Typically, public transit is a very local issue. Where to put a bus stop, for example, depends on the needs of local residents.
But recently, Atlanta’s transit agency got wrapped up in some concerns that are much more global.
Erik Olson, a Washington, D.C., lobbyist, came to Atlanta to sound the alarm about the trend he’s seeing in public transit.
A Chinese company, called CRRC, is building more and more rail cars in the U.S. Recently, it won four contracts.
“Chicago, Philly, Boston and L.A.,” Olson said. “They’re bidding on others.”
One bid is aimed at Atlanta. The Chinese company is competing to replace 250 train cars for MARTA.
Olson said there’s a trend with the contracts CRRC won. It underbid.
“In the case of Boston, the second-lowest bid was a billion dollars. They came in at $560 million,” he said. “So just great, great discounts.”
He said other companies can’t compete.
And that worries Olson.
He lobbies for freight car manufacturers, as vice president of the Rail Security Alliance.
He said if the Chinese company takes over transit in the U.S., it would be able to go after America’s freight industry next.
But Jeff Rosensweig, a global business professor at Emory University, said that shouldn’t be MARTA’s concern.
“Public agencies have a responsibility to get a good product at the best price possible because, ultimately, the taxpayer is paying for it,” he said.
And actually, Rosensweig said, transit cars are likely to come from outside the country no matter what.
“We buy a lot of our cars for our subway systems from Bombardier in Canada or from Siemens of Germany,” he said. “It’s not really an industry that we specialize in.”
Olson, the lobbyist, said there is an industry for freight cars, however. He claims U.S. manufacturers support 65,000 jobs.
As for MARTA’s rail car project, the winning bid is expected to be announced soon.
The transit agency declined to comment on the procurement process, but confirmed that MARTA officials visited a CRRC plant in Massachusetts. CRRC did not respond to requests.