The Ongoing Story Of The Growing "Partnership" Between The Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District And The Belgian Manufacturing Company




Berkeley Daily Planet
April 6, 2007
By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

The AC Transit District continued with its sudden premature replacement of its NABI bus fleet, with directors approving, on Wednesday afternoon, the request of General Manger Rick Fernandez to sell 10 more of the popular 40-foot buses five years before their scheduled retirement date and to replace them with buses from the Van Hool company.

The sale price and terms were identical to the board’s previous approval of the sale of 10 NABI buses. Coupled with the previous sale, AC Transit has now approved the sale of half of its NABI fleet.

The sale was opposed by Oakland community activist Joyce Roy, as were the previous Van Hool-related decisions. “At every meeting, are we going to be selling off buses that riders and drivers want, to buy buses they don’t want?” Roy asked directors during the public comment session.

The vote at Wednesday’s meeting was 4-1-2, with Board President Greg Harper voting no and Board Vice President Rebecca Kaplan abstaining (as both did for the earlier sale), and board member Elsa Ortiz (Ward III-Alameda and portions of Oakland and San Leandro) also abstaining. Ortiz had been absent during last month’s vote on the previous transaction. Neither Kaplan nor Ortiz gave reasons for their abstentions.

Harper said that with AC Transit considering moving from a policy of keeping buses for 12 years to keeping them for six years, he was still awaiting a staff report on the implications of that policy change. “I’m very excited about the change to a six-year bus cycle,” Harper said, “but I don’t want to back into that policy. I’m not comfortable with not having information about the six-year proposal, and what effect this sale will have on that. I’d like to see how this fits into our overall finances. That’s why I’m voting against the bus sale.”

The buses are being purchased for $85,000 apiece by ABC Company, the United States distributor for the Belgian-based Van Hool, for resale for use in New Orleans by an unnamed company with a contract with the national Homeland Security Department.

The 40-foot Van Hool replacement buses—identical to new model Van Hools that the district earlier ordered and are currently being built—will cost $400,000 per bus. The Metropolitan Transit Commission has agreed to AC Transit’s use of $260,000 per bus from the district’s share of federal funding towards the purchase. Fernandez said that the remaining $140,000 towards the total cost per bus will be funded, in part, by the $85,000 price tag for each NABI, with the remainder coming out of funds AC Transit has already set aside for the purchase of Van Hool buses.

Fernandez told directors that retiring the seven-year-old NABI’s five years short of their scheduled 12-year use term will save the district money in expected heavier maintenance costs. Fernandez called that decision a “no-brainer.”

But the general manager’s report to board directors failed to give figures showing what the premature retirement of the NABI buses will cost the district, including the projected maintenance costs of the NABI’s and how that will balance out with the purchase of the replacement Van Hools five years earlier than such a purchase was expected to take place.

Fernandez’ original request called for the sale of six NABI buses. But Fernandez told directors that the night before the board meeting, he received a call from the owner of ABC Company “asking if we could make it 10. He said his client wants more.”