On November 1, 2018, Mayor Tim Keller provided an update on the status of the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) project.
During the update, Keller pronounced the new ART Buses as “unsafe at any speed”.
Keller further announced that he was grounding the entire bus fleet until a complete inspection is completed of all the buses delivered.
Mayor Keller gave the briefing and answered questions along with Transit Director Bernie Toon and Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Lawrence Rael.
Keller reported that the buses must be fixed before the ART Bus line can be fully operational along the Central corridor, despite the fact that all construction on Central and the bus stop platforms have been completed.
It was previously reported by the Keller Administration that all construction on central and the bus stop platforms have been completed.
PROBLEMS IDENTIFIED MAKING ART BUSES UNSAFE
Problems were discovered with the buses when the City began driver training for the new busses and then followed up with additional inspections.
Many of the problems with the buses risk the safety of the public who will use the buses which justified grounding the entire fleet.
The problems reported with the buses during the press conference include:
1. The center and rear brakes had zero air pressure, yet the 60-foot-long articulated buses were able to move, meaning that the center and rear axle brakes were not working and the buses were relying on their front brakes alone.
2. Rear doors would open during bus operation without any action by the driver.
3. The buses have air conditioning outages.
4. Bolts flying off doors were reported
5. The electric buses do not have the required range on a full battery charge and the bus manufacturer still has not provided the extra charging stations.
The electric buses delivered are suppose to operate for 275 miles, but city officials found the buses can not go more than 177 miles before they need recharging.
Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Lawrence Rael reported that there have been two car accidents the buses were involved with, one cause by a driver turning into the bus, with the cause of the second accident still to be determined.
All the deficiencies issues were reported as “fleet-wide issues” that pose significant safety concerns that must be resolved by the bus manufacture before the city allows any member of the public to ride on the buses.
The Chinese bus manufacture Build Your Dreams (BYD) still has not delivered all of the 22 buses that were due to the city last year, with 15 buses delivered.
The city has received the $75 million in federal grant money.
The city has not paid for any of the buses delivered.
Mayor Keller and Director Toon reported that BYD has failed to perform as promised on the construction of supplementary charging stations as they agreed with the City six months ago.
BYD is a year behind on its commitment to deliver all of buses.
Mayor Keller also said that the city is actively looking at three potential alternatives for the ART fleet should it become necessary.
The 3 potential alternative plans include:
1. Purchasing and entirely different fleet, presumably from a different manufacture.
Note: It will take upwards of 3 years ro place a new bus order and have the buses manufactured and delivered.
2. Establishing a “mixed fleet” combining the use of “electric buses” and gas or diesel-powered buses.
3. Pushing forward with more charging stations.
INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT
On June 6, 2018 an Inspector General (IG) report on the ART Bus project was released.
The entire Inspector General report can be read here:
According to the Inspector General report, then Chief Operations Officer Michael Riordan “was adamant about having a bus transported to the City before the end of the Mayor Berry administration.”
An Albuquerque transit employee told the Inspector General that “core processes on manufacturing buses was altered to ensure delivery of the first bus by the deadline.”
The IG report described two city employees interviewed who recounted a “tense” and “unusual” phone call between then-city Chief Operating Officer Michael Riordan and top executives from the manufacturer.
According to the Inspector General’s report the first bus delivered in August 2017, was assembled by the manufacturer using a “frame intended for buses being built for [another city’s transit authority].”
Frames intended for the Albuquerque’s buses had not yet been shipped nor received by the manufacturer.
The Inspector General found that the bus manufacturer used “parts and pieces” intended for another city’s buses for the first ART bus delivered.
The city employee further reported that the first bus was moved to whatever assembly station was available to ensure it was assembled in time in order to get it shipped to Albuquerque before Mayor Berry left office.
The last 4 sentences of the 72-page Inspector General’s findings and report is worth quoting relating fraudulent activity:
“The inspection was proactive in nature and not due to any allegations that were made. While this inspection didn’t identify instances of fraud, it is important to note that it doesn’t mean fraud did not occur. The inspection did identify several problems that offer opportunities to improve and could be vulnerabilities for fraudulent behavior. City leaders should consider the problems identified and recommendations made to develop a more efficient and stronger procurement process that will help prevent and deter fraud, while also ensuring more quality and confidence in the products and services that the taxpayer funds. This is essential to protecting the public’s trust.”
ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY
During the status report on the ART Bus project, Mayor Keller proclaimed “I am running out of patience.”
Mayor Keller, it’s about time you lost all patience and probably way too late not to be held 100% responsible for this boondoggle that has destroyed Route 66 and been a major drag on your first year in office.
Mayor Tim Keller I suspect feels that the ART bus manufacture Build Your Dreams (BYD) should change its name to “Build Your Nightmares.”
For almost a full year, Mayor Keller and the Keller Administration have been working on resolving major issues with bus performance.
Within 6 weeks after taking office, Keller proclaimed the project “as bit of lemon” but pushed forward to try and salvage the project anyway.
Two months after taking office, Mayor Keller was urged by many within the community to scrap the project and find alternatives, but he refused saying it would be too costly.
In June of this year, Mayor Keller said the buses were like kids in a divorce where parents are fighting for who gets custody.
If a “divorce” is what Keller really wanted, he should have hired a good lawyer, filed suit and seek damages for breach of contract for all the delays and breach of warranties relating to the buses.
One question Mayor Keller was asked during the status conference is if any attempt will be made to hold former Mayor Richard Berry accountable for the ART Bus Project given that he rushed to have buses delivered to dedicate the project before he left office, a question Keller declined to answer.
In June of this year, after the Inspector General Report on the ART Project was released, Mayor Keller was urged turn the ART Bus project over to the City Attorney, the New Mexico Attorney General and the District Attorney, to investigate for criminal activity but Mayor Keller declined.
What is genuinely pathetic is that the Albuquerque City Council went along with this boondoggle and refused to put it on the ballot for a vote.
No matter what Mayor Keller says or does now, no matter what eventually happens with the ART Bus Project, it is now Mayor Keller’s lemon to own and be held responsible and accountable for given his reluctance to scrap the project and helping save face for his predecessor.
FOR MORE BLOG ARTICLES ON ART SEE: