Transportation

E-Bus Maker Fires Back After Albuquerque Deal Falls Apart

After the deal to purchase all-electric buses for the city’s transit fleet ran into equipment malfunctions, manufacturer Build Your Dreams is saying poor staff training was behind the incidents.

by Steve Knight, Albuquerque Journal / November 21, 2018
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(TNS) — A vice president from the Chinese manufacturer of the 60-foot, all-electric buses rejected by the city for the sidelined Albuquerque Rapid Transit project has told an Indianapolis television station that ABQ Ride bus drivers were to blame for reported braking problems.

During an on-air interview with WRTV, the ABC-affiliated television station in Indianapolis, Build Your Dreams America Vice President Michael Austin said the buses were inspected three times before they were sent to Albuquerque, and the technology is safe.

“We have 36,000 buses deployed,” Austin said. “We have not seen those issues. We know what the issues are, and they were more driver errors misreported to the media as safety issues.”

Build Your Dreams is the world’s largest electric bus manufacturer, but had only started to build the longer 60-foot buses in recent years.

IndyGo, which manages and operates the Indiana capital city’s public bus transit system, has purchased 13 60-foot electric buses from BYD in an effort to replace its mass-transit system’s older diesel fleet. The city of Indianapolis contracted to pay more than $1.2 million each for the buses that will run along a 14-mile route, according to the Indianapolis Star.

The first bus was delivered to IndyGo in September.

IndyGo officials told WRTV they are looking into all of the issues that ABQ Ride has experienced while they test out the bus themselves.

However, IndyGo also told the television station it is not seeing the same problems on the test bus, in part because the bus now uses different battery technology.

According to BYD, the ART buses use iron-phosphate batteries that are “fire-safe, nontoxic and environmentally friendly.” The IndyGo buses will use liquid-cooled batteries, according to Indianapolis Business Journal.

Albuquerque officials have said the battery life is much shorter than promised, and that the batteries overheat and can be in danger of exploding.

Austin, who was in Indianapolis on Monday to take the media on a test ride of the bus, told WRTV a lack of driver training was part of ABQ Ride’s problems.

Albuquerque city officials are standing by their previous comments on the buses.

“We’ve laid out the facts since the beginning, and these buses are not safe for the road,” said Alicia Manzano, spokeswoman for Mayor Tim Keller’s office, in an email. “We refuse to jeopardize the safety of our residents and want BYD to hold up their end of the deal.”

The company is still waiting for final federal government testing and approval for the 60-foot buses, manufactured at its North American subsidiary in Lancaster, Calif.

Under terms of the contract with BYD, Albuquerque has yet to pay any money to BYD. Last month, Keller said that due to numerous problems with the buses, the city was ready to send the buses back and look for other options.

Problems elsewhere

Problems with BYD buses are not isolated to Albuquerque.

According to a Los Angeles Times story published in May, the first five buses BYD sent to Los Angeles Metro in 2015 were pulled off the road after less than five months of service.

Internal emails and other agency records showed agency staff called the 40-foot buses “unsuitable,” poorly made and unreliable for more than 100 miles.

BYD officials rebutted reports of poor performance and recurring mechanical problems, blaming those issues on outside forces, including drivers braking too hard, a negative publicity campaign by labor activists pushing to unionize BYD employees and transit managers they say were insufficiently committed to switching to electric, according to the Times.

The Times story also indicated that numerous factors can affect the buses’ charging range, including hot weather, cold weather and drivers’ braking techniques.

The BYD buses returned by Los Angeles went to Columbia, Mo., where transit logs show the mechanical problems continued and extended to new buses from BYD, the Times reported.

Despite the issues with the first buses, LA Metro’s board in 2017 approved a contract to purchase 60 40-foot buses from BYD. According to the Times, those buses have not been delivered.

The agency’s board at that time also approved a contract to purchase 65 60-foot compressed natural gas buses from Canadian-based New Flyer to go into service between 2018 and 2022.

©2018 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.