RTA seeking a solution for fleet of mechanically-troubled buses

“They delivered, quite frankly, a defective product”

Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) officials are probably thinking of the old adage, “Not everything that glitters is gold.”


The organization’s four new transit buses have been plagued with mechanical trouble since their arrival last fall. With mechanical issues still occurring regularly, the RTA is now considering ordering replacement buses or requesting the dealership to provide an extended warranty.
During a regular meeting of the RTA on Friday, July 11, director Scott Truex gave an update on the number of riders the free bus service has been attracting. The Gunnison RTA bus is a free public transportation service between the towns of Mt. Crested Butte, Crested Butte and the city of Gunnison. According to the RTA’s data, nearly 5,000 people used the bus during the month of June, and over 65,000 passengers have been transported since the service’s inception last November.
The RTA contracts with Alpine Express to operate the new service. Alpine Express co-owner and general manager Stewart Johnson said all four buses were currently back on the road, but one of the buses had just been entered back in service after spending over a week in repairs.
Not long after the new buses hit the road last fall the RTA began hearing about a number of mechanical troubles that have stricken the fleet. The primary trouble has been a special ceramic exhaust filter on the bus engines designed to capture emissions, similar to a car’s catalytic converter. All four of the buses have experienced problems with the filter and have been shipped one at a time to a diesel engine specialist in Denver.
Johnson also mentioned several other problems the buses have been having, including other emissions and engine components, cooling systems and defective or improperly finished electrical wiring.
Truex said there were 17 months left on the warranty. He said the bus dealer has been good about providing warranty coverage and making timely repairs. “They’re moving forward,” Truex said.
Board member Skip Berkshire said the warranty repairs needed to be permanent, not temporary, solutions. “Let’s not confuse motion with progress,” he said.
Alpine Express owner Woody Sherwood said he was concerned about whether the buses would still be having mechanical trouble next winter. Citing the recent increase in local airline service, Sherwood said, “It’s going to be very tight on Saturdays if the buses are operating the same way they were last winter.”
Board member Jonathan Houck said the RTA needed to carefully manage the public’s perception of the bus service, since the RTA will be asking voters to renew the organization’s tax this fall. “I think for the reauthorization a lot of this is going to hinge on the perception of the quality of the bus and the service, as well as the need (for the service),” Houck said.
Board member Bill Babbitt suggested the RTA ask the dealer to provide an extended warranty at no extra cost due to the ongoing mechanical problems. “They have had how many months now to fix it, and they haven’t. This is a serious issue… They delivered, quite frankly, a defective product,” he said.
Board member Hap Channell said even if the mechanical problems could be fixed entirely, “The point at which the buses operate to acceptable standards should not be at the end of the warranty period.”
Berkshire said, “This thing needs to get well now, or we need to start thinking how we’re going to phase into replacement buses.”
Truex said it could take 15 months for replacement buses to arrive once ordered.
Starr said, “The question is, do they have buses we could replace them with, or is this just a whole new generation of electronics where the problem is systemic?”
Truex said he would invite a dealer representative to the next RTA meeting to hear the board’s concerns. Board member William Buck suggested the RTA write a letter to the dealer outlining the concerns, so that the dealer could come to the meeting prepared with a response or alternative solutions.
Channell agreed. “Let’s think of everything we can possibly think of that has gone wrong or isn’t appropriate at this altitude or in the cold climate… I think it needs to be very comprehensive. We need to cover ourselves.”
Houck said they should say to the dealer, “Here are our concerns—what are you going to do for us?”
The next meeting of the RTA board is on August 15 at Crested Butte Town Hall. 

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