Certainly, no one appears to have read this one.

Asked to justify this latest purchase, Muni officials ballyhooed the "quiet operation" of BAE-equipped hybrids. In doing so, they — knowingly or unknowingly — regurgitated one of the company's talking points.

For a tank.

BAE boilerplate lavishes praise upon its hybrid vehicles' "low acoustic signature and quiet ride." San Franciscans living along well-traversed bus routes will likely be thankful. Denizens of rougher locales, unable to hear the approach of stealthy BAE hybrid tanks equipped with "man-accessible turrets" and the "Commander's Independent Weapon System" will be less so.

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."

In fact, many of the pitches BAE uses to flog hybrid tanks are remarkably similar to those used to extol hybrid buses. While the military is relatively unconcerned with its emissions standards and carbon footprint, increased fuel efficiency — allowing increased vehicle range — is an obvious plus. So is the maximum torque electric motors deliver at low speeds, providing lumbering vehicles with rapid acceleration and increased agility and maneuverability. As is the regenerative braking ability, which saves on maintenance and increases overall efficiency. And don't forget the "embedded diagnostics/prognostics" allowing mechanics to speedily bird-dog fixes.

In August, BAE trumpeted a successful round of testing of its hybrid Ground Combat Vehicle system. In October, it received a $688 million Army contract for its Paladin Integrated Management system (PIM) of self-propelled howitzers. Both, like a Muni bus, feature a 600-volt power system.

BAE has spent decades refining and developing hybrid systems in municipal vehicles largely funded by government transit dollars. Without being allowed to pop the hood on BAE's sensitive military prototypes, it's uncertain how much of the electromechanical DNA from transit systems has found its way up the chain to weapons systems.

You're not going to believe this, but SF Weekly was not granted such access. Interview requests for BAE personnel working across a variety of civilian and military departments went unfulfilled. Shelby Cohen, a BAE communications manager, declined to speak with us, writing that the hybrid systems within transit vehicles "are entirely different than the hybrid system aboard the PIM" howitzer.

In other words, a series-hybrid system utilizing lithium batteries and a 600-volt power output to operate a vehicle weighing several dozen tons is "entirely different" than a series-hybrid system utilizing lithium batteries and a 600-volt power output to operate a vehicle weighing several dozen tons.

New York City transit officials, meanwhile, inform SF Weekly that a former BAE hybrid bus revamped into a diesel vehicle has proven to be 98 percent as fuel efficient as a hybrid in test conditions. Whether San Francisco's costly dalliance in hybrid technology has provided this city with truly greener transit remains a vexing question.

As does our role in subsidizing a testing ground for hybrid systems powering war machines.

On Monday, June 17, Mayor Ed Lee and a coterie of city politicos gaily boarded a sleek New Flyer hybrid for a ceremonial, 2.5-mile jaunt to City Hall. Yet an event meant to inaugurate a new era of San Francisco hybrid transit all too closely resembled the old: The bus immediately conked out. Lee et al. were forced to glumly off-board.

Unlike legions of city commuters stranded by Muni's pricey hybrid acquisitions, however, Lee's party was blessed with a backup bus to instantly whisk them on their merry way.

To an outside observer, the two hybrids would be interchangeable. Yet the wine in these identical bottles wasn't the same vintage. Among Muni personnel and city insiders, it could hardly have escaped notice the vehicle that failed Lee was powered by an Allison hybrid drive — and the coach that came to his rescue was powered by BAE.

Muni personnel tell SF Weekly this Allison bus had a long and well-known history of failing to start — the precise defect that manifested itself that day — tracking back to its March 2013 arrival in San Francisco. It was bizarre that this famously problematic bus was tapped to carry any passengers, let alone the mayor — let alone even leave the bus yard.

Its failure was utterly predictable. And yet, it was selected to serve as the centerpiece for a high-profile media spectacle.

Mission accomplished.

Following the incident — a disgrace for Allison — coach No. 8601 was left to languish in Muni purgatory. Days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months. The defective vehicle went unrepaired, becoming an embarrassing cause célèbre and a lingering black eye for Allison within Muni.

Muni's official explanation for the bus's chronic inability to start was a defective "rear exit door mechanism." But that should hardly necessitate months of conspicuous idleness. In fact, the real problem was purportedly far deeper, and more nefarious, than a mere faulty door.

Allison, SF Weekly is told, was fed incorrect parameters by New Flyer to program into this bus's onboard software.

If so, it's hard to see how any of this reflects poorly on Allison. But, by the time coach No. 8601 was finally placed into service in August, Muni's not-a-deal to obtain 50 more BAE hybrids had long since been set into motion.

By September, the supporting documentation and operation manuals for those buses were shipped to Muni. One month later, along came the buses themselves.

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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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