Action Delays Delivery Of Long Beach Transit Buses
By Samantha Mehlinger - Staff Writer
December 17, 2013 (UPDATED 9:28 a.m.) – Delivery of Long Beach Transit’s 10 zero-emission, battery-operated buses from Chinese manufacturer BYD may be delayed until the end of 2014 now that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has halted Altoona testing. The buses were originally slated for completion by January 2014, but Altoona testing will not be complete until March, at earliest.
Testing was halted when Long Beach Transit (LBT) submitted a request to the FTA that a second “engineering” bus, built by BYD for LBT’s own testing purposes, also undergo Altoona testing. An LBT staff report presented at the LBT Board meeting on December 9 said that the FTA halted the test to determine which bus should go through Altoona testing, a process the FTA requires of all buses that travel U.S. roadways.
“What they are doing now is checking if there are major differences between the bus that is currently at Altoona and the engineering bus,” Kevin Lee, LBT spokesperson, told the Business Journal. “If there are any major changes, then the FTA may elect to have that [engineering] bus tested instead.”
Micheal Austin, vice president of BYD America, said that BYD – which stands for Build Your Dreams – has provided formal written assurance to the FTA that the bus undergoing Altoona testing is “one and the same” as the ones that will eventually be delivered to Long Beach.
Austin made it clear that the engineering bus is for Long Beach Transit’s own testing purposes. After LBT examines it, changes might be made, such as swapping out bike racks or switching inductive battery charging mounts, rather than making major infrastructure changes, Austin told the Business Journal.
When asked to clarify why LBT wanted the engineering bus tested, considering Austin’s comments, Lee responded, “I can’t speak for Mr. Austin. However, Long Beach Transit’s Board of Directors requested that a U.S.-built BYD bus, that meets our model specs, be tested in Altoona. That would be the BYD engineering bus.”
As the Business Journal went to press, BYD’s attorney, Lanny Davis, called a teleconference to correct “misinformation about BYD.” Davis told the Business Journal that he has not been briefed on why LBT made the request to test the engineering bus. “I believe that we are in constant communication with them on that topic, and I don’t believe there has been a resolution,” he stated.
The LBT Board of Directors meeting on December 9 followed on the heels of a state of the city address in late November by Mayor Joe Francis of Windsor, Canada, who hailed his own decision to reject a purchase order for BYD zero emission buses in favor of contracting with the Chinese company’s U.S. competitor, Proterra.
“We were responsible. Other jurisdictions in the U.S. moved forward with BYD, and I invite you to contrast their approach with ours,” Francis said in his address. “Take the time to search their headlines,” he said, adding, “We always do our due diligence.”
LBT had the opportunity to contract with Proterra, a company based in South Carolina, for zero emission buses that have already passed Altoona testing, but chose BYD instead, which was recommended by transit staff.
In late October, BYD was fined $99,000 for violating California labor laws by paying Chinese workers at its Lancaster factory less than minimum wage, failing to provide a second 10-minute rest break and failing to provide workers with itemized wage statements twice a month. At the December 9 meeting, LBT CEO Kenneth McDonald told the board that LBT would receive an update on the state’s follow-up report when it is made public.
BYD Holds Press Conference To ‘Correct Misinformation’
About Its Work On Buses For Long Beach, Los Angeles County
BYD, the Chinese-based manufacturing company supplying Long Beach Transit with 10 zero-emission buses, called a press teleconference December 13 to “correct misinformation about BYD.” Lanny Davis, attorney for BYD, led the conference call.
Guest speakers on the call included Los Angeles County District Supervisor Mike Antonovich, City of Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris, Los Angeles Metropolitan Authority General Manager Richard Hunt, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce Vice President for Public Policy and Political Affairs Ruben Gonzalez, and Human Resources Manager of I/O Controls, a BYD vendor, Janice Marsh. All of the speakers voiced their support of BYD and its manufacturing and corporate operations in Los Angeles County.
Davis began the conference by addressing recent points of concern raised by the media, including $99,000 in citations from the State of California for labor law violations at BYD’s factory in Lancaster. State documents claim that BYD failed to pay minimum wage to five Chinese employees who were brought from China to help set up the manufacturing facility in Lancaster, among other violations. Davis said that, in fact, those workers were paid $12 to $16 per hour. He also chastised the media for reporting that wages paid were as low as $1.50 an hour.
During the question and answer session with reporters, Davis responded to a reporter who asked how a state labor officer could have “erroneously interpreted” BYD’s payment of these workers. “I wish I could give you the answer to the mystery of how non-facts get circulated and repeated so many times that they are perceived as facts,” Davis said.
“I am asserting to you a categorical fact that is proven and substantiated by documents . . . The commissioner was obviously under an honest misunderstanding of what those facts are. But I wouldn’t be on this telephone call if I weren’t backed by a very substantial law firm that has researched these five workers down to every penny that they were paid,” Davis added, reiterating that the workers were paid above minimum wage.
Before taking questions, Davis also addressed the safety of the batteries on BYD’s buses, noting that they are iron phosphate batteries, not lithium ion batteries. He explained that the latter have been reported to explode or burst into flames and that BYD’s iron phosphate batteries, he assured listeners, have never caught fire.
A reporter from National Public Radio (NPR) addressed these comments, stating, “As far as I understand, iron phosphate batteries are lithium ion batteries – it’s just a different type of chemistry . . . To say that they are very far apart and totally different kinds of technology I think might be a little misleading, Mr. Davis.”
Davis explained again that BYD’s batteries tested safely, causing the NPR reporter to reiterate that the battery is still a lithium iron battery, just composed differently chemically. Davis responded, “I am not a chemist, and if you say so, I’ll believe you.”
BYD is a publically traded company on the Hong Kong stock market, Davis said. As of 2012, 50 percent of shares were American-owned. Warren Buffett owned 10 percent of shares at that time, Davis said, adding that the Chinese government owned no stock in BYD.