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Las Cruces City Council Approves Contract For Electric Buses

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Five electric buses will be joining the RoadRUNNER Transit fleet following a 6-0 vote by the Las Cruces City Council. The 35-foot vehicles, expected to be delivered in November of 2022, will replace five 2004 diesel buses currently in operation.

The council elected to award a contract to BYD Coach and Bus, one of four contract proposals for electric buses received by the city. City Purchasing Program Senior Buyer José Cardona says the agreement will last through December 30, 2026.

“The contract will be for a five-year term,” Cardona said. “The total contract amount is not to exceed $4,145,774, including gross receipts taxes. And we will be funded with FTA funds, at 81%. The contract is for the purchase of five battery-electric buses with an option to purchase seven additional battery-electric buses during the term of the contract.”

Las Cruces is not the first New Mexico city to contract with BYD Coach and Bus. In 2017 the city of Albuquerque entered into an agreement with the company to provide 60-foot electric buses. According to the Albuquerque Journal, the city uncovered alleged safety and battery problems with the buses, which included claims of a defective braking system. After filing a lawsuit, the city of Albuquerque ultimately ended up settling with BYD.

While the Albuquerque contract did not come up during the council meeting, City Transit Administrator Mike Bartholomew did review future training measures.

“There is training involved in learning how to drive these buses, so they are operated most efficiently,” Bartholomew said. “There's training, lots of training, for the transit maintenance staff in there. And it also includes training for first responders, because these are electric vehicles, so there's a training that they do for the first responders on if there was an electric vehicle involved in an accident, how to deal with it.”

Councilor Johana Bencomo says that while an investment in sustainable infrastructure is needed, the shortage of bus drivers also needs to be addressed.

“I mean I do have some concerns about the current lack of bus drivers,” Bencomo said. “We have low staffing for bus drivers, and additionally I'm very concerned about how much we pay for bus drivers, and so along with this conversation, I think we have to have a much bigger conversation about just the transportation department as a whole and that we're not just investing in the infrastructure but also our people.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a bus driver in New Mexico makes between $25,980 and $35,230 on average annually.  City Transit Administrator Mike Bartholomew says that increasing the wages of bus drivers is something the city is working to address.

“As far as the wages for the drivers, we recognize that’s a problem, it's actually a problem nationwide,” Bartholomew said.  “Transit systems around the country, school districts, are facing problems getting drivers right now and offering competitive wages. We are working with our city's HR department to address some of the driver wages, and so we hope to have some better news soon about that.”

Madison Staten is a Multimedia Reporter for KRWG Public Media. You can hear her stories on KRWG-FM and watch on KRWG-TV's Newsmakers.