UPDATED 2:45PM | Long Beach Transit board voted to purchase its first 10 all-electric buses from the staff-recommended BYD Motors, a U.S. subsidiary of a Chinese-based firm that has yet to open a stateside manufacturing facility. The vote was conducted at its monthly meeting after nearly two hours of public comment and discussion amongst board members in which several alternative motions were put forth inluding one to rescind the entire RFP and another to enter negotiations with the staff's second choice company, South Carolina-based Proterra.
The motion carried with it a $14 million performance insurance policy that must be taken out by BYD to ensure that their buses are not only delivered before the June 2014 due date, but are also Altoona tested and Buy American approved. Company representatives say their Lancaster production plant will be producing by the beginning of next year and that a Chinese-built model constructed according to American specifications is currently on its way to Altoona. If the company should fail at any of the provisions listed on the performance insurance policy, BYD must repay the cost of the contract.
MORE TO COME...
ORIGINAL 8:11AM | After a heated second study session Friday, the Long Beach Transit Board of Directors are expected to vote Monday on whether or not to award one of the country's largest electric-bus deployment contracts to a staff-recommended Chinese-owned company. Much of the public comment at both study sessions--held since the vote was deferred from the Board's February meeting--centered around the legitimacy of claims made by BYD Motors, a U.S. subsidiary of China-based BYD Company, Ltd., and whether or not the contract for LBT's Electric Bus Project should go to a qualified American firm instead.
The $12.1 million deal is being paid for through the Department of Transportation's Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) grant awarded to LBT two years ago and will bring 10 all-electric buses into the city starting in early 2014. Transit officials say they intend to use the buses initially on Downtown's Passport line because of its short route and built-in 10-minute layover at the Queen Mary, where charging stations could be installed.
Some of the claims made by BYD in their intitial proposal to the Transit authority, however, have come under fire after it was discovered that their only two U.S. accounts--Apple and Hertz--were falsified and neither company had actually purchased any buses from BYD. Representatives from the company who were at Friday's study session called the mistake a "miscommunication" and admitted that they have never sold buses to either company and have no revenue-service buses currently in America.
The City Manager for Lancaster was on hand, however, to defend the company, saying BYD is a "good partner" and that his city might soon be home to its 120,000 square-foot manufacturing plant--which would help BYD adhere to the grant's Buy America clause that dictates at least 60% of the bus components be made in the U.S. and the bus itself be assembled in the U.S. BYD currently has no manufacturing stateside and its buses have yet to go through the rigorous and lengthy testing process in Altoona, Pennsylvania, both causes for concern to some members of the board.
Rolando Cruz, executive director and vice president of maintenance and facilities at Long Beach Transit, defended the staff's recommendation, saying that BYD is a global company, not a Chinese one and that a consultant was hired to call BYD and conduct an audit to prove it would be Buy America compliant and that the Federal Transit Administration approved the audit. He did not specify if the Buy America compliance would be filled before the expected date of delivery early next year.
According to their proposal, BYD buses take about four hours to charge and can go an estimated 118-163 miles. Results from a trial run conducted at Hertz in Los Angeles, however, show that those numbers were obtained by running the bus with no air conditioning or heating and that results may have been exaggerated. On a hot day with a full passenger load, the bus performance could more likely result in about a 65 mile range on the same charging time.
BYD was chosen over South Carolina-based Proterra, a company with multiple electric buses in revenue service across the U.S., including as nearby as Pomona. Proterra buses have an automated "en route" charging station that can provide a full charge in less than 10 minutes. Their buses have a 30-mile range and have been Altoona tested since early last year.
The Long Beach Transit Board of Directors meeting will be held Monday, March 25 at 12PM in City Council Chambers, 333 W. Ocean Blvd. Agenda is posted below.
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