April 9, 2013 – Desiring further information before committing to spend $700,000 to help Long Beach Transit (LBT) buy low-emission, all-electric buses, the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners, at its April 1 meeting, delayed a vote until later this month.
The proposed funding comes from the port’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Mitigation Grant Program. Last August, commissioners approved a list of 28 grant awards, including LBT’s.
Commission President Susan Wise said that port staff had requested more time to review the contract “in light of some of the decisions made by the transit board.”
LBT President/CEO Larry Jackson made a brief presentation assuring boardmembers that unless the vehicles meet all the Buy America requirements, the project does not move forward. “So, there really isn’t any, in my mind, risk or issue as it relates to our agreement with you,” Jackson said. “We are very thankful that you are helping us with this project. . . . your $700,000 will allow us purchase one more vehicle, so instead of nine, we will have the full complement of 10 vehicles.
Harbor Commissioner Rich Dines then went into a series of questions:
Dines: Is there a working prototype of this bus that Transit is looking to make?
Jackson: Yes, we have had the prototype, we’ve ridden on it, we’ve used it. Before it came to us it was in service with Hertz in Los Angeles. There are nearly a thousand of these buses, aluminum chassis vehicles, that are operating in China; they’re in production all over the world. And it’s my understanding that it’s the intention of the BYD company, the BYD subsidiary U.S. company to be building them in Los Angeles County.
Dines: There are several automobile manufacturers in this world that do not import vehicles in to United States because they don’t meet either crash test or safety regulations. Has this bus been crash-tested or safety-tested yet?
Jackson: It has been in China. It has been crash-tested or safety-tested, as you said, for the standards that we have in our industry. The congressman that headed up public works and transportation is from Altoona, Pennsylvania. That’s where it’s tested. . . . The vehicle is scheduled to go in to Altoona testing this month. . . . And the prototypes meet U.S. standards. But it has to meet not only U.S. standards like automobiles do, but it has to meet the rigorous public transit standards as well. And that testing goes on for about three or four months as I understand it. That’ll be happening this month.
Dines: If the testing takes three or four months, when would these buses be delivered to Long Beach Transit?
Jackson: Well, we are several months behind right now on our schedule. Different delays we had at our transit system. We were looking at trying to put them into service by next summer. Hopefully that will be doable, so summer of 2014. While the crash testing is going on in Altoona, BYD is starting up its plant in Lancaster and they’ll be able to start working on it and building the vehicles. Any modifications that come out of Altoona they have to make. But they don’t have to wait until the testing is done, they just have to meet the U.S. standards and they have to get that transit industry certification before they move forward.
Dines: Is the federal grant money contingent upon passing the Altoona testing?
Jackson: Well a vehicle has to be Altoona tested in our industry bar none. The biggest thing the federal government requires is called “By America.” A minimum content of both the production and any steel or aluminum or anything that goes into the vehicle’s transmissions, motor engines, have to be a minimum of 60 percent content U.S. made and manufactured. And we’ve already had to do a preliminary audit for the federal government and the preliminary audit had something in excess of 70 percent [for] both content and production of the vehicle that would be in the United States.
Dines: Ok, but they are going to go ahead and start manufacturing these vehicles without completing the Altoona testing?
Jackson: I can’t speak for the company in terms of their timing. They have a thousand of them that are in regular service, mainly in China. So they built the vehicles, they have their prototype test vehicles in the United States. It’s up to them as to how far they want to roll the dice. If they rolled the dice and didn’t need meet Altoona, they got 10 vehicles that can’t be sold in the United States. That would be a loss to them and our project wouldn’t move forward. But we’re confident they can meet the Altoona testing and deliver the vehicles to us in a timely fashion.
Dines: Well I appreciate you taking the time to answer all these questions. My limited knowledge of this company, BYD is I remember the mayor of Los Angeles travelled to China and had a big press release they were going to be coming to Los Angeles, but I don’t ever recall seeing a BYD vehicle on the streets.
Jackson: Well, I’ve seen their electric vehicles. I’ve seen their one bus that has come to Long Beach. Their biggest stockholder in the company is somebody from Nebraska named Warren Buffett. So there are people that know what they’re doing and over half of the U.S. subsidiaries are owned by United States citizens.