The city of Asheville is expecting to receive three new diesel buses in July 2023. They were ordered in January 2022. Four more diesel buses have just been ordered. / / Watchdog photo by John Boyle.

Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:

Question: There’s been some talk about Asheville getting three brand new buses. I don’t know if they were natural gas, electric, hybrid or diesel, but that was supposed to be last summer. Then I heard they were pushed all the way back till December, and then I heard that they were to come in the first of the year. I guess the city didn’t want to pay taxes on them. Now I’ve heard the city has withdrawn the contract, and we’re not getting the buses at all. I want to know what’s going on with that, and if there’s perhaps more of dysfunction at the ART system than people realize. Seems like there’s a lot of complaints going on over the last few years. I remember when the city buses were functional, and the people driving the buses would stay for 25-30 years, and now it’s a high turnover job. Could you do a little investigation and find out what’s going on, specifically with the new buses?

My answer: You know, first city residents start demanding regular water service in their homes even when it’s cold outside, then they want clean sidewalks and functional buses. Where does it end, people?!

Real answer: City of Asheville spokesperson Kim Miller rounded up some information from the city’s transportation staff on this one. They noted first that “providing a safe and well-maintained fleet” is a primary responsibility of the city and Asheville Rides Transit (ART).

“The city routinely purchases buses to replace buses that have reached the end of their useful life as part of the city’s fleet replacement plan,” the transportation officials said. “The city of Asheville is expecting to receive three brand new diesel buses from Gillig in July 2023, which were ordered in January 2022.” The cost to the city: about $1.65 million, or $550,000 per bus.

Also, at the Feb. 14 City Council meeting, the council authorized the purchase of four diesel buses from California-based Gillig to backfill a canceled order in 2019. The total for the four buses council just approved comes to $2,264,722, or about $566,000 per bus.

In September 2019 the city placed an order for four diesel buses from a different company, “but the manufacturer experienced significant issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic and related supply chain disruptions and was unable to fulfill the order,” transportation officials said. 

So the city canceled that purchase and gave no money to the manufacturer. That order would have cost about $1.8 million, considerably less than the current cost.

Hey, inflation stings, doesn’t it?

The city of Asheville routinely buys new buses for the Asheville Rides Transportation bus system when older buses reach the end of their useful life.// Watchdog photo by John Boyle.

So, the city has seven new diesel buses on order, and it looks like the city will be buying more, unless it wants to engage in expensive repairs such as engine replacements or transmission rebuilds. A document provided to council for the meeting said the city needs to replace between three and five buses annually.

“At this time, the city has five buses past the recommended useful life of a bus, given that they have over 500,000 miles and have been in service for 13 years,” the document states. “There are another nine buses in the transit fleet nearing the end of their useful life that will need to be replaced in the next two years.”

As far as staffing, ART is having the same staff challenges that every organization is facing these days.

The transportation officials noted that in July 2022 the city provided the transit contractor — the U.S. division of the French company RATP Dev — additional funding to give all ART staff a $2 an hour wage increase.

“This has helped stabilize retention, but recruitment remains challenging,” the officials said. “The city will continue to work with the ART contractor to provide transit service to the community.”

Question: Can you check to see if anybody is doing anything about all the break-ins at the Arboretum parking lot and at Bent Creek? It seems to be happening all the time there. What are the authorities doing about this?

My answer: I’ve found this is one of the benefits of driving a 25-year-old car. The potential thieves have got to walk by and say to themselves, “Man, no way that heap has anything valuable inside.” They’re not wrong.

This might or might not be The Boylemobile.

Real answer: While parts of these areas did see a run a car break-ins in recent years, the situation has improved.

“In a year’s time, approximately 192,000 vehicles park inside the gates of the North Carolina Arboretum, and thanks to the Arboretum’s campus police presence, vehicle break-ins in the parking lots have been exceedingly rare,” Arboretum spokesperson Brian Postelle told me via email.

During 2021, “as part of a broader ring of break-ins across the state, four Arboretum visitors reported vehicle break-ins, and the perpetrators were later apprehended in Goldsboro,” he said.

“In 2022, there was one incident reported involving two employee vehicles but no theft, and so far in 2023 there have been no reported incidents,” Postelle said. “We are proud to provide a safe environment to explore and enjoy, including having campus police personnel that are trained in EMT response, call boxes along our trails that directly contact our campus police, and a well-monitored and open parking area.”

Adrianne Rubiaco, a spokesperson with the U.S. Forest Service, which manages Bent Creek Experimental Forest, said they are “working with the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office on this issue, and they are the lead agency.” Rubiaco also reminded visitors to report any break-ins to the police, as it helps law enforcement with investigations.

Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Aaron Sarver told me via email that the Sheriff’s Office has “worked pretty diligently on breaking and entering (cases) in Bent Creek and have arrested some folks.” He noted that the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Western District also has been involved.

Map shows location of Bent Creek Experimental Forest // Google Maps

Sarver referred me to a press release from August 2022 that detailed an investigation into break-ins at Bent Creek that dated to August 2020 and included incidents in which people broke into vehicles using a key punch, and then stole credit cards. The thieves then used the cards to buy electronics, luxury items and gift cards.

Detectives from the Property Crimes Unit identified 17 additional cases where the same unidentified offenders “broke into vehicles in the Bent Creek area in the same manner, including some cases that took place prior to the pattern being identified by the detectives,” the release stated. “As this investigation progressed, the North Carolina Wildlife law enforcement division in Transylvania County also identified multiple cases in their jurisdiction that matched the same patterns as the Buncombe County Cases.”

The Sheriff’s Office partnered with the U.S. Forest Service, the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation, Blue Ridge Parkway Police, North Carolina Wildlife, and the U.S. Secret Service on the case. In February 2021, the Goldsboro, North Carolina Police Department apprehended Patricio Ricardo Lagos Erazo and Belgica Belen Rivera.

Patricio Ricardo Lagos Erazo, a/k/a Jose Manuel Vega Sanchez, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison.

“A search of the suspects’ rental vehicle revealed thousands of dollars of gift cards, fake identifications including identification cards, passports, and credit cards issued to false aliases,” the release noted. “During the course of the investigation the Sheriff’s Office executed a total of 10 search warrants.”  

Because some of the crimes crossed state lines, the U.S. Attorney’s Office handled prosecution. The press release stated Lagos Erazo pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit access device fraud and got 14 months in prison. Upon his release, the judge ruled, he is to be turned over to immigration authorities for deportation.

According to the U.S. District Court clerk’s office in Asheville, Belen Rivera was sentenced in October 2022 to time served.

Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at or 828-337-0941.