Mayor Keller: New problems could delay ART bus service for another year

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – After months of asking both the Berry and Keller administrations about when the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) bus line would be up and running, Mayor Keller finally revealed the truth.

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Tim Keller revealed that the city is now dealing with a long list of both major and minor issues with the ART project that need to be fixed before any service begins. However, the mayor says the fixes shouldn’t cost the city any extra money to fix.

The bus rapid transit project, which was supposed to be finished last month, now has no set date for completion.

“There have already been too many broken promises with this project and we’re not going to make anymore,” said Keller.

The Tuesday news conference marked one of the first project updates the city has given in months. In his opening remarks, the new mayor was blunt about his take on the project.

“In short, now that we’ve reviewed these problems this project is bit of a lemon,” said Keller.

The $135 million project has now been under construction for about a year. While former Mayor Berry had hoped that ART service would be operational by the end of his term, Mayor Keller now believes the city will be fixing problems with the project over the next year.

The issues are centered mainly around two categories, including the construction of the bus stations and the electric buses the service is obligated to use.

Keller said Tuesday that roughly half of the stations west of Louisiana Boulevard have issues that will need to be fixed. Two of the most problematic are said to be the stations at Washington and Atrisco.

“We are going to have to re-traffic engineer at least two stations,” said Keller of the Washington and Atrisco stations.

At Central and Washington, Mayor Keller’s Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael says the station was built too close to the intersection, making it difficult for buses to make an “S” maneuver into the station through the intersection.

“A 60 foot bus cannot make the maneuver off the dedicated lane to get into that platform without going into two lanes of traffic,” said Rael of the station at Central and Washington.

At Central and Atrisco, Rael says the concrete pad that the bus is supposed to stop on is uneven, creating an angle and gap between the flat bus platform and the bus sitting on a crooked stop.

“The actual platform where the bus actually parks is not level with the station,” said Rael. “So you can imagine what it would be like for someone in a wheelchair to load into the bus and not realize the bus is at an angle.”

Rael said the city is looking at “four to six more weeks” of construction to fix the problems, at this point.

The second issue related to the completion of the buses may be the more time-consuming problem, according to Rael.

The city ordered 18 all-electric, 60-foot buses for the project. So far, it’s only received nine completed buses.

According to Rael, of the nine buses that have been delivered by the manufacturer, some buses have safety and charging issues that need to be addressed. Rael says the driver seat belts will need to be replaced due to belts being black instead of yellow in color. Rael says the city has also noticed that some of the safety belts for wheelchairs have been placed in varying locations.

Rael also noted that the bus chargers the city received already shorted out the electrical system on one bus and have not been certified for use.

“The third-party certification officer did not certify the equipment,” said Rael. “When our staff goes to charge the buses, the display actually comes up in Chinese.”

The company making the buses BYD (Build Your Dreams,) started in China in 1995 and has grown to create a United States presence. BYD now builds some of its buses in California, where the ART buses are being made.

Mayor Keller and COO Rael also highlighted issues with the range of the batteries. In the city’s own testing, it found the buses can only travel about 200 miles on a single charge when the contractor promised they could go closer to 270 miles.

“Until the buses can actually do what they’re going to do we do not have a predictable timeline in terms of when ART is going to be operational,” Keller said.

Despite the issues, Keller also emphasized Tuesday that the city won’t be abandoning the project.

“We’re in this for the long run whether we like it or not,” said Keller.

Mayor Keller said Tuesday that most of the problems should be covered by the contractors who agreed to the work.

“The onus of risk and paying for that risk in these changes is on the contractor, and so we’re just hopeful,” said Keller. “We’ll have to go through and see exactly which items are covered under that, but a lot of these risk are actually on the contractors.”

One big question still looming over the city is whether or not the feds will reimburse the city for the $75 million dollars the city fronted for the project. The city is expecting to meet with the Federal Transit Administration about that issue in the coming weeks.

Mayor Keller says they will be giving regular briefings on the status of ART as the issues are fixed. Keller said he expects the next briefing to take place in February.

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