NEWSWATCH

Long Beach Transit Addresses
Zero Emission Bus Project Delays

By Samantha Meglinger - Staff Writer

January 21, 2014 – More delays are holding up completion of Long Beach Transit’s (LBT) zero emission bus project with Chinese-based manufacturer Build Your Dreams (BYD), transit staff reported at the LBT board of directors meeting last week.

The project experienced a number of setbacks in 2013, including manufacturing issues with the bus frames and damage occurring during Federal Transit Administration (FTA) mandated Altoona testing, a process required for new buses hitting U.S. roadways.

At the January 13 meeting, Rolando Cruz, executive director and vice president of maintenance and facilities at LBT, told boardmembers that a final design for the Wireless Advanced Vehicle Electrification (WAVE) bus battery has not been approved, which is impacting BYD’s manufacturing schedule.

BYD Buses Long Beach

Long Beach Transit’s (LBT) order of 10 zero emission buses, built
in a style similar to the one shown, from Chinese-based manufacturer
Build Your Dreams (BYD) is delayed six months, according
to LBT President and CEO Kenneth McDonald. (Photograph provided by BYD)

Manufacturing has also been delayed because of hang-ups related to Altoona testing. Last December, testing was halted because LBT requested that another bus, referred to as an “engineering bus,” also be tested because it is representative of the final bus that LBT will receive and because it was built in America. BYD representatives have previously expressed that the bus currently undergoing testing is representative of the final product LBT will receive, while the engineer bus will only have minor modifications that do not warrant testing. The bus currently being tested was built in China.

“The FTA and BYD have been having discussions about which bus should be tested, the one built in China or the one built in America,” LBT President and CEO Kenneth McDonald told the Business Journal. He indicated that these discussions are ongoing.

In an interview with the Business Journal at LBT’s offices, McDonald said these factors have set the project’s timeline back about six months. LBT was originally schedule to have the 10-bus fleet by May of this year.

At past meetings, LBT boardmembers have expressed concerns that delays might impact BYD’s ability to meet the deadline for the FTA’s Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) grant that was awarded to LBT for the project. McDonald said that this is currently a nonissue. “The impact of the TIGGER grant is not until fall of 2015,” McDonald explained.

The LBT board of directors awarded the zero emission bus project contract to BYD over America-based company Proterra before McDonald joined LBT as CEO. Proterra already has zero emission buses that have completed Altoona testing. When asked if he thought LBT would have experienced similar delays if it had contracted with Proterra instead of BYD, McDonald said, “I wouldn’t even try to speculate on that.”

The state is still investigating BYD for allegedly violating labor wage laws, for which the company was issued what BYD’s attorney Lanny Davis has referred to as “non-final citations” amounting to nearly $100,000.

“We have said over and over that we don’t condone any violation of state, federal law, statutes,” McDonald emphasized. “We are waiting to see what happens with it and we will make a decision then.”

Overall, McDonald expressed that BYD is meeting the expectations he would have of any contractor. “Since I have been here I feel like they have been responsive to our requests. They have addressed issues related to the buses,” he said.

Sometimes lost among news of the delays and labor violations is the end goal of the project. “The important part of this sort of technology is the clean air. That’s the reason that we are involved in it,” McDonald stressed. “We want to have a fleet that gives us an ability to reduce emissions. Across the country, everyone is looking at how we do that.” Having a zero emission bus fleet, he said, “is a win for us, for the environment, and for the public we serve.”