Rejecting an extensively research staff recommendation, the board of directors of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Agency (LACMTA) voted instead to buy up to 1070 more compressed-natural-gas-powered buses. The vote preserves a decision made last year to buy all alternatively fueled buses.
The vote also represents one of the largest contracts in the history of the US transit bus industry. The contract, to the NABI Group, calls for the supply of a 370 bus base quantity with options for 700 more, for a total of 1,070. Total value of the contract is US $333 million
The company said that the order is biggest since the founding of the NABI Group and will be fulfilled between 2002-2004. Already, it started deliveries to its existing 430 bus Los Angeles order in February this year and will complete the first 215 buses by the end of the first half of 2000. With the completion of the new contract 1500 NABI buses will operate in Los Angeles, meaning that NABI buses will make up 60 per cent of LACMTA’s total fleet.
The contract also culminated an interesting procurement method designed to provide the board with two options but at the same time preserving an aggressive procurement timeline at the MTA. Bidders were invited to submit a proposal and price for buses with currently available clean-diesel technology and one for CNG engines. However, those who did not submit both a diesel and CNG bid were disqualified. A third-party escrow officer kept the information sealed except the lowest prices for CNG and diesel, which they transmitted to the MTA for analysis purposes. Only when the board made the decision regarding fuel did the staff announce the prices and winner. Because of the two-bid method, it did so immediately after the board vote.
The decision capped a heated public hearing about the pros and cons of both CNG and diesel technology. Although everyone generally agreed that the CNG option was clearly more expensive, private sector vendors and California Governor Gray Davis proposed both pricing and funds respectively to cover the cost difference. Although several people testified that CNG emits more greenhouse-gas emissions than that of diesel under expected federal regulations governing diesel fuel and engines, the information failed to sway the board.
Despite their recommendation going down, MTA staff members remained upbeat. John Drayton, key staffer in MTA’s bus procurement and a chief architect of the diesel recommendation report, felt that the episode was “successful” and could live with either recommendation. “Our primary goal was to begin discussion of these issues” in light of new regulations and new technologies, he said. "We accomplished that."