Written by Jesse Scheckner on December 11, 2018
A second series of compressed natural gas (CNG) buses could arrive in Miami-Dade by September to replace its aging Metrobus fleet, adding to 300 buses already ordered.
Where they will come from, however, is undetermined.
County commissioners Dec. 4 amended an item directing Mayor Carlos Giménez to issue a purchase order for buses through a Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority contract to allow the county to shop for better price and quality options from contracts nationwide.
“If the vendors know we can go to [multiple] providers, we can negotiate a better price,” he said. “It’s certainly my intent to have a better value.”
Miami-Dade currently gets roughly five new CNG buses per week from New Flyer of America, Transportation Director Alice Bravo said.
If the county were to contract with multiple manufacturers, Mr. Giménez said, it could replace its outdated diesel-fueled fleet much faster.
“Instead of 20 buses a month, we can get 40 buses a month and get those old buses off the street,” he said.
And no matter where the buses come from, he said, county technicians would be able to service them because their inner workings are essentially the same.
“They’re all Cummins engines,” he said. “We end up with the same transmission.”
While the county isn’t restricted to buying through the Central Florida Transportation Authority contract, it must move quickly if it chooses to do so, as the organization’s five-year contract with CNG bus builder Gillig expired Dec. 11.
“We’re exploring the prices through that contract with the vendor, but we’re also looking at other contracts we could also access,” Ms. Bravo said. “These contracts we’re looking at have multiple vendors on them, while this Central Florida contract has only one.”
Miami-Dade can order up to 713 Gillig buses through the contract, which far exceeds its needs.
But to fund any bus purchase, the county would need to access the money from the “half-penny” tax voters approved in 2002.
To access that money, the county either needs approval from the Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust (CITT), which oversees the fund, or an override through a two-thirds vote by county commissioners.
Javier Betancourt, executive director of the CITT, said that due to time constraints, if the county opts to buy buses through the Central Florida contract, it would have to do so and seek retroactive approval from his group.
“This is happening in reverse order at this point, so they will be sending us an item for our consideration on the tail end instead of the front end,” he wrote Dec. 6.
Buying buses through an external contract deviates from how the county bought its last round, said Ms. Bravo, who said county typically issues an invitation to bid, a process that takes about four months.
“This resolution will resolve all these issues in the most efficient and expeditious manner,” said Audrey Edmonson, the item’s sponsor. “We cannot sit here and wait another two years for buses. We need buses now.”
Jeffery Mitchell, president of the Transportation Workers Union of America, Local 291, said the residents were “crying for better equipment, more buses,” and not ones built by New Flyer, which he said are problematic.
Miami-Dade as of last week had accepted 134 of 300 buses from New Flyer, Ms. Bravo said, of which a small number had tire imbalances that caused a “resonance frequency” between the bus’ body and tires made it vibrate when traveling at 65 miles per hour.
After a battery of tests to identify and correct the problem, preventative measures were established to ensure it didn’t occur once the buses were delivered, she said.
New Flyer also agreed to extend warranties on several bus components and conduct additional inspections during the warranty period.
“Since that process was put in place there’s been no more vibration issues,” Ms. Bravo said.
But Mr. Mitchell said the vibration problem is one of several that Miami-Dade transit workers found with New Flyer buses.
“We should pick the standard, not the prototype,” he said. “Right now, anywhere from 20 to 30 buses – brand new – aren’t useable. These are not the best buses. The further you go along, we’ll find out we didn’t get the best bang for our buck.”
County bus technician Antonio Gonzalez said nine of the new buses were indefinitely out-of-service due to “catastrophic engine issues.”
“New Flyer has another seven or eight buses they can’t find what the issues are,” he said. “As a veteran technician, I can tell you that these buses are lemons.”
Jennifer McNeill, vice president of sales and business development for New Flyer, said few of the buses her company delivered are out-of-service due to mechanical or systemic problems.
Nine were out-of-service because of accidents, she said. Eight were with Cummins for engine work. The remaining eight were being serviced by New Flyer or being dispatched.
“Of the [200 buses delivered], the number that are sitting with Miami for [pre-delivery inspection] are being worked through at a rate that’s amenable to both New Flyer and Miami-Dade Transit,” she said. “Our ask today is simply to be allowed the opportunity to compete for further buses.”
On Monday this week, Ms. Bravo said that while the New Flyer buses her department accepted into service were “performing well,” the county was exploring its options.