A “boondoggle” can be defined as a government project that is considered a waste of both time and money, yet is often continued due to misguided policy or political motivations.
A “money pit” is generally defined as something you foolishly keep spending a lot of money on to fix up or make repairs believing it’s going to get better, but it winds up being a total waste of money, time and effort. Dilapidated houses and junk cars are a good examples of money pits. Another example of a money pit are brand new vehicles which are considered lemons subject to repeated manufacture recalls requiring extensive repairs before a warranty runs out.
There comes a time you need to cut your losses with any boondoggle or money pit and stop the money waste, especially when it is taxpayer money that can be put to better use.Former Mayor Berry’s ART Bus project down Central is both one big boondoggle of a money pit. The ART Bus project will have a major negative impact and drain on the priorities of newly elected Mayor Tim Keller.
A MISLEADING PHOTO OPS
ART was dedicated with great fanfare before it was fully functional, up and running so as to give former Mayor Richard Berry an ART supporters a photo op before Berry left office. Mayor Keller’s administration found extensive problems with ART not revealed by the previous administration to the point Mayor Keller pronounced the project as “bit of a lemon”. When former Mayor Berry announced the purchase of 60-foot electric buses for ART, he said he was very comfortable with electric buses because “It’s a proven technology”.
It has now been revealed that the 60 foot all electric buses ordered and purchased by the city as “proven” technology is far from “proven” and there are many “kinks” to be worked out.
(See January 21, 2018 Albuquerque Journal, page A-1, “ART victim of ‘new bus blues’; Few 60 foot all electric buses are on U.S. roads, and they are still working out the kinks”.)
Richard De Rock, the general manager of the Link Transit Company based in Wenatchee, Washington, a purchaser of electric buses, labeled electric busses as “experimental technology” that is “challenging beyond belief”.
ALBUQUERQUE’S ELECTRIC BUS ORDER
On Oct. 4, 2017, only 9 out the 20 busses ordered by City Transit were delivered. Chief Operations Officer Lawrence Rael reported that the city detected upward of 24 issues or problems associated with the new buses delivered.
The manufacturer of the new buses claims that the problems with the buses are “minor”. The manufacture has vowed to fix the problems which they are required to do anyway by law and the purchase contract. The problems with the electric buses delivered were so extensive, the city ended up renting portable generators to power the buses in order to use them for the “River of Lights” holiday exhibition.
The practice of using the generators was stopped by the City because it could compromise the bus warranty.
A few of the problems found with the buses delivered include:
Some of the buses cannot be charged because the charging system don’t work.
Axles on the new buses delivered were leaking oil, a problem supposedly fixed.
The buses have not gone through the certification process required in order for the city to be reimbursed for the buses by the federal government.
One of the ART buses put through the certification process did not pass the inspection.
A third-party certification officer would not certify the electric battery chargers that have been installed for the reason that the chargers themselves are not operable because what was used were equipment parts manufactured in China that used different standards for how the equipment was built. Fully charged batteries on the buses are supposed to last for 275 miles but testing the city did indicated that the charge is only good for 200 miles and city transit will need additional buses for ART unless the problem is resolved.
Restraint belts that are used to keep wheelchairs locked in place while they’re in transit are in different locations in almost all the buses delivered. The battery cages that house the bus batteries were cracking and separating.
PROBLEMS IDENTIFIED WITH NEWLY CONSTRUCTED ART BUS STATION PLATFORMS
Problems with the electric buses are not the only problems with ART. Numerous problems with the bus stop platforms have been identified. There are problems with inconsistent height levels on some of the bus stop platforms constructed creating problems for wheelchair accesses ability which is mandated on Federal funded transportation projects such as ART.
The Atrisco bus stop platform is at an angle which creates problems of accessibility for people in wheelchairs. Major concerns about two of the bus stations have been raised because of the distance between the intersection and the actual platforms.
The Washington and Central platform is so close to the intersection that a bus coming from the east side going west can’t make the approach without taking up the entire intersection, and it will probably have to be demolished and reconstructed.
The mirrors on the ART buses are slamming into the pillars that hold up the fabric awnings at the bus stations constructed in the middle of Central and the stations will have to be altered so the mirrors are protected from damage.
The ART bus station at Central and Washington is too short and in order to get the 60-foot-long articulated buses into the station, bus drivers must make an “S” maneuver, which swerves the buses into regular traffic lanes increasing the risks of traffic accidents.
The station at Atrisco and Central is too long resulting in the ART bus going into the station tilted at a three-to-four-degree angle resulting in the bus floor being a few inches higher than the station platform increasing the risk of injury to passengers boarding and exiting the buses.
There are gaps of at least three inches at some stations between the platform edge and the bus floor resulting in unsafe boarding and unloading conditions for people with disabilities.
CITY COUNCIL WAS ASLEEP AT THE ART BUS WHEEL
The ART Bus project was originally represented as a $129 million project and has gone to $135 million. At least $7 million in hidden sewer line replacement and relocation costs were incurred and the project has an estimated cost $135 million with overruns.
For three years, the Albuquerque City Council was silent and blindly supported ART because it was the “Mayor’s project”. No questions were raised about the purchase of electric buses by any City Councilor, even by City Council Dan Lewis who opposed the project and ran for Mayor and lost. The City Council went so far as to approve spending $69 million of federal grant money the city applied for that has yet to be appropriated by Congress.
The City Council also issued upwards of $15 million dollars in revenue bonds encumbering future gross receipt tax revenues for ARTs construction. Congressional committees have cut $20 million dollars from the $69 million grant with no guarantee that it will be made up in next year’s budget resulting in Albuquerque having to identify additional funding sources to make up for the shortfall on the project once it happens.
The Keller administration and taxpayers will be stuck with the bill if the Federal grant money is not forthcoming. In all likelihood, the City Council will have to issue more revenue bonds encumbering future gross receipts tax to pay for the $69 million dollar shortfall if Congress fails to make the appropriation.
It is an embarrassment that Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis is now wondering if the city picked the best bus vendor. Davis claims he is asking questions and is looking at bus purchase invoices and bid documents. Davis claims he has found out the City is paying millions more for the electric buses than another low bidder. What is laughable is that the city council is now asking questions after the project is exposed for the boondoggle money pit it is.
SCRAP ART, CUT OUR LOSES
All the problems with ART are so bad, it was announced by the Keller Administration that it will probably not be up and running for at least a year. City Hall needs to recognize the ART Bus project is never going to be a success in the long run, even if the “kinks” are worked out with the electric buses and the platforms.
Study after study has shown that bus ridership is down in Albuquerque and City transit always operates at a loss.In 2012, bus ridership in Albuquerque peaked at 13 million boardings and has steadily declined year after year ever since. In the first two months of 2017, bus ridership was down in Albuquerque by 11 percent from the same period as 2016. According to the Federal Transit Administration, in January and February of 2017, ABQ Ride had a total of 1.6 million passenger boardings compared to 1.8 million boardings.
A transportation study released by the city revealed the ART bus project has a 19-year shelf life. Sooner rather than later the bus stop platforms in the middle of Central will have to be removed or lanes widened and traffic lanes will have to be rededicated to accommodate projected increases in traffic along central and increases in population.
ALTERNATIVE SOLUTIONS NEEDED
During the campaign for Mayor, candidate Tim Keller talked about addressing and coming up with solutions for the city’s homeless problem, his desire for after school programs, offering more social services, public safety, returning to community based policing, hiring 300 more police officers and reducing our crime rates. The Keller agenda is going to take considerable funding and being saddled with the previous administrations legacy project and debt threatens that agenda.
The Keller priorities are all far more important than a cheesy nine-mile electric bus route that has destroyed the character of Route 66. It is becoming more and more likely Albuquerque will not get the $69 million from the Federal Transportation Administration. Mayor Keller will have to find the money somewhere to complete ART as originally planned. It is very doubtful the federal government in the age of Trump will be any help now that there is a Federal Government shutdown.
Further, the city is facing a $6 million-dollar deficit this fiscal year and a projected $40 million-dollar deficit for next fiscal year. Mayor Keller is going hat in hand seeking major funding from the 2018 New Mexico legislature.
Mayor Keller announced his legislative priorities include funding for public safety, including 200 plus new police vehicles and a $40 million-dollar upgrade of the city emergency operation phone system that was last upgraded decades ago. Even if funding is secured by Mayor Keller from the legislature, it is likely the vindictive Republican Governor Martinez would line item such appropriations so as to not to help a Democrat Mayor who she has clashed with in the past when he was State Auditor.
KELLER SHOULD NOT FEEL SADDLED WITH ART
The likely millions to fix ART, or the $69 million the city will have to come up with if the federal grant money does not materialize, could go to fund homeless initiatives, early childhood programs and public safety for that matter. At this point, pouring any more money down the boondoggle money pit known as ART would be a mistake.
City Hall needs to cut our losses as best it can and scrap ART as much as it can. City Hall needs to rededicate the bus lanes for all traffic and do its best to restore Route 66. The Keller Administration should explore if the center bus platform stops can modified with a new purpose and alternative be found. The platforms have utilities installed that could be used for other purposes. Tearing down the ART Bus stop platforms would have too much of another negative impact on Route 66 businesses. Examples of new dedicated purposes for the platforms could be elevated landscaping or distinctive lighting fixtures or platforms for large sculptures that would commemorate Route 66.
As Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel once said:
“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”