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Why Wheels on $10M Worth of Fresno Buses Don't Go Round and Round
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By David Taub, Senior Reporter
Published 2 weeks ago on
May 1, 2024
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Some of the nine city of Fresno electric buses that are out of service. (GV Wire/David Taub)

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Ten million dollars worth of Fresno city buses are out of service. And, it may take another 60 days before they return to the road.

Trying to get ahead of state mandates for zero-emission vehicles, two fully electric buses went into service in 2021, and another seven in 2022. City transportation director Gregory Barfield said they cost $1.2 million each.

All nine have broken down for one reason or another, representing 7% of all of the city’s buses. Bus manufacturer Proterra went bankrupt last year. Thus finding the specialty parts and expert service is a huge challenge.

Now the buses sit under the covered Pad A in the Fresno Area Xpress yard on the outskirts of downtown Fresno. Even so, the buses are proverbially gathering dust. One has a flat tire because of lack of use.

“We are looking to make our taxpayers whole. Look, as a taxpayer myself, I’m pissed that these are sitting here,” Barfield said. “I’m just frustrated that bankruptcy is how we had to get to this point.”

Barfield said the electric buses are expected to last at least 12 years. Some in the Fresno fleet did not even make two years. The buses have a three-year, 150,000-mile warranty, and the city is negotiating for a warranty extension.

“The bankruptcy made it the lemon deal. I can’t tell if the equipment is actually a lemon because it hasn’t been on the road long enough,” Barfield said. “But the bankruptcy is what the lemon is. Trust me, we are looking at all of our remedies that could be made available.”

The city council allocated funds for the buses in December 2020. Barfield said 80% of the money comes from federal grants. The rest comes from state grants, Measure C — the Fresno County sales tax for transportation projects — and other programs.

Even though the nine buses are off the road, service continues at normal levels, Barfield said. The city keeps spare buses available, although they are compressed natural gas, which is low emission, but not zero emission.

Last Bus Goes Down on Valentine’s Day

“As a taxpayer myself, I’m pissed that these are sitting here.”Fresno Transportation Director Gregory Barfield

The transportation department expects buses to go out of service from time to time, but not all nine of the electric buses at the same time, Barfield said. The electric buses started breaking down in September 2023. The last of the nine buses went kaput on Feb. 14. Barfield said there are a variety of problems.

A city memo detailed some of the issues: failed traction motors, transmissions, air compressors, coolant pumps, battery packs, poor wiring, and unstable software.

Only Proterra could provide the parts and service. And the parts “dried up” by December, Barfield said.

Proterra field representatives would work in Fresno “monthly,” a city memo said. They would usually bring the proprietary parts with them.

Another Company Takes Over for Proterra

Ontario-based Phoenix Motorcars took over the Proterra bus line, but technicians only visited Fresno once since January. Messages to Phoenix Motorcars by GV Wire to comment for this story were not returned. The company is a subsidiary of AYL, a private company based in Dubai.

Barfield hopes that the buses will be back on the road within 60 days. The city last met with Phoenix Motorcars last month. In previous conversations with Proterra, Barfield said he was very “loud.”

“(Phoenix Motorcars) expected their cash infusions and all of their regular operations to resume, in earnest in the next 30 to 45 days, which would also include bringing those field service reps out. We’ve got a long list of items that they already know, and it’s just really down to the parts and getting those field service reps out here to help our team put these busses back on the road,” Barfield said.

The city is working on contingency plans including “any legal remedies,” Barfield said. Another option is keeping old buses that should be retired in the fleet.

The remainder of the fleet — CNG buses — are easier to fix because the engines are more universal.

Bus Maker Out of Business

The August 2023 bankruptcy of Burlingame-based Proterra caught many by surprise, according to published reports. The company could not find a financial foothold in the competitive electric bus business.

Barfield said no one could have anticipated Proterra’s collapse.

Analyst Adrian Gomez told environment-focused publication Green Biz that “pressures of inflation, tightening capital markets and a strained supply chain, as well as the challenges unique to the electric transportation market, were too much for Proterra.”

Several companies purchased its units, including Volvo Battery Solutions, which bought the battery line, and Phoenix Motorcars acquiring the bus line.

Another Fresno Agency Had Problems

The city of Fresno waited on purchasing electric buses until the technology improved. During that time, it monitored how another local agency handled its fleet.

“We actually waited longer, hoping the technology would improve, but not believing that the company would ever fail,” Barfield said.

The Fresno County Rural Transportation Agency provides public transportation for most of the county outside of Fresno and Clovis. The agency purchased five Proterra buses in 2018 for about  $3.4 million. Funding mostly came from state and regional grants, including Measure C.

All five have been out of service for the last year. Although the bus warranty expired, the battery warranties are valid. Like Fresno, repairs are slow coming.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” FCRTA general manager Moses Stites said.

Stites compared the bus technology to cell phones — once you get one, it becomes outdated.

“Obviously at higher price tag and a lot more at stake,” Stites said.

Phoenix Motorcars agreed to train FCRTA technicians on how to service the buses, Stites said, although that has not started yet.

What About Clovis?

Several other agencies around the state reported Proterra problems including the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and Foothill Transit in southern California.

The city of Clovis said it doesn’t have Proterra buses.

“But we do have an on-going pilot project with two Phoenix Motors shuttle buses. The project has provided valuable data that has helped inform our plans for future conversion to zero-emission fleet operations,”  said Deputy Director of General Services Amy Hance.

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David Taub,
Senior Reporter
Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

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