Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade mayor wants to block Genting from using Chinese trains for monorail bid

When Miami-Dade invites companies to bid on a transit link between Miami and Miami Beach, the county could tell Chinese train makers not to bother.

A rule embedded in draft bid documents proposed by Mayor Carlos Gimenez would bar participation by Chinese train companies, a prohibition that goes to the heart of a monorail proposal by casino giant Genting to use China’s BYD as its rail partner.

The move follows backlash to BYD’s possible role in building a new transit system for Miami-Dade, including warnings from Florida’s two Republican senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, of potential security issues. Armando Ibarra, a lobbyist and head of Miami’s Young Republicans group, led a campaign to block BYD, including funding a poll aimed at showing a lack of support in Miami-Dade.

BYD is already a player in U.S. transit as a supplier of electric buses and is pursuing rail projects across the country. The bid framework, subject to County Commission approval on Sept. 4, would require proposers to comply with a U.S. House bill designed to bar BYD and other Chinese firms from supplying trains or buses — sometimes called “rolling stock” — for new transit projects in the United States.

“If anyone uses rolling stock from China, it’s not allowed,” Gimenez said in a brief interview Thursday.

The proposed Miami-Dade rule follows the language of House Bill 2500, and would be in effect even if the federal legislation doesn’t pass, administration officials said.

Genting representatives did not respond to inquiries about the proposed requirement, or how it would affect the Malaysian company’s proposal for a publicly funded and privately run monorail that would link the casino company’s waterfront Miami property with South Beach.

Gimenez said he hasn’t heard from Genting representatives about what their next steps will be. Privately, company representatives have floated the idea of ditching BYD for another monorail maker after some county commissioners said publicly China participation would be a deal-killer for them.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber is an anti-gambling activist who objected to the monorail proposal for linking a transit system to a property where Genting wants to build a casino resort. While his objections to the Genting plan centered on gambling, the former Democratic lawmaker said the anti-China legislation — sponsored by Rubio in the Senate — addressed a valid worry.

“While foreign has its place, I get the concern” about security risks from Chinese firms, Gelber said. “It’s not a fictional concern.”

Details remain confidential, but Genting proposed using $240 million in public funds to construct a roughly $400 million monorail system that would travel about four miles between a new transit station the company would build on its undeveloped Miami property and an unknown destination on the western side of South Beach. Miami-Dade would also have to pay an undisclosed yearly payment to the monorail consortium, which includes BYD.

Gimenez and Miami-Dade commissioners accepted the unsolicited proposal in July, and agreed to launch a bidding process for the proposed transit link that Genting wants to develop. Genting is free to submit a fresh bid, and is not bound by the offers it made in the original proposal.

Gimenez’s anti-China push comes after two official Miami-Dade trips to tour transit options in China, including BYD’s SkyRail monorail trains. Gimenez led one trip in 2018 as part of a larger county trade mission to Asia, and met with Genting executives in Hong Kong about a future proposal for the Miami-to-the-Beach route known as “Baylink.”

This story was updated to insert the correct reference to the House bill cited by Miami-Dade, and to note the legislation only covers trains provided by Chinese firms, not buses.

Miami-Dade County rolls out its long-awaited new Metrorail cars on Nov. 30, 2017.