On Tuesday, Jan. 8, at 2:30 in the afternoon, new Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference to discuss the latest news from the Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project (ART)—including unresolved yet recently revealed issues that are affecting the project’s progress.
Keller met with the press in the 11th floor conference room at City Hall where he has announced much of his progressive agenda. For this particular interaction with local media, Keller was joined by Albuquerque’s Chief Operating officer, Lawrence Rael and a number of local reporters, including Weekly Alibi’s August March. The mood was somber as Keller entered the room; the news about ART was not good.
Keller began his update on ART by stressing the important underlying values in his administration, particularly the value of transparency. The mayor then continued talking to the press about the ART project, a city mass transportation initiative from the Berry Administration that Keller ultimately described as “a bit of a lemon” before suggesting the city begin looking for a way to make lemonade, calling for citizens to “come together to make this project work.”
This is what the mayor had to say about ART:
“Today is the beginning of a new approach with respect to the ART project that is reflective of the kind of administration I want to run.” Keller continued by saying that he and city administrators don’t have all the answers, but are working diligently to improve outcomes.
Keller said the first misstep in the project was a lack of communication—which he says is the source of all of the ART issues—but that it was the responsibility of city government to let Burqueños know where the project was heading, meanwhile realizing that we all should know that “we have a ways to go” toward enlisting the benefits of ART.
The problems with ART are multitudinous, Keller then related to the press, reporting that, “What we have found is troubling. … The problems are much worse than I think anyone believed.”
The problems that prevent ART’s implementation—
“Today is the beginning of a new approach with respect to the ART project that is reflective of the kind of administration I want to run.”
Specifically, Keller and his right-hand man, a clearly frustrated but dedicated city Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael, outlined the “complex” problems surrounding ART.
The serious issues that Keller’s team ran into begin with the bus platforms built to accommodate ART. Currently, rearview mirrors on the buses hit the platform canopies as they pass through. The platforms at Central and Washington, and Atrisco and Central were not built correctly and must be reengineered. Additionally there are questions about the timing of traffic lights nearby ART bus platforms, as well as whether those platforms meet ADA standards. Rael admitted that city inspectors so far have only visited a handful of completed ART stops, but that it is becoming clear that at least six to eight weeks more of business-disrupting construction will be required to fix the physical errors with the platforms.
More importantly, there are significant problems with the electric buses that will be used in the project. Manufactured by Build Your Dreams, a Los Angeles motor transport company that manufactures industrial, factory, work and transport vehicles, the electric buses have only been partially delivered to the city of Albuquerque. The nine buses that have been delivered all have significant structural problems that will keep them from operating here, both Keller and Rael reported. Those issues include critical charging system problems and seat belts that don’t meet federal safety standards.
Though all the buses were set to be delivered by Oct. 3, 2017, the remaining half of the fleet may not be available for up to a year, according to administrators at BYD. More importantly the proprietary charging system that the buses need to literally go around town could not be certified.
Further, some city technicians were flabbergasted that the computer interface for the system was designed only for those who read and understand Chinese. Critically, the buses are supposed to be able to operate 265-275 miles on a daily charge, but in reality could only go 200 miles at a time, potentially causing huge route scheduling problems down the line, Rael’s inspectors found.
The certification problems facing the charging system used by the new electric buses is compounded by Federal Transportation Administration standards that require that the buses also be certified for durability; the model purchased by the city has so far failed in those field tests, according to Rael.
There is also some question as to whether federal funds will be made available absent these two crucial certifications.
The rest of the news conference seems a blur. The disappointment, disbelief and resulting cynicism were palpable as Keller and company concluded their remarks and took questions from reporters. At the beginning of the meeting, the mayor remarked that there was actually some good news in the midst of all this chaos—that Route 66 was still open for business, still poised to be a positive economic and cultural force—but the sour taste of ART’s real outcome was reflected at the end of the conference when a journalist piped up, asking why the former mayor did not speak to these issues before his own bus left town, sunset bound.