Monday, January 22, 2007

The curious choice of Scheidt & Bachmann to install Charlie

A few weeks ago we posted an article concerning the T's new fareboxes and the problems they were having. Turns out the T wasn't concerned that Scheidt & Bachmann of Germany had no experience in bus collection because they wanted them to bid on the contract. Back on July 1, 2002 Cosmo Macero, Jr questioned in the Boston Herald why the T chose Scheidt & Bachmann over San Diego based Cubic Transportation.

Former MBTA General Manager Michael Mulhern defended the choice.

While Mulhern's technical staff may have understandably been won over by Scheidt & Bachmann's low bid, the company has yet to demonstrate prowess in at least one key area: development of a new fare box for buses.

Skeptics are already second-guessing the German company's pledge to create a bus fare system "simultaneously" as the subway and station smart-card elements are installed.

Observers sympathetic to Cubic's cause suggest Scheidt's "simultaneous" development of the bus system could actually put the project as many as six months behind schedule.

By comparison, Cubic partnered on its bid with GFI Genfare - the largest provider of fare box systems in North America.

But Mulhern counters that if the T disqualified Scheidt because it has never developed a fare box, there would have been no competitive bidding process.

Still, it's hard to ignore the fact that Cubic - whose corporate parent has its hands in everything from military instruments and surveillance systems to corrugated cardboard - seems to have achieved critical mass in the very area of expertise the MBTA needs.

The company has provided automated fare systems to transit authorities in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, as well as overseas in Great Britain, China, Australia and Germany.

Mulhern then spoke to the Boston Globe's Mac Daniel a week later
Scheidt offered a proposal that was slightly inferior, on a technical level, to the one submitted by their archrivals, Cubic Corp., but MBTA general manager Michael Mulhern says that Cubic's bid was $19 million higher, so Scheidt won out in the end. The Burlington, Mass.-based Scheidt (progeny of a German company) won a similar contract six years ago, but had its bid tossed out in court because of irregularities in the procurement process.

Mulhern tells us he's quite certain that the contract, if awarded as expected, will stand up to the all-but-certain legal challenge that Cubic is expected to once again mount. "The process was squeaky clean this time around," he says.

If all goes well, T riders should be using smart cards to get onto subways and buses by July 2004, Mulhern says, and the lovable token will go the way of French franc, the Italian lira, and the Dodo.

2 and 1/2 years after the target date T riders are using the new system to mixed reviews. But it is important to point out that the T had a previous contract with Scheidt & Bachmann that was thrown out by the courts. Macero explained in the same column

When the MBTA's effort to upgrade to an automated fare collection system degenerated into an ugly court battle in 1996, the blowout was over a $40 million contract to replace tokens with magnetic smart cards.

Now, almost six years to the day since the state Appeals Court threw out the winning bidder - Scheidt & Bachmann - the total cost of the project is pushing $120 million.

And the MBTA, come July 11, will once again try to give the long-awaited contract to the German company.

The problem is, rival bidder Cubic Transportation Systems - which helped nudge the court into vexing Scheidt & Bachmann six years ago - is still nipping at the company's heels.

It's not hard to predict what probably happens next: another ugly court battle.

"This is a totally new procurement with an entirely new scope," insists MBTA General Manager Michael Mulhern. "We went into it with our eyes wide open."

The appeals court in 1996 ordered the T to rebid the automatic fare contract, lending credence to arguments from Cubic that Scheidt & Bachmann did not fully meet qualifications for the project.

But Mulhern says the T is actually conducting a whole new process - accounting for years worth of technological advances, and an expanded program of new fare systems on buses as well as subway trains.

That wider scope explains some of the tripling of costs. Blame inflation for the rest.

"The technical staff is going to recommend (to the MBTA board) that Scheidt gets (the contract)," Mulhern says. "I know that Cubic knows that. Cubic is obviously unhappy. But the MBTA technical team determined that Scheidt & Bachmann delivers the best value. It saves us $19 million."
I'm sure by now that the $19 million "saved" has long evaporated into the ozone. It maybe years before we discover the true cost of this contract. Cubic and S&B are bitter rivals and they have had ugly clashes before. Macero wrote

In San Francisco nine years ago, Cubic gummed up a Scheidt contract to install fare systems in five stations by arguing that the "buy American" clause under the federal Transportation Act prohibited the German company from supplying components.

Cubic also used its influence as a defense contractor to get congressmen to petition the Federal Transit Administration to deny Scheidt a waiver.

Finally, they sued San Francisco's BART system to block the deal. But the suit was dismissed.

On the other hand, just three years ago the BART system tapped Cubic for a $53 million deal to replace the fare systems in all of its stations.
But according to a poster on a similar transit blog that follows San Francisco Bay's Bay Area Rapid Transit system, BART went back to Cubic because of problems they had at the 5 new stations.

BART didn't go with S & B this time around. Probably due to the fact that S & B refused to service the equipment after they installed it in the "extension stations" -Pittsburg/Bay Point, North Concord, Colma.

BART doesn't like Translink because the money doesn't go directly into the BART treasury. It has to go to Translink first and then they pay BART. BART hates to give up control of the $$$$$$. Gee, you'd think they don't trust anyone.
So is this going to be a problem in a couple of years of maintaining the equipment that Scheidt & Bachmann has now installed in Boston systemwide? BART gave them a chance with 5 stations and then gave the contract for the rest of the system to Cubic. Meanwhile BART riders are wondering what is going on with the planned smartcard conversion of all San Francisco Bay area transportation systems. BART is supposed to join with the other agencies in a system known as TransLink but one month ago suddenly announced their own smartcard BART EZ Rider and nobody knows for sure what exactly this means for the future.

But it seems obvious that that T management wanted Scheidt & Bachmann to have this contract. Maybe in the long run it was the right choice for Boston. But given the T's track record with Siemens , NeoplanUSA and Breda I have my doubts.


Rob said...

Don't forget that the MBCR has its newsletters printed in Britain.

I also loved seeing the Lufthansa Air Cargo tags on the "made in USA" turnstiles that were installed in Davis.

Matt said...

The content on that site is kinda hard to read. Have they ever heard of paragraphs?

Erik said...

Hey, if S&B is good enough for the problem-free Las Vegas Monorail...

Mr. said...

Ask Houston's transit agency what they think of Cubic? Their experience with Cubic's far equipment was so bad they had to cancel the contract and find another firm.