This month we had an opportunity to see mockup of new streetcar that will be coming to Toronto in near future, we hope. The vehicle is sometimes referred to with more up-to-date label, as LRV. It stands for Light Rail Vehicle. For those who love public transit and look forward to our future, seeing this mockup is a must. [I:http://topdogfreeware.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/MonicaAlmeida10.jpg]We have to allow that there are many people who will talk down about public transit and prefer cars at any cost. However, such attitudes are not urban. New rail vehicles can bring many changes, and we can hope that it will change attitudes, as well. Taking rails downtown for concert in Roy Thompson Hall of to go to Sony Centre for an opera should be as glamorous as taking a cab or driving a car there. Riding new low-floor streetcars should not be just for those on a budget, or a green thing to do, but a status symbol. Imagine, if, during International Film Festival in Toronto, some movie stars would go to the red carpet with our new LRV, rather than take a limo there? These pictures splashed all over the news might help to change minds of many stalwarts. I have seen some unfriendly comments about the event, posted on transit blog site. I think that these people are just ignorant and need some time.
At the time when cities in North America with streetcars transportation were ripping the tracks and substituting buses, in fifties and sixties, Toronto resisted the trend. Montreal dismantled their trams during August 1959. It is a city that always followed European trends, but Europe always kept their trams. In our capital Ottawa, they dismantled trams during April 1959. Toronto’s rail vehicles were in danger in sixties and seventies, and only strong support from activists saved them until now. North American streetcar manufacturer disappeared from the scene. If you keep the vehicles, how do you replace them, when their useful life is at the end? In North Bay Ontario, there was a plant that had manufactured subway cars for TTC.
Ontario Government had some vision of the future in urban rail transport and set up Urban Transit Development Corporation to develop rail systems and sell it world-wide. This corporation designed and built our present Scarborough RT or ICTS (Interim Capacity Transit System). The cars that are smaller than traditional subway cars are propelled by Linear Induction Motor (LIM). It was a new and untried technology, and only two other buyers were found. City of Vancouver for SkyTrain, and as UrbanMover in Detroit, USA. Other CANADIAN CITIES LIKE Edmonton and Calgary planned to build rail system, but opted for German style LRT from Siemens. In seventies, Urban Development Corporation also designed and built our present streetcar, CLVR (Canadian Light Rail Vehicle) and few years later its bigger sister, ALRV (Articulated Light Rail Vehicle). It is a stretched version of CLRV. Both vehicles have become symbols for Toronto. They ride old rail network, dating back to 19th century. It is referred to as the legacy network. Unfortunately, no other cities in North America were eager to buy our streetcars or ICTSs, and that spelled the end of UTDC.
Ontario Government sold UTDC to a Quebec-based private corporation Lavalin in 1986. Lavalin faced bankruptcy shortly-after. It was forced to sell to Bombardier, another Quebec-based company. When first subway line opened in Toronto in 1954, the cars were manufactured in Thunder Bay, Ontario by Hawker-Siddeley Canada, a division of British based Hawker-Siddeley Group. UTDC was Kingston Ontario based and purchased Hawker-Siddeley in nineties. It ended up a part of Bombardier. Since Thunder Bay company manufactured first subway cars, it had a long relationship with TTC. The plant and the successor company Bombardier remains today a preferred supplier to TTC. Toronto Transit commission is a municipal transportation company founded in 1954. It runs subways, streetcars and buses in Toronto. The Commission is governed by councilors who are elected for city council and appointed for TTC council. These councilors run TTC from the view of City Mayor. The changes in TTC plans have occurred after last elections.
In 2005, Toronto Transit Commission handed over an order to Bombardier for 234 new subway cars. It was a closed order negotiated with the company, with no public tender. TTC came under a strong criticism. Biggest competitor Siemens claimed that it could have saved TTC at least $ 100-million on the purchase. It became apparent that TTC can no longer hand over any future orders. Without letting them win it in public tender.
Unlikely city in USA, Portland in Oregon introduced first modern streetcar in North America in more than 50 years. It was the low-floor Astra model built by Skoda-Inekon consortium in the Czech Republic. This vehicle became a model to emulate by TTC. Portland already had LRT built by Siemens that was connecting Downtown Portland with the Airport. However, LRTs are traditionally built for long and straight stretches with gentle curving. They can’t handle 90 degrees turns are not suitable for mixed road traffic. Streetcar can ride and LRT track, but not vice-versa. Many people have a habit to use LRT or LRV for any modern looking rail vehicle.
Our streetcars are nearing the end of their life and during 2006, TTC issued a Request For Information (RFI) that was sent to all builders of the record. The Commission held a preliminary discussion with them shortly after. There were several options that they were considering. Refurbishing and modernizing old CLRV to extend their useful life. This option had to be scrapped since new legislation provided for wheel-chair accessibility on all. After analyzing different options, TTC decided in favor of 100% Low-floor vehicle. Which design is better or more modern? 70% low-floor or 100% low-floor? There is no straight answer. Both designs have their pluses and minuses. We live in an environment where litigation for trivial matters is order of the day. The Commission most likely wanted to prevent future problems with somebody who trips or falls over a step, inside of the car. Commission issued a final Request For Proposal (RFP) in January 2008 to all builders that have pre-qualified. Documents issued called for 100% low-floor and $ 1 000 000.00 security deposit to be enclosed with the bid. Major unexpected change was a requirement of 25% Canadian content on the cars. There were many unique technical requirements that builders had to fulfill making tender a major design obstacle. Our rail-track has a wide gauge, ability to ride steep hills, sharp turning radiuses of 11m and single-point switches.
When public tenders of such large sizes are issued by Government run agencies, they are always instruments of political objectives. Politics including the backroom one is always decisive in the tenders, and technical characteristics and price are relegated to the side rail. Politicians must be re-elected, and public purchases are handy gears to look good in front of voters. Most politicians are not business people, and costs are not on their mind. Extra costs can be covered with extra taxes. Previous administration led by Mayor Miller had the tax-and-spend mentality and introduced several unpopular taxes. It was the land-transfer-tax and car-registration fee. Streetcar procurement project became politicians’ tools. TTC hired consultants to advise them how much of Canadian content can be required from overseas builders, without causing unnecessary hardship and them losing interest in the assignment. The consultants returned with a report suggesting that no more than 10% of Canadian content can be requested.
Politician-councilors did not put much weight on the consultants’ report and changed the amount to 25%. New amount was incorporated into Request For Proposal (RFP). It was a complex and detailed set of documents but supplemented still by number of amendments. The documents specification talked about a “preferred company.” The meaning was clearly implicit. The tender closed in June 2008, and only two envelopes were handed in. After so much effort with designing of tender, the end became just an embarrassment. Only two envelopes were handed in. One was from a British upstart company that has never built a streetcar yet. It was the reason for being disqualified from the bidding process. The company was not commercially compliant. Transit authorities are not risk-takers and purchase only proven technologies that are in revenue services by other transit authorities. Surprisingly enough, the Commission also decided that Bombardier’s bid does not qualify since it is strictly no-compliant with requested specifications.
There is no doubt that long and costly process ended like a fiasco for the Commission. It was also a disappointment for Torontonians anxiously awaiting good news about new vehicles for our streets. The Commission had to re-open the process. They approached the builders with fact-finding questions. They wanted to know the reasons for not bidding. Would they be interested in the new process? Do manufacturers have 100% low-floor design that is ready? Selection of 100% low-floor versus 70% low-floor and combined with 11-metre turning radiuses, they are big decisions to make. Some experts were saying publicly that only 70% low-floor can accommodate technical requirements.
If technical requirements were not enough, 25% of Canadian content provision has created a major headache for overseas builder with no traditional manufacturing or contact-base in Canada. Such provision clearly favored one company with a long tradition in Canada. Why would other companies participate in the process, when the odds of winning the tender are so much against them? Bids from other companies will only help the Commission to negotiate a better deal with a preselected company of their choice.
Commission started a new round of negotiation in July 2008. This time they narrowed down the companies to 3 builders. Bombardier, Siemens and Alstom. They all had reference to 100% low floor cars, and that was a paramount requirement for TTC. Few industry insiders were saying that local requirements are so unique that there is no streetcar available from the shelf, so past references should not be as important. What counts most is to have an expertise and experience to create a new design.
The original Request For proposal called for tender of 204 vehicles. The schedule called for delivery at the rate of 24 cars per year, until 2018. Commission had budgeted price of $1.2 Billion. The purchase cost was to be split3-ways, among the City, provincial and Federal Governments. Since the later Government refused to participate in funding, City had to pick up 2/3 of the cost. The second procurement process started August 2008 and closed in April 2009. Bombardier won the contract on the base of price, while Siemens was about $500-million higher in the bid. It is not difficult to attribute the difference to the advantage. Alstom completely dropped out of the process. There was another European company that lobbied, but with no success, trying to be added to the negotiated process.
The contract was won in April 2009. It has taken more than 1 year, and a half to see mockup, but TTC has yet to test the vehicle on our rails. It is not very encouraging state of situations. The exact date for arrival of test cars has not been given yet. One might think that Torontonians might enjoy more seeing a car on the rails first, than to look inside. If there are any problems then, we might expect further delays.
The process was a text example of protectionism by non-tariff means. It is not just in Canada but in USA and in many countries. Transportation is not paid by private money, but Governments. Therefore, all levels of Governments make public procurement processes instruments of their policies. IN USA, if municipality required Federal money, then 40% must be content of US origin. If you do not require Federal financing is you are able to secure funds locally, then there is no problem with buying vehicles from overseas. All builders of public transportation system work in a difficult environment of uncertainty. Mass production that would allow manufacturing cost come down is non-existent. Major companies maintain plants around the worlds in order to shift the production to fulfill local needs. Cost of these plants creates higher overhead costs that must be reflected in the final price. Bombardier has a plant in Mexico, where most of work will be done. Who is the winner and who is the looser of working with politics? The winners are easy to identify. It is the company with contract, all its employees and subcontractors. Looser is international trade, economics and free market. Political power play is stronger than technical characteristics. We will never know, who would win the contract at what price, had the councilors accepted consultant’s recommendation in December 2007. The real costs are definitely inflated due to the political manipulations.
Now we believe that streetcars will become popular and ordinary Torontonians will choose them over driving cars across the city. Some negative comments presently seen in the blogs are not so important, but increase in the ridership due to new vehicle will be essential. It should re-introduce Transit City transportation project. The city definitely needs more subway lines, but also surface rail for shorter distance to feed subways. One or the other is just erroneous thinking. Politicians come and go, but what is built will stay. If this administration gives us Sheppard subway line and underground Eglinton line, next administration can finish the Finch LRT line.
New LRTs for trips to work and for pleasure. Coming to old Legacy Lines in TO soon. Be green and use public transit!