To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

New Details Reported About Transit's Zero Emission Bus Project


By Samantha Mehlinger, November 5, 2013

New details about problems with frame assemblies were reported late last month about Long Beach Transit’s (LBT) zero emission bus project with Chinese-based manufacturer Build Your Dreams (BYD).

On October 21, Rolando Cruz, executive director and vice president of maintenance and facilities at LBT, gave a status update to LBT boardmembers on the progress of the bus project. Included in the written report was an item that read: “Seven of the nine LBT pilot bus sub-assemblies were presented for inspection and not approved for use on the LBT pilot bus due to BYD’s production process.” At the meeting, Cruz told the board, “The LBT pilot bus assemblies, as we reported last month, were not accepted and are currently being scheduled for production.”

These details had not been previously reported, however, at least not explicitly or publicly. In September, the written update on the bus project provided to the LBT board included an item that read: “Quality inspection of the frame assemblies uncovered two issues that impact the BYD engineering bus and LBT pilot bus.” (The BYD engineering bus is being built at BYD’s cost to ensure quality standards are up to par before starting on LBT’s first contracted bus – the pilot bus.)

Details in the October 21 report said that inspectors had been sent by LBT to BYD’s factory in Kengzi, China, “to inspect the frame assemblies for the engineering bus” and also “[to inspect] the LBT pilot bus.” The report continues: “During their inspection they identified two issues with the assemblies, making them unacceptable for delivery.” It was not specified whether these issues pertained to assemblies of the engineering bus, the pilot bus, or both.

When asked to clarify if there were problems with both the BYD engineering bus’ and LBT pilot bus’ frames and assemblies, LBT did not directly answer the question. Instead, Dana Pynn, government relations manager of LBT, told the Business Journal via email, “As part of our Quality Assurance Plan, Long Beach Transit sent inspectors to China to inspect the subassemblies for the LBT pilot bus.”

Neither Cruz’s oral nor written report presented on September 23 had indicated the number of assembly problems associated with the pilot bus, or stated that, due to these issues, the LBT pilot bus assemblies were rejected.

When asked why such facts were not reported to the board earlier, Pynn wrote in an email: “At the time of the September board meeting, we did not yet have the final details from the inspectors and were only able to report on the preliminary details we had obtained. Staff was able to provide the final details to the board during the October meeting.”

BYD Fined For Labor Violations 

At last week’s meeting, LBT CEO Kenneth McDonald addressed reports that BYD had been fined $100,000 by the State of California for violating labor laws. These violations occurred at BYD’s factory in Lancaster, where LBT’s buses are to be built, and involved workers brought from China.

 State documents provided to the Business Journal by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) cited 14 counts of paying employees less than minimum wage, 298 violations of workers being paid with “itemized wage statements containing inaccurate or incomplete information,” and 112 violations involving failing to provide a second 10-minute daily break for workers.

Kevin Lee, spokesperson for LBT, told the Business journal via email that the state had not informed LBT when it fined BYD. Based on comments from McDonald, it appears that boardmembers found out through a New York Times article published October 25.

Currently, LBT staff is reviewing its contract with BYD to “assess the impact to the contract following the conclusion and outcome of the labor investigation with BYD,” Lee said. As there were no LBT-owned frames in Lancaster at the time of the violations, Lee said that, to his knowledge, the labor violations did not occur while any work was being done for LBT’s contract with BYD.

Micheal Austin, vice president of BYD America, provided a statement from BYD’s senior management to the Business Journal. The statement explained that BYD is committed to “proper wage payment,” and noted it is still learning California’s “complex” wage and hour rules.

“We believe that perhaps due to language barriers or other misunderstandings, the labor commissioner’s citations were premature,” Austin wrote. “BYD recognizes that the California Labor Commissioner seeks to generate public awareness of wage and hour laws by focusing its enforcement efforts on industry leaders, but to the extent the Labor Commissioner’s statements in the press indicate any intentional wrongdoing by BYD, it is inaccurate. BYD wants to be a good corporate citizen in the U.S. and in California, and will continue its on-going efforts to achieve compliance with California wage and hour laws. We have hired experienced employment law counsel to assist us in this effort, and we hope to work in a conciliatory manner with the Labor Commissioner to achieve a satisfactory resolution.”

Since March 2013, when LBT signed a contract with BYD for the company to manufacture 10 zero emission battery-powered buses for LBT, concerns have arisen about the project’s compliancy with the Federal Transit Administration’s Buy America regulations, cracks developed during testing on a testing bus, and problems were discovered with bus frames at BYD’s factory in China.