Berry's ART Bus Inspection Program was a Bad Joke

Berry's "inspectors" were transit department volunteers with no training in bus manufacturing inspections

City threatened to cancel $23 million bus contract unless BYD got Berry a bus before he left office

Berry wanted bus for a photo-op

Denver has trained in-house bus inspectors, not volunteers

The city's program to inspect ART buses as they were being manufactured by a Chinese company in California was a joke, and a bad joke at that.

The 11 “inspectors” the city sent to the bus company's factory were mostly transit department volunteers who had no formal training in being bus inspectors, according to a report on the ART project by city Inspector General David Harper. Some “inspectors” were given inspection forms to fill out that were for diesel buses manufactured by another company, and not for electric powered battery buses.

And, the city sent different employees at different times to the factory of the Chinese firm, BYD, ensuring that there was no continuity or consistency in the inspection process.

But up in Denver, where things are apparently more professional, the Denver Regional Transit District, which has bought buses from BYD, does things differently. That agency has trained, in-house inspectors who do nothing but inspect buses as they are being built, Harper's report said.

And one transit department employee told Harper that former Mayor Richard Berry's administration threatened BYD with cancellation of the city's $23 million bus contract if the company didn't get the city an ART bus before Berry left office last year. Apparently, Berry needed the bus for a photo-op.

Here are excerpts from Harper's report on Albuquerque's so-called bus inspection program:

As of 26 January 2018, the City had paid $68,94813 in travel expenses for City employees.

The City also decided to stop sending Transit employees from doing the onsite inspections at the BYD’s facility and instead hired an engineering firm to conduct the inspections on behalf of the City for the five remaining electric buses. The contract amount was for $20,550.

According to TD-1, [transit department employee 1] the prior Mayor’s senior staff was adamant about having a bus transported to the City before the end of the administration. He said that he overheard a discussion among the BYD officials that they received a call from the prior COO, who had “threatened” the BYD Vice President over the telephone to get the first bus assembled and shipped in time. He allegedly said that the City would terminate the contract if the bus was not delivered before the end of November 2018. The pressure resulted in BYD assembling the first bus delivered to the City using a frame intended for buses being built for the AVTA, because the frames intended for the COA buses had not yet been shipped from China. Additionally, BYD decided to also use “parts and pieces” intended for the Antelope Valley buses to get the first bus assembled and delivered to COA. TD-1 said BYD’s “core processes” on manufacturing buses was altered to ensure delivery of the first bus by the deadline. He further said that the first bus was moved to whatever assembly station was available to ensure it was assembled in time.

One BYD employee informed TD-1 that he was the only City inspector present at the assembly facility. TD-1 said he asked Carrillo what the inspectors did who visited the facility prior to his visit. TD-1 asked some of the Transit employees who traveled to Lancaster, what they did during the visit and one person responded that they spent five days in Los Angeles with his family. TD-1 suggested to Carrillo that this employee should be charged with vacation time for the days he was visiting family in Los Angeles, but that Carrillo told him not to worry about it. He said that Chris Payton, Fiscal Manager, Transit Department, asked him why his rental car fuel was significantly less that than used by other City employees who traveled there. He responded that some employees were not going to the BYD facility.

TD-2 said that TD didn’t have selection criteria established for choosing inspectors for the BYD buses on the assembly line. He said instead, the TD chooses volunteers, and that the volunteers can come from various different backgrounds in terms of experience and qualifications. However, none of them were trained quality inspectors for buses. He also said that the City has used this process in the past to send City employees to the New Flyer’s assembly facility in Middlebury, IN, to inspect buses and vans. He said that New Flyer was a City contractor for other non-electrical buses. He said that the TD did not train or prepare the inspectors in any way and didn’t provide them with a guidebook, instructions, inspection manuals, or inspection checklists specifically developed for the BYD buses. He was provided with a checklist which was developed for the non-electrical buses that were built by New Flyer.

TD-2 described his duties as conducting the inspection at the “testing and validation phase” and, again, emphasized that he used a checklist to conduct this inspection that was not specifically developed for the BYD buses so there are items on the checklist that are not relevant to the electric buses and the checklist is probably missing items that should be included for electric buses. He emphasized that the checklist was developed for the New Flyer built buses. He said that no one at TD took the time to develop a checklist specifically for the BYD buses.

On 9 May 18, TD-5 was interviewed and provided the following information. He is a Lead Mechanic for the City and has worked for the City since August 2016. He volunteered to visit the BYD facility in Lancaster, CA, to conduct inspections of electric buses. He traveled to Lancaster twice for the inspections – the first time was in July and the second visit was in December 2017.

His understanding of the purpose of the trips was to inspect buses and provide feedback to his supervisor regarding the assembly status and any issues involving the assembly process. He said that he communicated with Joe Lueras and Jim Carrillo during his BYD visits. He said that he felt “lost” during his first visit, which was in the early period of the assembly of buses, but began to understand the process more as time passed. He said during his second visit he was more aware of how the processes worked and his responsibilities. He recalled that he took a binder with him to help him stay organized and to document notes of issues.

He said that he was selected for the BYD visits because he volunteered. He doesn’t recall any criteria for selection other than being a volunteer. He was requested by Mike Baca to go back out to BYD for his second visit, but emphasized that it was, once again, on a voluntary basis. He said there were no specific qualifications stated as a requirement for being selected. He recalled there was a checklist at the BYD location for inspectors to use and said it was based on the “New Flyer” checklist and modified for use with the BYD electric buses. He said that there wasn’t much to inspect during his first visit since the company was behind in the assembly process.

TD 7 He said that there were no expressed qualifications to serve as an inspector, other than just being a volunteer. He also said that the City didn’t provide any literature or written guidelines to be used by the inspectors. He said he was provided with an old stack of inspection checklists for the New Flyer buses that were previously purchased by the City with instructions to take the checklists to BYD. He said about half of the content on the checklists wasn’t applicable to the electric buses.

He described his typical day as starting about 7:00 am. He usually began his shift by walking through the assembly line and didn’t always announce his arrival to BYD officials. He was permitted to take pictures of other buses during his visit. He said he notices that BYD officials tended to “sweep things under the carpet,” and provided one example concerning issues with the wiring. He said he would place tape near a problem that he observed in the assembly process, but the tape was gone the next day without the problem being corrected. He shared this concern with Quality Control and Ralph Serrano.

He recalled at a later time, back at the Daytona Transit Facility, there was a welding issue involving cracks. He said the cracks were not discovered until the buses were at the Daytona Transit Facility, because the cracks were covered in the undercoating paint while at the BYD facility. He believed the travel to Albuquerque caused the cracks to become visible. He believed the cracks should have been corrected, as the City sent the buses to a local repair shop to have them fixed.

TD-8:

On 12 May 18, TD-8 was interviewed and provided the following information. He is a mechanic for the City Transit Department and works at the Daytona Transit Facility.

He said that he was selected as an inspector based on his volunteer status – he put his name on the sign-up sheet. He said there were no established qualifications for the inspectors.

TD-10, a non-inspector TD employee, advised that the City’s approach to initiating the ART project prior to receiving funding from the federal government was the first time in this person’s recollection that City leaders followed this course of action. TD-10 also expressed that the City never should have entered into a contract with BYD, as City leaders knew there were problems with BYD and there were several problems discussed, but there was a culture of “keep your mouth shut,” and a “range of issues” with the decision, such as this was the first time that BYD would be manufacturing a 60 foot electric bus. Lastly, TD-10 expressed concern that the ART project primary contractor, BSC routinely provided refreshments at meetings with City officials, in violation of ethical guidelines.

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