Friday, July 25, 2008

The Other Side, Toronto: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Photo courtesy

Toronto is taking one step forward and two steps back in public transit development. Several weeks ago the Toronto Star wrote that the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) failed to receive a "single qualified bidder" for a $1.25 billion dollar contract to replace the staple streetcar fleet in Toronto. Bombardier, widely considered to be the front-runner for the project, initially declined comment, but later a spokesperson described the rejection of their bid as a "surprise".

Bombardier's major competitor is TRAM power, of England, who also placed a bid for the billion-dollar contract. However, the UK-based transit company was rejected, along with Bombardier, due to the TTC's assessment of the company as "commercially non-compliant".

The primary reason for the rejection of Bombardier's bid is the TTC's concern that their prototype streetcars will not be able to climb or corner some of the steep turns and hills that make up Toronto's streetcar grid. The Star reported today that TRAM power is preparing another bid, and that the company is playing down reports of a their units catching fire in testing.

It's in Toronto's interest to spend federal funding on urban infrastructure projects, but the TTC's righteous rejection of bids for a billion dollar contract will only delay, unnecessarily, what Torontonians need dearly--a fully functional and up to date public transit system.

Count on a lot of competition for the recently-announced $7.8B in provincial and federal funding between two provincial transit priorities, the TTC in Toronto as well as the new light-rail transit plan in Ottawa.


Andrae Griffith said...

Let's assume for a minute that the TTC's evaluation of Bombardier's bid is correct, and that their contention that Bombardier indicated directly on the tender documents that their vehicle could not meet the standards is true.

Under that assumption, I think it's quite necessary to delay the purchase. Why should the TTC knowingly purchase a vehicle that could not turn in an intersection, which vehicles are required to do as part of their normal route? Why should the TTC knowingly purchase a vehicle that cannot push another vehicle out of the Union Station tunnel (standard procedure in emergencies), or cannot climb the hill to get to the heavy maintenance shops uptown?

Jason A. Chiu said...

Thanks for the comments Andrae, your blog is interesting. My graduate research will be focusing on transportation systems, and interest of yours from what I gather, though mine will be from a historical perspective.

True: Bombardier's vehicles (in their present configuration) cannot corner or climb at the speed stipulated by the TTC. We agree on this. I believe where we disagree is that the TTC is flat out rejecting the the Bombardier bid.

I feel there are other avenues to pursue, especially when other competitors (like Siemens) dropped out of the bidding process and the only alternative (as the media is leading readers to believe) is TRAM power, a small UK company with no manufacturing plants in Canada.

Perhaps, a wiser choice, for the TTC would have been to accept on the condition that the Bombardier vehicles could be re-configured in manner to meet the speed and handling requirements laid out by the TTC.

Of course, beneath all our rhetoric and what gets printed in the press, I'm almost certain this is what is happening.

Andrae Griffith said...

After both bids were rejected, the TTC began negotiating with companies one-on-one to make a purchase.

They met with Bombardier officials on Friday, and while we'll likely never know what was said, the most likely scenario is that Bombardier will do just that - offer a vehicle that meets the requirements.

I think most Canadians agree that government agencies should buy Canadian. But, if Bombardier's technology simply cannot meet the requirements, Siemens and SKODA are two companies who have thrown their names back into the fray.

We will get streetcars, and they will be ordered on time. Hopefully, we'll be able to look back on this episode and laugh.