GM's Column: Making the right choice for new BART cars


GM's Column: Making the right choice for new BART cars

General Manager, San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District

BART’s 40 year old rail cars are the oldest in the nation by a good 10 years. Today BART staff will recommend that the Board of Directors authorize award of the contract to replace those aging cars to the North American rail car company Bombardier. They bid the lowest price and earned the highest technical score in the competition to build BART’s new cars.   In choosing Bombardier, the Bay Area is paying $184 million less for cars than we would have from the second place proposer, the French company Alstom.  

This decision will affect transportation in the Bay Area for generations. Awarding the contract now is the smart choice. If you do the math, $184 million is a 12% savings and will buy 104 additional cars.

The highest technical score is critical to BART because reliability is critical to BART riders.  Every weekday 375,000 people rely on BART to get to their jobs, school or recreation. Riders need reliable, on-time transportation and they deserve it.     BART’s standards for reliability and efficiency are a tough threshold for any company to meet and Bombardier’s high technical score indicates they are capable of meeting those standards.     

BART cares very much about American jobs. That’s why the BART Board took action to become the first transit system in the nation to adopt a Buy America bid preference policy. The policy gives proposers extra points for exceeding the Federal minimum of 60% American content in new transit vehicles. We believe this policy is why all proposers exceeded the 60% Federal minimum.  

Every single one of BART’s 775 new cars will be assembled in America by American workers. The vehicles will contain 66% American made parts, which means even more jobs in America. Even with bonus points for U.S. content, Alstom still remained in second place. Contrary to what you may have heard, both Alstom and Bombardier proposed final car assembly in New York State.   

When was the last time you heard the price of a project going down? Thirty-one months ago when BART began the procurement process, the project cost estimate was $3.2 billion. Today, Bombardier proposes to build the new BART fleet for $2.5 billion – about a $700 million price break.      

State and federal laws and regulations leave the BART Board with only two options when they vote in May: They can award the contract to the highest scoring proposer or vote to start over. Starting over would mean a delay of  about 18 months during  which workers would remain idle, with no guarantee of comparable bids in the next round, plus additional costs for BART.

Delay means ever-increasing overcrowding on an aging fleet. It also means putting off the purchase of the cars needed to serve the San Jose Extension. The Bay Area’s future is best served by action. The time to act is now.  


A version of this column was published Thursday, April 26, as an Open Forum submission in the San Francisco Chronicle.