The NYMTA quietly ceased purchasing hybrids in 2010, before last year announcing plans to not only halt this figurative bus but shift it into reverse. Perhaps as many as one-quarter of New York City's hybrid buses now stand to be recast into diesel vehicles in the near future.

Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the agency, chalked up the move to rampant traction motor failures, compounding the costly headache of "all of the hybrid components [requiring] continuous replacement." This is a gripe that could just as easily have hailed from San Francisco.

Even before New York City soured on BAE Systems, transit officials in Toronto were jolted when five-year batteries failed en masse after only 18 months. James Greer, the director of maintenance for Ottawa's OC Transpo, tells SF Weekly his agency is "still assessing" whether to convert its 177 BAE-equipped hybrids to diesel buses when the hybrid components wear out.

Coach No. 8706 cruises through Wyoming, weeks before the Board of Supervisors' vote authorizing its manufacture.
Blake Ritterman
Coach No. 8706 cruises through Wyoming, weeks before the Board of Supervisors' vote authorizing its manufacture.
BAE's hybrid Ground Combat Vehicle. Per company boilerplate, the hybrid drive "provides the power needed to dramatically improve battlefield performance."
BAE Systems
BAE's hybrid Ground Combat Vehicle. Per company boilerplate, the hybrid drive "provides the power needed to dramatically improve battlefield performance."

With the handshake deal, though, San Francisco has doubled down on BAE. Its cavalier arrangement allowed this to happen with a maximum of speed — and a minimum of analysis.

Shortly after New Flyer last year delivered the split order of 62 hybrid buses to San Francisco, equipped with BAE and Allison propulsion systems for the express purpose of determining which was superior, Haley says the bus manufacturer approached him with a cunning plan. Due to a "hole in their production line," he says, New Flyer offered to produce more buses for Muni, posthaste — all of which would eventually carry BAE hybrid drives. When reminded of this city's labyrinthine approval process for large contracts, both Haley and Reiskin say New Flyer officials proposed to rapidly assemble and ship 50 of the $700,000 vehicles with no guarantee of payment — and a total assumption of all risk and liability should the city reject a future contract.

Numerous calls to New Flyer officials have not been returned — for this and other stories. Both Reiskin and Haley reacted with incredulity when asked for any paperwork outlining this arrangement, which both men took pains to explain was "not a deal."

Asked how prevalent this type of not-a-deal is, Reiskin says he didn't know and couldn't speculate on New Flyer's motivations for offering the no-risk deal or for why it went exclusively with BAE. Haley affirms he never asked why the bus company would feel compelled to make such an offer — the likes of which he couldn't recall in his 30-plus year transit career. But "I didn't get into that with them."

Haley further admits Muni's decision to request BAE propulsion systems over Allison in these 50 buses was not based on a lick of analysis.

The BAE system runs about $45,000 less per bus than an Allison system — but until Muni's BAE vs. Allison competition is actually undertaken, Haley concedes there's no way to know if BAE's initial discount will be offset by greater parts and maintenance costs.

Asked if it's possible that Muni just went to extraordinary lengths to rush-order 50 buses its own field-testing might subsequently reveal to be the inferior vehicles, Haley again concedes that, yes, it is.

All of this, he claims, was disclosed to both Federal Transportation Administration authorities and the Board of Supervisors. Numerous calls to myriad FTA officials haven't been returned. But the text of Haley's most recent presentation to the feds merely notes the new buses, built to Muni's specs and subsidized with $28.5 million in federal grants, were slated to begin arriving in November.

They actually arrived in October. The intriguing arrangement allowing for this was not elucidated in writing.

One can pore over the 78-page legislative packet provided to members of the Board of Supervisors and be similarly blindsided upon learning that, at the time of the vote to fund, manufacture, and transport these 50 buses the 1,900 miles from Minnesota, they were already stashed across the bay. (Haley did, however, tell the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee on Oct. 23 that New Flyer has "begun the production of some of the buses and some of them are on their way to the Bay Area."). SF Weekly contacted every supervisor; only Scott Wiener and London Breed recalled being notified of this arrangement beforehand. Neither thought to ask for any paperwork regarding the matter — Muni officials claim there's none to be had — and both stand by their votes. Breed, however, admits "this definitely doesn't look good."

Her colleagues, having been left in the dark, are decidedly less sanguine. "Muni is kind of a rogue agency," says Supervisor Malia Cohen. "They just do what they want to do." Supervisor John Avalos calls the not-a-deal "very funky. For them to have a situation where the actual vehicles are parked across the bay waiting for us to vote on them makes me feel the wool was pulled over my eyes. What's the point of even having a legislative branch of government?"

None of the supervisors — not one — knew about the internal BAE vs. Allison competition that Muni short-circuited, even though they'd unanimously greenlit that "split" bus purchase, too. That detail was within the legislative packet. But the supervisors are deluged with legislative packets.

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Federale topcommenter

Communists are so stupid.  They keep thinking that government owned and run businesses are better for the people.  They are only better for the capitalists who sell junk to socialist governments. Stupid is as stupid does.

Cynthia McGarvie
Cynthia McGarvie

Sounds like they need a major organizational change initiative.

Manuel Francisco Seminario
Manuel Francisco Seminario

That's muni shady as always , I wouldn't be surpriced if instead of checking for tickets or bus fare on the clipper card that they actually are taking money away , and if you don't you get a huge fine. I wouldn't be surprised


Shouldn't we be buying American where ever possible?  Allison is a respected engine maker.  Was the company set up?  Everything in SF is smoke and mirrors. 

sebraleaves topcommenter

Too many questions raised on this one:

How many times are city officials going to allow the SFMTA to kick them in the face before kicking back? 

What is the likelihood that nine out of eleven supervisors and their aides missed seeing and reviewing the documents?

How do you review a handshake contract?

Where were the buses being "kept" in Alameda prior to the supervisors signing off on the deal? 

How much did the SFTMA pay to store the buses, and what account did they use for this purpose?


Sorry, I just couldn't force myself through this faux-hip self-aware prose long enough to be able to comment intelligently on the article.

njudah topcommenter

The lack of honesty and competence at Muni's upper management is jaw dropping. Haley is a bullshit artist who has a long history of talk and double talk and he need to be fired along with a lot of others. 


@njudah  I went through the annoying sfweekly comment registration process to say this:

I've met with Mr Haley multiple times, and I think he is the busiest person at the SFMTA. He gets a lot done, and would be a colossal loss for the agency if he were let go. I'd like to hear what he has to say about the 50 buses that were pre-ordered before calling for the guillotine.

I've known about the drive train issues for some time on the Orions, and the vendor is on the hook for them. I'm not sure what to say about the New Flyer's, they are a pretty good vendor and between us and King's County they'll do the agency right.

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