transportation Administration when Altoona testing recommences, and our charging infrastructure will comply with the city’s requirements,” Neshati said. “These units are currently functioning in Albuquerque as they are in states such as California, Washington, Oregon and others.”

Rael also had noted that the city under Richard Berry’s administration had rented generators to charge bus batteries. He said the Keller administration stopped that practice when an inspector advised them that using generators could compromise the warranty on the equipment.

But BYD noted that all of its buses require the use of generator power for transit from the factory to communities where they will be used.

“No warranty will be compromised should the city of Albuquerque choose to continue charging with on-site generators,” the statement said.

A Chinese company, BYD launched its California operation in 2011 after Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway purchased a minority stake in the company. BYD calls itself the world’s leading manufacturer of electric buses.

ART has been billed as a project that will turn Central Avenue into a rapid transit corridor with a nine-mile stretch of bus-only lanes and bus stations. The project – and associated utility and road work – comes with a $135 million price tag.

The city has been banking on $75 million from the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program for the project, but that funding agreement has not yet been signed.

ART will be the first of its kind, all-electric bus rapid transit in the U.S. In November, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy awarded ART its Gold Standard for Bus Rapid Transit systems.

During Tuesday’s press conference, Keller and Rael also talked about design and construction problems along the ART corridor.

 

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