|BARTís New Fleet: Made in the USA, but Maybe Not in California (1141661)|
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BARTís New Fleet: Made in the USA, but Maybe Not in California
Posted by Gold_12TH on Sat Feb 25 12:22:03 2012[listen] .mp3 or read text ...
This year is BARTís 40th birthday. While some people swear that 40 is the new 30, when it comes to subway systems, 40 is just plain over-the-hill. About two-thirds of Bay Area Rapid Transit cars have been running the rails since the system opened, in 1972.
Paul Oversier is in charge of operations at BART. He says that because BART trains run long distances and at higher speeds than other subway systems, it gives the system a dubious distinction. ďWe have the oldest cars, and we run them the hardest,Ē he says.
Itís time for new trains. But building them wonít be cheap: BART estimates it will cost more than $3 billion to replace all 775 cars.
Right now, three companies are in the running to build the new fleet. One is in France, one is in South Korea, and third is in Canada.
Scott Haggerty is an Alameda County Supervisor who sits on the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Heís not surprised that bids for the massive job are coming in from all over the world, but he doesnít think the world should build BARTís cars.
ďAt a minimum, those cars should be built in the U.S.,Ē says Haggerty. ďBut thatís not even going to make me happy. Those cars should be built within the BART district.Ē
On paper, it makes sense. Building BART cars here would mean keeping those billions of dollars, and thousands of jobs, where BART riders actually live. According to BARTís Paul Oversier, thereís just one problem. ďThere havenít been any domestic subway car builders in the United States for decades,Ē he says.
Oversier says even if BART wanted to give the contract to a U.S. company, they couldnít do it Ė the last domestic company that built subway cars closed up shop in 1987. But, he says, that doesnít mean no Americans will benefit from the project. ďItís really a misnomer to say the cars are being built overseas,Ē he says. ďTheyíre being built in the United States, using American parts, using American workers. It just so happens that the corporation thatís operating that plant is an international corporation.Ē
To understand how this works, you need to know about a law known as ďBuy America.Ē Itís been around since 1983.
Scott Paul is the executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, an industry group based in Washington DC. He says it doesnít matter if a company is foreign or domestic, as long as the manufacture happens in the U.S.
ďThe idea is that through that taxpayer investment, weíll be supporting jobs in this country as opposed to a place like China, for instance,Ē says Paul.
The idea of buying American has guided some of the countryís signature transportation projects. As far back as 1933, Congress required that federally financed construction projects use American materials.
ďWeíve had this policy through the building of the interstate highway system,Ē says Paul. ďRonald Reagan actually expanded it to transit programs.Ē
Almost three-quarters of the money BART is using to pay for the new cars comes from the federal government. Under Buy America, that means whichever company gets the contract has to do at least 60% of that work in the U.S. But BART doesnít get to decide where in the U.S. that work gets doneĖĖthey have to go where the companies are. So while the cars could be built in California, BART canít require that.
ďThereís not an enormous demand for subway cars in the United States,Ē says Paul. ďSo it doesnít make a lot of sense for several manufacturers to have a permanent presence when the market is so sporadic and limited to just a few big city agencies.Ē
Right now, none of the car builders BART is considering have plants in California. Thatís what bothers Supervisor Scott Haggerty. He thinks agencies like BART should be able to use federal dollars to do their projects in-stateĖĖand to encourage companies to set up new plants here. Right now, thatís illegal.
ďBut who set that rule?Ē asks Haggerty. ďWhen you say itís illegal, thatís because Congress said itís illegal. Congress can fix that.Ē
Last year, BART officials sponsored legislation in California allowing them to give extra weight to bids from foreign companies that exceed Buy America requirements.
So now the agency can legally reward companies that create more American jobs. But that doesnít change the fact that thereís no infrastructure to do the work in California.
Right now, the car builders BART is considering have plants in New York and Philadelphia. ďBut thatís not to say that they might not open a plant somewhere else,Ē says BARTís Paul Oversier. ďItís a big enough order that the economics might be such for the car builders that it might make sense, from a business standpoint, to open a plant somewhere else. But that bridge will be crossed later on.Ē
BART expects final bids on the new cars by the end of February. The agency hopes to make a final recommendation to the board in about six weeks.