City sues BYD over ART buses

Safety, bat­tery life at is­sue, could cost ABQ $6M in fed­eral funds

Albuquerque Journal - - FRONT PAGE - BY MADDY HAY­DEN JOUR­NAL STAFF WRITER

“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.

“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.”

MADDY HAY­DEN/JOUR­NAL

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.

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