Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
The electric buses at the center of the Albuquerque Rapid Transit debacle may be driving other New Mexico roads one day.
BYD Coach and Bus – which at one point contracted with the city of Albuquerque to provide electric buses along the ART corridor – was one of three companies included in a price agreement made through the New Mexico General Services Department on Jan. 28. That means local governments throughout the state can choose BYD as a bus supplier without having to put the matter out to bid.
While the agreement included the bus model initially used for the controversial ART project, that doesn’t mean any governments will actually buy BYD’s buses, according to Thom Cole, a spokesman for the New Mexico General Services Department.
“We’ve given state agencies and local public bodies three companies to choose from, and they can use their discretion on which one they decide to do business with,” he said.
Local government agencies can also solicit bids themselves and do business with suppliers that aren’t part of state pricing agreements.
Cole said the department issued an invitation to bid at the request of the New Mexico Department of Transportation. Six companies applied, and three were included in the agreement. To be fair to the companies, GSD does not have discretion to reject companies that meet the requirements and offer the lowest price, Cole said.
“If your product meets the specifications, and your price is the lowest, you get a price agreement,” he said.
As of Wednesday, BYD hadn’t received any orders from government agencies in the state.
BYD is an already familiar name in Albuquerque, which in 2017 contracted the company to provide 60-foot electric buses for the ART route but later rejected the vehicles and sued for breach of contract. Mayor Tim Keller harshly criticized the BYD vehicles that arrived in Albuquerque, and the city alleged that test drives revealed numerous problems related to safety and battery life. Among other issues, it contended the buses had faulty braking systems, did not run long enough on a charge and had insecure locking mechanisms for on-board wheelchairs.
Though BYD countered that its vehicles were safe, the city told the company in late 2018 to take back the 15 buses it had delivered. Albuquerque filed a lawsuit a month later.
The parties ultimately settled the suit. Though the city did not receive any damages, the 2019 agreement allowed it to exit the $22.9 million purchase agreement without penalty and prohibited BYD from countersuing. It also established the friendly language the parties would use in the media. The agreed-upon statement said in part that the city “supports BYD’s pursuit of its mission to expand zero-emission public transportation with the next generation of high-quality electric buses,” while BYD wished the city the “best of luck” with ART.
The city finally launched ART in November 2019 using a fleet of diesel buses from a different manufacturer.
Albuquerque, however, has not completely given up on electric buses.
Earlier this year, the city began testing a leased, 40-foot electric bus from the California-based manufacturer Proterra. Officials said last month they expect to eventually buy several of the buses.
Despite the litigious history between BYD and the city of Albuquerque, BYD senior vice president Patrick Duan called the agreement with the state a “big win for transit agencies” looking to meet sustainability goals.
The new agreement includes several models of buses and coaches – one of which is the 60-foot-long model BYD originally provided to Albuquerque, BYD spokesman Frank Girardot said.
“We’re excited about that because it’s the only bus really out there that’s passed the federal durability test, so it’s nice to see that in the contract,” he said.
While no buses have been sold in New Mexico yet, Girardot said he’s optimistic.
“We have 40% of the nation’s capacity to build electric buses,” Girardot said. “… We think the sky’s the limit coming from New Mexico and you know, we hope that … it results in lots of orders.”
Citing the 2019 legal settlement, a city of Albuquerque spokesman declined to comment Wednesday on BYD’s new agreement with the state.