A Street Car Named Disaster: Part 4 - Liberal Resistance

A Street Car Named Disaster: Part 4

Editor’s note: We are running an ongoing series on the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project—A.R.T. for short. It was the brainchild of a Republican administration and was meant to be the Mayor’s legacy.

In fact, it was a disaster, and a refutation of the myth of Republican fiscal responsibility.

This week we look at how the funding for the project was promised…and then the money never arrived.

1.

How were we going to pay for it all? That’s what everyone wanted to know. It was going to cost…well, actually, we didn’t know how much it was going to cost. Ask the Mayor’s Office and things seemed, well, a little vague. Sometimes it was one number. Sometimes another.

But the Mayor told us we had nothing to worry about. Oh, no. Because, he said, we had been promised $69 million from the Federal Transit Administration. It was going to be so easy, we were told.

Only…only…

We weren’t certain that the money was coming.

And even if it were, than at the time, it was Obama’s FTA.

Not Trump’s.

And since Trump was going to be president when the check was written…or was not written…then that was a matter of some importance.

2.

The bad news started trickling out long before the project was finished. Pete Dinelli, a long time ABQ activist, put it bluntly and simply on his blog. “President Trump has thrown Mayor Berry and the Albuquerque City Council under the ART bus.” He wrote in 2017, not long after the election. Then, he added, “Trump’s proposed 2018 federal budget, which was released March 16, 2017, does not contain the $69 million Federal Transit Administration grant the mayor and his staff have said repeatedly is coming.”

A Republican Mayor had just been sacrificed by a Republican President. And the city of Albuquerque had taken the blade along with him.

We were now nearly $70 million in debt. We’re gone from being a smallish but well-positioned city that could count on its savings in the future to being deep, deep in the hole.

What the hell were we to do?

We turned to the Mayor to ask. And he…

Ordered buses for the route.

3.

The buses that were run on ART weren’t just any ordinary buses. There were electric buses that came all the way from China. They were special ordered. And were to be built to the city’s exacting specifications.

Yet, and here was the curious thing, none of them seemed to be showing up. None were being delivered.

Then, in November of 2017, one such bus mysteriously appeared…just in time for the Mayor to ride in it on the ART’s maiden voyage, with much fanfare and many photo ops.

All well and good…

But, then, not long after that, the magical bus…

Proved unworkable. There were problems with the batteries, among many other things. The expensive, oh-so-special, carefully constructed Chinese buses just weren’t up to the task of carting people about.

How could this be? Well, the Albuquerque Journal revealed much in its June 9, 2018 edition. Colleen Heild, one of the Journal’s investigative reporters, in Report: Firm sent faulty ART bus due to city pressure, revealed that the Chinese company which had built the buses, Build Your Dreams, and which was being blamed for all the problems with them, wasn’t exactly alone in its guilt. The city had pushed the company to produce a bus now, long before it was ready, in time for the Mayor to ride before the end of his term, “A new Office of Inspector General report states that a top city administrator allegedly “threatened” to terminate the city’s $22.9 million contract with bus manufacturer Build Your Dreams, BYD, if an initial bus wasn’t delivered in time for Berry to ride.”

In short, it was a publicity stunt, and the cost of that stunt was staggering. The Mayor’s people had been in such a hurry that it really didn’t matter, apparently, that the buses simply weren’t ready to be ridden. The buses that were eventually delivered came with “dozens of flaws,” ranging from the cosmetic to genuine show stoppers.

4.

And there was more. The Office of the Inspector General revealed that the city employees who had been sent to the company’s California location to inspect progress on the buses and ensure their quality, hadn’t been trained. In fact, it seemed they didn’t know a thing about electric buses. Heild writes, “One employee, for instance, spent two weeks at the BYD plant without observing the assembly of a single bus destined for Albuquerque. Another inspector reported feeling “lost” during his first inspection at the plant. Another reportedly took the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles to visit his family for five days.”

And the company, Build Your Dreams, wasn’t exactly co-operative with those city employees even when they did notice something wrong. “One inspector reported applying tape to mark flaws on the buses as they were being assembled, only to return the next day finding the tape removed and the flaws not corrected. One inspector went along for a road test, and the BYD bus died within half a block. One inspector said he was instructed to “watch” but not submit any inspection documents, according to the report.”

In short, the Mayor’s office had not only failed to prevent the problems, much less fix them, it had actually made those problems worse.

5.

So it was, the city regarded the problems ART had created, or rather, the problems that Mayor Berry and his administration had created, using ART as their tool.

And most of all, the city considered too the fact that Mayor Berry would never be held accountable for the failure of his “legacy” project. His tenure was rapidly drawing to an end.

Soon, he would be gone…retreating once more into the obscurity he so richly deserved…

Leaving destruction in his wake…