BYD bills itself as the undisputed leader in American electric-battery buses, its Build Your Dreams moniker evoking images of sleek, futuristic vehicles transporting the masses in a safe and environmentally friendly manner.
That might play on the brochures, but on the ground in Albuquerque a more fitting name for the company might be Build Your Nightmares – buses it built for the Duke City experienced brake failures and doors opening during operation.
BYD is the Chinese manufacturer behind the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project’s ill-fated electric bus fleet. The buses are manufactured at the company’s California-based North America plant. Former Mayor Richard Berry’s ART project was supposed to transform Central Avenue into a rapid transit corridor with a nine-mile stretch of bus-only lanes and median bus stations.
Instead, Mayor Tim Keller inherited a B-horror movie, with buses that appear to be unsafe “at any speed.”
“We are not going to let these buses on our streets until we are 100 percent sure they’re safe,” Keller said last week. “And what the tests found is that, today, several of them are not.” And he means for riders or drivers. According to city officials:
• There have been door malfunctions; bolts began to fall off doors, and rear doors have opened during bus operation without any action by the driver.
• There have been brake failures; specifically, ABQ Ride mechanics discovered last month the center and rear brakes had zero air pressure, yet the bus was able to move, something that should never happen. “It means that the center and rear axle brakes were not working – the buses were relying on their front brakes alone,” said Bernie Toon, the city’s transit director.
• And there have been air conditioning outages.
BYD disputes the buses are unsafe, saying they have been built to strict Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and passed FMVSS brake and all other testing required for revenue service. Here’s betting that doesn’t include doors flying open at random and 60 feet of bus relying on one set of brakes.
This is the latest in a long string of we say/they say problems with the ART project in general and the buses in particular. The project is more than a year behind schedule and the city still doesn’t have all buses ordered, despite the fact they were to be delivered in 2017. Bus battery life has also been an issue.
Keller told reporters he’s running out of patience with BYD, and he’s not alone. The public is also fed up with this stalled project and BYD’s tired excuses. One drive down a completely reconfigured Central Avenue – with motorists cruising in the “bus only” lanes – proves it.
It’s time for Keller and his administration to do a cost-benefit analysis and determine whether the city should sever ties with BYD, and what that alternative route would cost in time and money. Of course, such a move is a last resort – but we may be approaching that intersection.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.