City sues BYD over ART buses

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

“The short story is we’re taking BYD to court.”

Those were the words of Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller on Friday morning as he announced the city is taking legal action against the BYD bus company, contracted by the city to build 60-foot, fully electric buses for the troubled Albuquerque Rapid Transit project.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller speaks to the media about a lawsuit filed by the city against bus manufacturer BYD during a news conference Friday morning at One Civic Plaza. Joining the mayor were, from left, Albuquerque Fire Rescue Lt. Chris Carlsen, Transit Maintenance Supervisor Greg Gallegos, City Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael and City Attorney Esteban Aguilar Jr. (Maddy Hayden/Albuquerque Journal)

“We need to hold them accountable for what they’ve done to our city and for their lack of adherence to a contract that they signed,” Keller said.

The city forced BYD to remove the buses from the city last week over a number of safety and battery-life issues.

Keller said the city reached out to BYD in an attempt to settle the conflict through mediation, but the mayor said BYD “didn’t even call us back.”

The lawsuit filed against California-based BYD Motors Inc. in 2nd Judicial District Court in Albuquerque claims breach of contract, breach of warranty, fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation and violations of the state’s Unfair Practices Act.

“We would expect that (BYD) will file their own claims, but we’re confident in the facts that are before us and we will aggressively defend the city,” City Attorney Esteban Aguilar Jr. said.

BYD said in an emailed statement Friday that it is “considering all legal options in response to the City’s actions.”

“BYD once again disputes the Mayor’s false and misleading statements regarding BYD and its products,” BYD said in the statement. “It is unfortunate that the City has chosen to file a lawsuit. Prior to today’s press conference the City had refused to provide BYD with inspection reports documenting alleged problems with the buses. The City has never stated the amount of damages it claims to have suffered.”

The city’s suit is seeking damages to be determined by the court.

City Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael said that a little under $6 million of federal funding was contingent on the buses being fully electric.

Rael said the city has been in discussions with the Federal Transit Administration on setting aside that funding for the possible future purchase of electric buses.

The city has also already invested between $3 million and $4 million in upgrading electricity capabilities at the Transit Department’s Daytona Facility, Rael said.

“We think there’s an opportunity to use this investment in the future as the technology gets better and better with these battery-operated buses,” Rael said.

Meanwhile, the city has ordered diesel buses made by BYD competitor New Flyer that have a price tag of $870,000 apiece. Those are expected to arrive in 2019. The BYD buses cost $1.2 million apiece.

“We think … this actually is going to all wash out at a minimum, if not us actually recouping more,” Keller said.

The city also released an independent report Friday morning by the Center for Transportation and the Environment, which tested the buses’ batteries.

“CTE’s simulations found that the operational plan developed for ART – running the electric buses during the day, then recharging them overnight in preparation for the next day – could not be achieved by the buses BYD delivered to Albuquerque,” a city news release sent Friday morning stated.

The $135 million project, initiated under the administration of Mayor Richard Berry, is intended to span a portion of Central Avenue via dedicated bus lanes and specially built platforms.

Expected to go online last year, the project has experienced numerous delays related to construction, federal funding and, most recently, safety and performance concerns with the buses.

Among the safety issues claimed by the city are wheelchair ramps that deploy when weight is on them, doors that open while the bus is in motion, poor brake air pressure and exposed high-voltage wires.

Keller said the city will likely provide an update next week on the path forward for ART.

Keller said he’s generally a “big supporter” of electric vehicles and will consider electric city buses when the technology is more sound.

“For a city of our size, the pain that we went through and the trauma that Route 66 has gone through to put this in, was that worth being the first city to have these fancy electric buses?” Keller said. “I don’t think so.”

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