AC Transit Approves Purchase Of Additional Van Hool Buses

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday March 23, 2007

Ignoring complaints and controversy over 50 40-foot Belgian-made buses already in the pipeline, AC Transit directors this week quickly approved a staff recommendation to trade in 10 currently-operating buses for 10 more buses manufactured by the Van Hool company, even before the prototype for the original new bus order has been built and approved. 

With Director Elsa Ortiz absent, the proposed sale and purchase passed 4-1-1, with Board President Greg Harper (Ward II—Emeryville, Piedmont, North Oakland, and portions of Berkeley) voting no and At-Large Director Rebecca Kaplan abstaining. 

AC Transit General Manager Rick Fernandez said he was rushing the request through to sell 10 North American Bus Industry (NABI)-made buses five years before their scheduled retirement date because ABC Company, the U.S. distributor for Van Hool, is eager to secure them for use by the Department of Homeland Security in New Orleans. Under the proposal, AC Transit would receive an estimated $85,000 per bus as proceeds of the sale. The transit agency would also have to receive permission from the Metropolitan Transit Commission for approval of a complicated fund swap that will allow purchase of the 10 replacement buses from Van Hool. 

Fernandez said that “we are still negotiating the final amount that MTC will give us” towards the purchase of the new buses. Because of that, the staff report on the proposed sale said the fiscal impact to the district could not be determined. 

When Board President Harper suggested postponing the vote to approve the purchase, Fernandez said that would effectively kill the deal, since ABC was anxious to get the buses immediately. 

Defending the proposed purchase, Fernandez said “this is a great deal for us. We’re getting rid of buses that are going to have maintenance problems in a short time. They have reached a point in their life where they will have major expenditures.” 

But Oakland resident Joyce Roy, a frequent critic of AC Transit policy, told directors that “you are going to sell 10 buses that riders like to buy 10 that we hate. Your attitude to the public is, this is the bus you have, not the bus you want.”  

And following the meeting, Roy said that the district has built into its budget maintenance a 12 year use-life for its buses, and selling the buses before that time is not necessary. “The sale is not being driven by the actual needs of the district,” Roy said. 

The NABI buses proposed for sale were purchased by AC Transit in 2000. 

Before the vote, board president Harper expressed concern that the purchase of more 40 footers was being done without the district developing a policy of how many different sized buses it needs. 

“A few years ago, I said I wouldn’t vote for any more 40-foot buses until we determined whether we had enough 30 footers,” Harper said. “I’ve asked for a policy on how we decide between the need for 30 footers and 40 footers. I still haven’t gotten it.” 

AC Transit also operates a 60 foot “articulated” bus joined at the middle with a bending joint.