Two-thirds of Metrorail cars, 85% of buses arrive
Miami-Dade’s effort to replenish its aged transit fleet is rolling on, as county transportation personnel this week reported they’d received almost two-thirds of the Metrorail cars ordered and all but 15% of the county’s initial purchase of new Metrobuses.
Of the 136 new railcars on order from Hitachi Rail Italy, which will replace the roughly 34-year-old Metrorail fleet, 82 have been delivered, transportation spokesperson Karla Damian said Monday.
Ms. Damian said her department remains on-target to receive the remaining balance of railcars, each costing about $3 million, by spring 2020.
That target is in keeping with Transportation Director Alice Bravo’s estimation that the delivery schedule for the railcars would “ramp up” as processes are streamlined and parts suppliers move to more expeditious timetables.
Since July 2018, Hitachi has nearly doubled the number of heavy railcars it delivered to the county. In turn, the county has close to doubled the number of new cars in service over the same period, from 34 then to 64 this week.
Of 300 new compressed natural gas (CNG) buses ordered from New Flyer of America for roughly $174.87 million, 256 have been delivered as of this week, with 247 accepted for service.
Miami-Dade expects the first of a 120-CNG-bus purchase from manufacturer Gillig to arrive in early September, Ms. Damian said, with regular deliveries to start a month later.
That $69.2 million purchase, made in January through a Central Florida procurement contract, represented a $6,000-per-bus saving compared to the New Flyer contract.
Commissioners in committee June 12 forwarded a new item that would, if approved, authorize the purchase of additional 140 buses through a Commonwealth of Virginia contract.
But in an uncommon move – at the recommendation of Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr., who objected to waiving the county’s standard competitive bidding procedures – they made neither a positive nor negative recommendation in advancing the item.
At Tuesday’s full commission meeting, Jose “Pepe” Diaz invoked the county’s four-day rule to punt voting on the item to the next full meeting July 9.
The added time could help county personnel sort through information and requests presented at the committee meeting last week, where representatives of both manufacturers asked that the $80.9 million contract go exclusively to their respective companies.
In a memo from Deputy Mayor Alina Hudak, commissioners were asked to OK a procurement split in which New Flyer would provide 100 of the 140 new buses, with Gillig supplying the remainder.
Ms. Bravo said the New Flyer buses would cost about $578,500 apiece, but each would also come with a $5,000 credit for bus parts. The Gillig buses, conversely, would cost about $1,600 less each but wouldn’t include the parts credit.
Buying from both companies, she said, follows the commission’s directive to expedite the Metrobus fleet replenishment by diversifying its sourcing through multiple procurements.
If commissioners approve the purchase as-is, she said, the 160 buses from Gillig – 120 from the original purchase plus 40 added through the new contract – would all arrive by March 2020.
The 100 New Flyer buses, in addition to the leftover 44 from the prior purchase, would come by February.
Asked by Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava how long it would take Gillig to deliver all 140 of the new buses being considered if granted the full contract, Ms. Bravo said it would lengthen the delivery window by up to four months.
But Gillig representative Al Maloof interjected to say it would add just eight weeks to the company’s existing delivery schedule.
Further, he said, Gillig would match the $5,000 credit New Flyer offered.
Mr. Maloof recommended that commissioners and county personnel speak with transportation departments elsewhere in the state, like Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville, about how buses from the two companies compare.
Miami-Dade transit worker Joseph D’Elia, executive vice president of the local Transport Workers Union, told commissioners the New Flyer vehicles are unreliable and difficult to work with.
“They have problems now that they’re on the road, and you have a bunch of the fleet still sitting [in a garage] that has not even been put out for service,” he said. “We have no stake in the game except to say that, if we’re going to go forward and make this a better county as far as transportation, the union feels that Gillig is the better bus…”
As it stands, said Gordon Derrick, the county’s assistant director of bus services, Miami-Dade has yet to receive any of the Gillig order, making comparing the two companies’ products difficult.
He said “all buses, when they arrive here, come with some inherent issues,” and because they use the same engines and air conditioning systems, “the majority of those problems are going to be probably with both manufacturers.”
But one bonus New Flyer still offers that Gillig doesn’t, he said, is a five-year engine warranty that will save the county another $50,000 when expected breakdowns occur after 150,000 miles.
Another benefit to buying New Flyer, lawyer Michael Llorente said, is the company’s five-year axle warranty, which is two years longer than the one Gillig offers.
Commissioner Eileen Higgins asked Ms. Bravo to check with other governments in the state to compare certification times but said that as a regular Metrobus rider she’d never seen issues with New Flyer buses.
“Nothing as a bus rider can make me happier than getting the fastest delivery schedule, and I am willing to mix and match [at a] $1,600 [price difference] to make that faster,” she said.
Miami-Dade has invested time and money in nonprofit Transit Alliance Miami’s current redesign of the county’s Metrobus route network, and that $630,000 effort, she said, should be supported by a fresh fleet of fuel-efficient buses.
“We need to make sure… every vehicle we put out here is as new as possible, because that is all part of what we’re going to do to communicate to these residents that we have a new and better transportation system for them,” she said. “It’s not just how we’re going to get them around route-wise and how we’re going to deal with first and last mile but what they’ll be riding.”