Twin Transit’s Purchase of Electric Bus Stalled by WSDOT Testing, ‘Buy America’ Standards

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The Twin Transit Authority Board authorized the purchase and obtained grant funding for an electric bus just over two years ago. However, the fleet remains reliant on diesel, according to documents obtained by The Chronicle, despite the completed installation of an electric bus charging station funded by TransAlta last year. 

The bus was expected to be running routes more than a year ago, but never arrived due to the inability of GreenPower Bus, the company Twin Transit contracted with to build the vehicle, to meet “Buy America” standards. These standards require that at least 65 percent of the cost to build the bus must come from American-made products.

“It essentially is a way to make sure that the dollars invested by the federal government go into American industry,” said Don Chartock, grants and community partnerships manager at WSDOT. “They want to ensure the buses are being purchased and made in the United States.”

GreenPower also failed to complete Altoona testing, which involves road testing the bus in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Ultimately, the contract was voided, according to records obtained by The Chronicle. 

“I would like to see it (an electric bus in the fleet) as soon as possible,” said Derrick Wojcik-Damers, general manager of Twin Transit since January. “But the reality is, we’re in the midyear of the biennium and it is all subject to the Washington state Legislature.”

According to previous Chronicle reporting, Twin Transit received a $37,810 grant from TransAlta to install an electric charging station when it still believed it would receive the electric bus.

Twin Transit originally received a grant for $297,063 to purchase a heavy-duty bus in 2012. 

According to a timeline assembled by former General Manager Rob LaFontaine and obtained by The Chronicle through a public records request, “...the State of Washington did not have a current cooperative purchasing contract in place for heavy-duty buses but stated they were ‘close’ to completing one.’”

In August 2015, WSDOT released the heavy-duty bus contract which included purchasing options for 100 percent electric buses. The Twin Transit Authority Board encouraged LaFontaine to investigate an electric bus as an alternative to diesel. 

Staff calculated that purchasing an electric bus from GreenPower was the best option in December 2015. In January 2016, the Transit Board authorized the purchase of an electric bus from GreenPower. According to previous Chronicle reporting, the purchase amount was not to exceed $569,858, with $297,063 coming from a WSDOT Division Capital Grant.

The purchase agreement included a provision which required GreenPower to complete the Altoona testing by November 2016. Otherwise, Twin Transit had the right to void the contract.

GreenPower estimated they could deliver the bus in November 2016, but failed to deliver the bus or complete the Altoona testing. GreenPower pushed back the delivery date to early 2017.

At that point, Twin Transit still believed it would receive a bus from GreenPower, according to documents obtained by the Chronicle

At that time, TransAlta awarded Twin Transit a grant for $37,810 for an electric bus charging station. Twin Transit installed the station in January 2017 in anticipation for the bus.

According to LaFontaine’s timeline in March 2017, “... WSDOT contacted Twin Transit expressing significant concerns about Green Power’s ability to achieve ‘Buy America’ compliance. Twin Transit terminated the purchase agreement with Green Power at WSDOT’s request.”

Last August, the Twin Transit Authority Board authorized staff to enter a purchase agreement with Gillig for a 35-foot diesel bus with the original funding from 2012, as an alternative for the long-delayed electric bus. 

Twin Transit risked losing the funds if it didn’t divert them. Twin Transit paid $433,787 for the diesel bus — $296,352 in grant funding and $137,435 in local matching funds. 

According to LaFontaine’s timeline, “... Twin Transit was told by WSDOT that the series of events leading to the decision to terminate the purchase agreement with Green Power were in part the responsibility of WSDOT staff. Twin Transit has been advised by WSDOT that a new grant agreement will be award (sic) for the purchase of an electric bus once Green Power has demonstrated full compliance with grant regulations.”

Chartock sent a letter on October 24, 2017 to formalize that agreement at the request of LaFontaine.

Wojcik-Damers said Twin Transit is monitoring for grants that may become available. After Twin Transit brought an electric bus to Centralia for a demonstration in late February, Wojcik-Damers said riders liked the bus. 

“The feedback we have received was very favorable and it fits our needs from an operation standpoint,” Wojcik-Damers said.

Bobby Jackson, who is a Lewis County Commissioner and on the Twin Transit Authority Board, said he looks forward to the possibility of getting an electric bus. He joined the board in January 2017.

“Green energy is very important to the entire state and this community,” Jackson said. “We’re looking forward to having that conversation. I think this time around when we look at an electric bus, we will have more information and direction from WSDOT.”

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