BART insists no conflict of interest in new fleet bid

April 24, 2012 7:40:15 PM PDT
BART officials insist there is no conflict of interest with one of the biggest decisions they've ever made -- the $2.5 billion contract to buy new cars for its trains. But the team that made the recommendation on which company to go with has ties with that company. The BART board still has to approve the deal.

BART said Canadian train car maker Bombardier had the winning combination of the highest technical score and the lowest price tag. They will use 67 percent components and be assembled 100 percent in the U.S.

Bombardier came out on top in BART's bid evaluation process -- promising to replace all 775 aging rail cars for a total price of $2.5 billion.

Two technical evaluation teams totaling 29 people scored Bombardiers bid on several hundred different technical criteria.

But, of those 29 evaluators, two are former Bombardier employees. One still receives a pension. Two others once worked for companies absorbed by Alstom, the runner-up in the bid competition.

BART spokesperson Jim Allison says the legal department cleared them and there is no conflict of interest.

"Determinations were made in terms of their investments, their previous experience and anyone who had stock in any of the companies needed to divest of that stock," Allison said.

Allison says evaluation team members are selected for their technical expertise, some from within BART, some from outside.

"It's a small pool of expertise to draw from and when you're talking about 29 people, that's a rather large dip into that pool," Allison said.

California High Speed Rail Authority animation shows what its trains might look like someday. The authority had a similar potential conflict of interest involving a hired-gun charged with overseeing ridership estimates from a company he once worked for.

A watchdog group critical of that arrangement is also critical of BART, saying, "This illustrates something we see as a big problem in transportation - the giant revolving door between the public and private sector. While it may be typical, it is not normal and it is not okay. The fact that those inside this business no longer see these issues as a problem is alarming."

"This is not Olympic figure skating where one judge voting with their heart can influence who gets the gold medal," Allison said. "This is a very technical and very involved process that was done in a by the book way."

The Bombardier recommendation will be presented to the board at a Thursday meeting. A vote is scheduled for May 10. If the board rejects Bombardier, it's back to the drawing board for another 1-2 year process.


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