L.A. Mayor flushes millions into electric bus company with predictable results

One of the less frequently mentioned hopefuls in the Democrats’ 2020 POTUS beauty pageant is Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. (Though he’s been mentioning it himself recently.) So if the Democrats want to give him a serious look, perhaps we should check in and see how he’s been performing so far. One of his big initiatives which was sure to please the progressive base was the continuation of a plan to shift the city’s fleet of buses to all electric vehicles over the next decade. What’s not to like? Buses that are quieter, give off no emissions and use no fossil fuels was pretty much a sure-fire winner.

That was the theory, anyway. In reality, however, starting almost a decade ago, the city was buying a lot of buses from a Chinese battery manufacturer called BYD (Build Your Dreams). They were promising all sorts of things, including thousands of new jobs in the green energy field and revolutionary battery systems which would give the buses tremendous range while helping to clean up the environment. Now, after LA has poured more than a quarter of a billion dollars into the Chinese company’s coffers, the buses have turned out to be an expensive flop. (LA Times)

In the nine years since, agencies have awarded BYD grants, subsidies and public contracts worth more than $330 million for its battery-powered buses, forklifts and trucks. The company is positioned to be a prime supplier of electric buses to the nation’s second-largest system, as Los Angeles’ Metro sets a 12-year deadline to abandon fossil fuels.

But largely unbeknownst to the public, BYD’s electric buses are contending with a record of poor performance and mechanical problems.

A Times investigation found its buses stalled on hills, required service calls much more frequently than older buses and had unpredictable driving ranges below advertised distances, which were impaired by the heat, the cold or the way drivers braked.

The BYD buses missed their promised performance marks by so much that some of them couldn’t even finish a single route before the batteries died, coming up dozens of miles short. Passengers had to sit there in the heat while waiting for a second bus to come along, transer them over and finish the run. This actually increased operating costs rather than decreasing them.

The Times found that the first five buses BYD delivered were pulled out of service in less than six months, having been branded “unsuitable” for their intended use. But still, the city turned around and awarded tens of millions of dollars in additional contracts to the company which kept promising to do better. Had anyone been keeping their eye on the ball they’d have known that BYD had been screwing over other municipalities in a similar fashion. When Albuquerque attempted a similar plan, they wound up with results which were just as awful, if not worse. (US News)

The city had planned to operate at least 20 fully electric buses built by the manufacturer Build Your Dreams, but the buses have been plagued with delays and various problems.

City officials say the battery range of the buses fell short of what was promised.

Keller says the city is planning to negotiate to reduce the number of buses from the company and take outside bids to fill the order. The remaining buses would use natural gas or clean diesel.

Meanwhile, the price of natural gas has plunged to the point where energy companies are practically giving it away. Buses running on natural gas also are very low in emissions and the technology has long since proven itself. And that’s where a lot of customers are going after the electric vehicles fail to live up to their promises.

Is this the sort of record Garcetti plans to run on? Grand dreams and big promises of a progressive Nirvana which fall apart once you try to set them up in the real world? If nothing else, at least other cities around the country can learn from his negative example. And I’m sure Kamala Harris will still be in need of a running mate if Garcetti wants a consolation prize.