Five Arguments for American-Made Buses & How ‘The Atlantic Cities’ Got It Wrong

A Foothill Transit Proterra Ecoliner

A Foothill Transit Proterra Ecoliner

As a member of the Jobs to Move America coalition, I was more than a little dumbfounded to read a blog post by Brandon Fuller promoting a study authored by three economists from UCLA and Cornell University that criticizes taxpayer investment in American-made buses. Fuller’s post appeared on The Atlantic‘s Cities website, which also tweeted: “@AtlanticCities: Subsidies require cities to buy American-made buses. Change that, and bus services can be cheaper”

Huh? The Jobs to Move America campaign offers a real-life rebuttal to the study’s theoretical arguments against American-made buses. Here are five reasons Fuller and the research he embraces are wrong:

1) The best use of American taxpayers’ money is buses Made in America.

Fuller’s argument that sending taxpayer dollars overseas is a better investment than buying American-made buses simply does not add up. Why? Because approximately $5.4 billion of Americans’ federal tax dollars are invested annually in buses and rail cars for public transit systems. Undoubtedly, the wisest use of taxpayer funds is to bring direct benefits to the taxpayers themselves – by improving our transit systems, boosting our local economies and creating family-supporting job opportunities.

During Jobs to Move America’s pilot project, community groups advocated to attach good jobs and meaningful opportunities for American workers to a Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority contract for 550 clean‐fuel buses. LA Metro awarded the $305 million contract to New Flyer Industries, which agreed to hire 50 workers and build a new service and assembly center in the Los Angeles area, and add 150 new jobs to its Minnesota factory. Surely, this was a better investment of millions of Angelenos’ tax dollars, than awarding a contract where most manufacturing work would be done outside the U.S.

2) Buy America policies are on the right track to create U.S. jobs and stimulate the economy.

Fuller is flat wrong when he says that, “by insulating U.S.-based bus makers from foreign competition, the Buy-American requirement puts American taxpayers in a perverse position.” In fact, the Federal Transportation Administration’s “Buy America” policy is a commonsense policy solution precisely because it provides an incentive to foreign-based manufacturing companies to invest American taxpayer dollars here in America. Competition between global companies bidding for large bus manufacturing contracts still exists, regardless of incentives like Buy America, which help create U.S. jobs and stimulate our economy.

3) American-made buses are often of higher quality and produced with higher standards and more accountability than their foreign counterparts.

Echoing the research paper, Fuller fallaciously equates foreign-made buses with cheaper prices and better quality, writing that “buses in Tokyo and Seoul are about half the price of U.S. buses. Chinese buses, the vehicle of choice in the wealthy city-state of Singapore, are even cheaper.”

The opposite is true – high-quality, safe and reliable buses are most likely to be produced in the U.S. by high-road companies that invest in their employees, ensuring that we have trained and skilled workers producing the vehicles.

There can be a huge “cost of cheap” when buses are made with low standards and a lack of accountability. Look at the recent scandal when the prominent Chinese-owned company BYD, contracted to build electric buses for Long Beach and Los Angeles, was fined nearly $100,000 by the California Department of Industrial Standards for labor law violations that included bringing Chinese workers to L.A. and paying them just $1.50 an hour.  On December 9, news broke that BYD will delay delivery of Long Beach electric buses because they need more time to undergo federal safety testing.

4) It is greener and better for the climate to make American buses in America.

The Atlantic Cities post is wrong in asserting that, “Americans pay more to subsidize public bus fleets that impose comparatively high costs on the environment and public health.” There are many American companies making high-quality, cleaner buses, such as South Carolina-based Proterra’s electric buses being built for California’s Foothill Transit, and Northern California company Gillig’s compressed-natural-gas buses manufactured for Cleveland Regional Transit.

Moreover, transporting components of a bus to and from subcontractors across the world creates a significant amount of carbon pollution. Bus manufacturers can reduce climate impacts if they simply green their supply chain by making more American bus parts, in America.

5) It’s in the best interests of global companies doing business with American taxpayers to create American jobs.

Fuller’s post obscures a fundamental fact: The bus-making industry is dominated by large, profitable, global corporations that often make business decisions to shift production of valuable or significant components of American buses outside of the U.S. in order to increase profits, to take advantage of “cheap labor” and other low standards in the developing world, or to provide good jobs in the company’s “home country.”

At the same time, tens of millions of Americans cannot find a good-paying job to support themselves and their families, and many American communities lie devastated because of decades of manufacturing jobs lost overseas — justified by the very same misguided arguments for “free trade” and “foreign-competition” that Brandon Fuller and the UCLA and Cornell researchers promote today.

Rachele-HuennekensThe solution is for big global manufacturing companies to build more — not fewer — American buses in America.

The solution is for global bus manufacturers profiting from American taxpayer funds to take responsibility to address the American jobs crisis.

The solution is Jobs to Move America, Buy America, and other policies that wisely invest in American-made buses.

Rachele Huennekens
Capital & Main

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