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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Muni Hearing: Supes Address Allegations Made in SF Weekly Cover Story

Posted By on Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 2:59 PM

click to enlarge Coach No. 8706 cruises through Wyoming on Oct. 17, weeks before the contract for it to be built is signed - JOSH EDELSON
  • Josh Edelson
  • Coach No. 8706 cruises through Wyoming on Oct. 17, weeks before the contract for it to be built is signed

Last month, SF Weekly revealed a bizarre, handshake agreement between Muni and bus manufacturer New Flyer to construct and deliver 50 hybrids to the Bay Area before the Board of Supervisors signed off on the deal. 

As a result, an internal Muni competition between hybrid drives crafted by BAE or Allison was nixed. All 50 buses were outfitted with BAE components -- the same systems already within Muni's notoriously underperforming hybrid fleet.

Today, Muni transit director John Haley addressed these matters at a hearing called by Supervisor David Campos. In essence, Muni's position was, A. Yeah, we did that, and; B. It's okay. 

Statements made by Campos and Supervisor David Chiu could be essentially boiled down to "it's not okay." 

This came despite a cheery Muni PowerPoint attempting to make the case just how okay everything is

That PowerPoint claimed the hybrid buses Muni obtained in 2007 are now breaking down every 5,000 miles -- while conking out every 3,000 miles as recently as 2008. Left unsaid is that Muni's aging diesel fleet still has better breakdown numbers (5,230 miles). 

Also left unsaid is that the horrendous performance of the BAE-equipped buses is what spurred that internal competition between BAE and Allison. Left very unsaid is that other municipalities, including New York City, moved to ditch BAE components when faced with the same setbacks San Francisco suffered. 

Dozens of Muni buses sit in Alameda on Oct. 31, two days after the supervisors voted to approve their construction, and days prior to the money to pay for them being appropriated. - JOSH EDELSON
  • Josh Edelson
  • Dozens of Muni buses sit in Alameda on Oct. 31, two days after the supervisors voted to approve their construction, and days prior to the money to pay for them being appropriated.

Haley happily claimed that early data indicates Muni's new BAE-equipped buses are 10 percent more fuel efficient than Allisons. Both are now breaking down every 11,000 miles -- a fantastic tally. 

Haley, however, pointed out that this data is preliminary -- "I wouldn't draw any conclusions from it." Good call: Breakdown numbers from the hybrids Muni obtained in 2007 topped 8,000 miles in the first two months out of the box -- before plummeting to one-third that. 

Meanwhile, Muni claims the BAE buses were more fuel efficient than their Allison counterparts "based on initial consumption report." This is a potentially loaded term, and it is not indicated what time period this covers, or whether this data has been superseded. 

Under questioning from Campos, Haley admitted that Muni's own testing may show that it just rush-ordered 50 inferior buses. The supervisor and transit boss reached a standstill: Campos repeated how he couldn't understand why Muni would blow off its own internal review established specifically to make this decision. Haley repeated that Muni pounced on the opportunity to get more buses, pronto: "The short answer to your question is 'timeliness.'" 

He then offered four reasons to go with BAE, which is three more than SF Weekly was given to the same question earlier this year: 

1. BAE engines cost $45,000 less a pop; 

2. With improved battery technology over the next eight to 10 years, BAE buses may be converted to all-electric; 

3. BAE buses don't run the risk of shooting oil into the air compression system as Allison may; 

4. The aforementioned data about BAE buses being 10 percent more fuel efficient. 

click to enlarge muni_bae_allison_hybrid_buses_new_flyer.9459319.87.jpg
SF Weekly's Muni sources laughed at these rationales. 

  • Considering a bus costs $700,000, the $45,000 price difference is mitigated somewhat. Especially if you factor in the mandatory 12-year lifespan of a vehicle purchased in part with federal dollars. 

  • Our sources said the notion of electric buses running through town was fanciful. Actually, the term they used was "bullshit." 

  • The oil-shooting problem, we are told, can be solved with an extremely inexpensive filter. 

  • The fuel efficiency matter was given short shrift by even Haley. It's also an ex-post-facto argument. 

The hearing then turned to the matter of Muni bus No. 8711, which was reported in the current edition of SF Weekly. This BAE-equipped hybrid required a month to travel between New Flyer's Minnesota factory and San Francisco. Per our public records request, Muni stated that New Flyer has declined to hand over the "work orders" detailing the mechanical history of a demonstrably breakdown-prone vehicle. 

Haley claimed that, once Muni took possession of the bus, all the needed records would be turned over. Campos expressed disbelief that mechanical records -- again, for a breakdown-prone vehicle -- wouldn't be provided before Muni took possession of it. SF Weekly's Muni sources maintain that New Flyer has, thus far, declined to disclose the bus' mechanical history -- and this is a sore point within the agency. 

Five of the 50 BAE-equipped buses broke down en route to San Francisco. Under questioning, Haley admitted that "I think, four" buses from a prior 62-bus order broke down en route, too. 

When Campos asked if those four buses were BAEs or Allisons, Haley admitted he did not know. "I sure would have liked to know which ones broke down," Campos replied. 

SF Weekly's sources within Muni state that no Allison buses have broken down en route. Haley said he'd get back to the supervisors on this. 

He'll also get the supes a few other files. But today's event wasn't exactly on par with the Army-McCarthy hearings. Other than a few written files being sent the board's way and a few tart statements from the supes about how this isn't the best way to do contracting, it doesn't figure that any grand changes have been set in motion. 

One of the points in its defense Muni cited in its PowerPoint regarding the sleek new buses was -- no joke -- "Riders love them." 

Whether this matter comes up again will depend, in large part, on how well that claim ages. 

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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