On Monday, November 12, 2018, Mayor Tim Keller met with Albuquerque Journal editors and reporters to tell them of the city’s plans to cancel the contract with Build Your Dreams (BYD) and return all the 60-foot electric buses manufactured and delivered for the disastrous ART Bus Project.
The day after his meeting with the Journal editors, Mayor Keller held a press conference to tell the public and explain his decision.
You can read the full article here:
The ART Bus project has been delayed for well over a full year after it was dedicated operational back in November, 2017 by former Mayor Richard Berry.
Mayor Keller announced that the city has retained the services of private Albuquerque law firm Sanchez, Mowrer and Desiderio, PA to represent the city in the dispute with BYD.
The major principles in the private law firm are former New Mexico Speaker of the House Raymond D. Sanchez, attorney Frederick M. Mowrer who is also an attorney who represents the police union at times and former UNM Law School Dean Robert J. Desiderio, who sent the demand letter, all of whom are respected within the legal community and who have extensive litigation and trial experience.
The registered demand letter is dated November 13, 2018, the same day as the press conference, and was sent to BYD demanding that the manufacturer take possession of the buses and the chargers by November 30, 2018.
The demand letter also put BYD on notice that the city intends to seek “damages, costs, attorney fees and any relief to which it is legally entitled to” under the law.
You can read the demand letter here:
Mayor Keller last month during a press conference gave an update on the ART Bus project and reported the problems with the buses.
The problems with the buses 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.
Other problems reported by city officials include:
1. The lack of undercarriage protection.
2. Buses that wouldn’t stop when emergency doors were utilized.
3. Cracking on bus exteriors.
4. Mirrors not set up correctly.
5. Wiring problems and electrical system problems.
6. The handicap electric chair lock becoming unsecured when the driver turns on the air conditioner.
WEAK BATTERIES WITH A LITIGATION THREAT
The biggest problem associated with the electric ART buses relate to the batteries.
The electric buses delivered are supposed to operate for 275 miles, but city officials found the buses cannot go more than 177 miles before they need recharging.
The batteries are stacked in a metal shelf and when overheated could cause a fire.
Keller elaborated on the problems with the bus batteries by saying:
“We believe there’s not even close to adequate fire protection [when it comes to the batteries]. Right now, it would vent right in the middle of the bus and we would not be able to pull those out. They’re already heating up so they can’t take a charge. They’re not properly [stored] or cooled.”
BYD also has failed to construct additional charging stations on the Central Avenue route promised as part of an agreement with the city some months ago to address the problem with battery life.
Director of ABQ Ride Bernie Toon had this to say:
“We find that the fixes [from BYD] are half-measures, … There’s a class of issues that are ‘phantom electric issues’ that are incredibly difficult to fix because you have to literally start taking the bus apart to do it. You keep finding more [electric] problems.”
BYD has missed deadlines for delivery of all the buses initially slated for October 2017 and promised to fix the problems identified with those already delivered.
Lawrence Rael, the city’s Chief Operating Officer, had this to say about cancelling the bus contract:
“The mechanical pieces and issues we now find with the operation of the equipment are part of a long series of missed deadlines and missed issues with a company that I think have driven us to the point where we are today.”
According to Keller, going with another manufacturer means at least 18 months for delivery.
Keller said the whole matter may very well wind up in court with the city suing and had this to say:
“We’re no longer going to be guinea pigs [for BYD] anymore … Obviously, we very concerned about what we’ve been put through as a city by BYD, … I think down the road, we’re interested in being fairly compensated for what we have been misled on these buses.”
Keller revealed that the city has been actively looking for another bus manufacturer and the city has reserved “slots” for 15 new, non-electric buses from a “well established American company that makes buses all the time.”
The entire ART Bus Project cost taxpayers approximately $135 million when associated utility and road work on Central Avenue is included.
The $135 million does not include the closure of successful businesses along central because of ART construction and the destruction of the character of Route 66.
The City has finally been paid $75 million by the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Small Starts Program for the project and $14 million in federal funds designated to reimburse expenses related to construction on Central Avenue.
According to Chief Operations Officer Lawrence Rael, the federal funding that the city has received for the project is not in danger, with the exception of about $6 million specifically earmarked for the purchase of electric buses.
Rael reported that the Federal Transportation Administration will work with the city, depending on what technology the city ultimately decides to order from another manufacturer.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The fact that Mayor Keller met with the Albuquerque Journal editors the day before he announced his plans to the public to pull the plug on the bus contract reflects that Keller read the Albuquerque Journal’s November 6, 2018 editorial entitled “Halloweens Over But ART Woes Still Haunting Albuquerque”.
You can read the Journal editorial here:
Keller obviously felt he needed the blessing from the Albuquerque Journal editors on his decision because he knows ART was promoted by the Albuquerque Journal from the very beginning and it was the legacy project of their ultimate favored Republican Mayor Berry.
On July 13, 2016, then Mayor Richard Berry said the buses being purchased from BYD for the ART bus project would be electric and powered by batteries, not diesel, a move Berry said would save money and reduce pollution.
Berry also proclaimed that “electric vehicles are the way of the future.”
According to Berry, the BYD bus purchase would put Albuquerque in position to be the first city in the country to operate a fleet of 60-foot-long electric buses.
Berry proudly proclaimed the BYD electric buses would give the city’s bus rapid transit system a chance to earn a coveted gold environmental rating that no other rapid ride transportation system in the United State had at the time.
Berry proclaimed Albuquerque would have a chance to be the first city with 60-foot electric buses and said:
“I’m a fiscal conservative … This is a fiscally conservative decision. It’s a proven technology … I’m very comfortable with this.”
You can read the full Albuquerque Journal article here:
Fast forward two and a half years later to November 12, 2018, and Mayor Tim Keller discredited Berry’s claim of “proven technology” when he said:
“No one will make an electric bus to our specifications because they say it’s not possible. … No other company will do it. There’s no option for electric. We’ll go with a version of clean diesel or gas, then we’ll look to phase in electric once the technology catches up.”
So much for “electric vehicles are the way of the future” while 16 ART Buses sit parked in a city lot.
Now the city will have to wait upwards of 18 months for a new bus order to arrive.
I suspect, giving the time it will take to order new buses and to manufacture the buses and for a manufacturer to get through any backlog of orders, no matter what slots the city feels it has secured, you’re probably looking at least 3 years before the buses are running along Central.
In three years, it will be 2021 and another election year for Mayor Keller if in fact he seeks reelection as anticipated.
In the meantime, the constructed platforms along the middle of Central will continue to go unused, deteriorate and probably be vandalized with graffiti.
It’s the stubbornness of city hall that never ceases to amaze me.
It’s the stubbornness of elected leaders who are reluctant to admit when they are wrong and make hard decisions when they know the truth and what should be done but they fail to act.
The Albuquerque City Council went along with this boondoggle and refused to place it on the ballot for voter approval, cramming it down voter’s throats and allocating millions.
The Albuquerque City Council has essentially stepped back and said nothing about the project for a full year while Keller flops around like a fish out of water trying to salvage the project.
Keller admitted two months after he was sworn into office on December 1, 2017, that the project was “a bit of a lemon”, but still wasted a full year of his first term trying to salvage the project to help save face for his predecessor.
Keller’s threat of litigation after almost a full year in office seems very weak, seeing as he has known from day one the problems with the project and did little other than giving monthly reports and lip service to the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) to secure funds promised for the project.
Keller should have instructed the City Attorney to file litigation for breach of contract, breach of warranties, misrepresentations and perhaps for Unfair Trade Practices.
Keller has also refused to try and find any viable alternatives for the project, at least until now, and that is only looking for a new bus manufacturer.
Keller knew how bad things were with ART, but refused to act decisively to mitigate the city’s damages and in doing so he too will have to be held accountable for a very bad project.
Keller is still stuck in a pile of dung left by his predecessor to clean up that will no doubt cost more with litigation costs and just may cost him a few votes because of his failure to act decisively once he was sworn into office.
Too bad, it did not have to be this way.
For more blog articles on ART see: