During the weekend in November 2011, Torontonians had a chance to see a mockup of new streetcar that will come to our city, hopefully in 2 years. [I:http://catallaxy.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/SilvioMatos12.jpg]Sometimes it comes with more modern LRV designation. If you are a public transit enthusiast, then this exhibit should be a place to go and get excited about it. In spite of opposition from car-proponents, our prevailing mentality needs to become more urban. Great public transit is the catalyst of change and taking a new low floor streetcar downtown to attend opera or a concert should became an accepted modern alternative to driving a car, taking a cab or limo there. Or take it to a place of business. It should become equivalent status symbol that public transit is not just for those who are on the budget. I only wish that some public figures or people with status of a star could become role models. Let their photos as streetcars or subway users be made public. Transit Commission should definitely find some spokesmen or spokeswomen for the cause. I think that those people, who post unfriendly comments toward our new transit vehicles in blogs, or newspapers online, are just misguided. Their attitudes can be changed.
Toronto is one city in North America that had some audacity to keep our streetcars in operation, while some other cities were ripping the rails and capitulating to the automobile and bus industry. Even in Montreal, a city that prides itself with strong European character, it broke with Euro tradition and discarded its streetcar system in August 1959. Ottawa did the same in April 1959. Our streetcars came under fire in sixties and seventies, when Toronto Transit Commission contemplating scraping them and replacing with buses. It was a strong public pressure from Toronto citizens that saved our system. The Commission gave in the pressure, but suddenly had to deal with practical and economical solutions. City rail transit has its life span and has to be replaced and updated at one point. While the electric trams manufacturing had its edge in North America, it simply disappeared in fifties. Since there are no local manufacturers, how do you keep replacing? Ontario only had manufacturer for subway cars in Thunder Bay.
Ontario had a foresighted Premier in seventies, and his name was Bill Davis. He knew that transportation future is in rapid transit line and not in cars. There were no manufacturers in North America and Government should provide an initiative. Urban Transport Development Corporation was set up as Crown Corporation, to design and manufacture advanced rail system. The company developed new technology called ICTS (Interim Capacity Transit System). Scarborough RT (Rapid Transit) is one local application of this technology. Train uses smaller cars than subway, and it is propelled by Linear Induction Motor (LIM). New technology is hard to sell to municipal buyers, since they look for systems with a long track record. UTDC was only able to sell two additional systems. One in Vancouver. It is called SkyTrain and the second one in Detroit, where they call it UrbanMover. UTDC company created design and built our CLVR (Canadian Light Rail Vehicle) that is currently still in use, in Toronto. It entered service in 1979 to replace old PCC (Presidents’ Conference Committee) streetcars. In 1988, newer version of CLVR entered Toronto. It was an articulated and stretches streetcar with designation ALRV. Both versions have become symbols of the city. Toronto’s rail network dated back to 19th century and it is called the legacy Network. It was unfortunate that neither models were ever sold; therefore, they remain unique to our city.
Ontario Government privatized UTDC in 1986, when it sold it to Lavalin, a Quebec based Corporation that in turn sold the assets to another Quebec based corporation Bombardier. Toronto had its first Yonge subway line opened in 1954. The first subway trains were manufactured in Thunder Bay, Ontario by Hawker Siddeley Canada, a division of British based Hawker Siddleley Group. Kingstone-based UTDC acquired hawker Siddeley in nineties. Bombardier Corporation later acquired UTDC and Hawker Siddeley. The company and its manufacturing plant in Thunder Bay have a long and strong relationship with Toronto Transit Commission. It has been and continues to be a preferred supplier to TTC. Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is a municipal transport agency established in 1954. The commission is governed by TTC councilors, who are elected to Toronto City Council and appointed to TTC. Due to this function, TTC becomes a tool for implementation of political will that changes after every municipal election.
During 2006, Bombardier signed an order for delivery of 234 subway cars for TTC. The order was privately negotiated between TTC and Bombardier with no public tendering. TTC came under heavy criticism. Major competitors claimed to be able to produce the same cars for $100-million less. It was a lesson for Commission that it can’t hand over new orders to the favored supplier. The orders must be won in a competitive tendering process.
In 2001, Portland Oregon became the first North-American city to introduce modern streetcars in over 50 years. It was the Czech based Skoda-Inekon consortium that won the public tender with its Astra 70% low-floor streetcar. Unlike the Siemens produced LRT that had connected Downtown Portland with the airport, Astra is a city rail based low-floor vehicle that can negotiate city streets including 90 degrees turns and can share the road with the cars. Many people interchangeably use different names for the systems. LRTs or LRVs are more suitable with their design for longer lines with right-of-ways and gentle turns.
During 2006 Toronto Transit Commission issued a Request For Information (RFI) to several known manufacturers of streetcars around the world and held a preliminary discussion with them. TTC had a number of options. Refurbishing and modernizing old CLRVs or buying new vehicles. What type of vehicles might be most suitable? 70% low-floor vehicles that are preferred by USA cities, or to be swayed by 100% low-floor cars? There is no single answer, which type is better. It all depends on preferences and requirements. Final Request For proposal (RFP) was issued in January 2008 to all builders that have pre-qualified. In fact, the builders had to purchased complete tendering package. The package called for 100% low-floor car and required all builders to submit $1 000 000.00 security payment with their tender envelope. Further, builders had to provide minimum 25% of Canadian content. Although tender was expected to be impartial, to get the best proposal for 100% low-floor vehicle at the best price and to fulfill all Toronto’s unique technical requirements. The existing rail track has wider-gauge, tighter turning radiuses of 11m, steep hills 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.
Political decision of councilors disregarded professional recommendation but changed the amount to 25%, regardless of consequences. The Request For Proposal is a very exhaustive and technical document of many pages, including drawings and other information. The Commission had issued about a dozen of technical amendments to the original RFP documents. The document also talked about preferred supplier, without naming the company. It was clearly understood, who is the preferred supplier. Shocking and embarrassing was the end-of-process, when only one major company submitted the proposal. It was Bombardier. An English upstart company also submitted the proposal, but it was disqualified shortly. Reasons were no reference and tender was not commercially compliant. To explain the meaning of reference is that the company must have its cars in revenue services, anywhere. Transit Authorities are pragmatist buyers and not risk takers. At the end, the Commission ruled Bombardier’s vehicle also technically non-compliant with technical specifications.
Toronto newspaper had a fitting cartoon describing the process and the end. Not exactly flattering but reflected disappointments that we have all felt. Who in the TTC let us down? Was it procurements department, streetcar engineering department or management, including the politician? Somebody must have been responsible. TTC had to reopen process. They approach builders with investigative questions. They wanted to know the reasons for not bidding and their level of interest in the new process. Important was if the builders were able to offer 100% low-floor design. That was the most important since they did not want to 70% low floor offers. Some industry insiders were of the opinion that taking into account Toronto’s unique requirements, only 70% low floor design is suitable.
Minimum of, 25% Canadian content requirement presented another major obstacle for overseas companies. If builder has no established manufacturing base, nor contacts with companies in Ontario, than looking for quick partnership or subcontractors can be a costly adventures. When you can sense the difficulties and see that the process is skewed toward domestic company, why would you participate? Your bid can only provide enough useful information for the Commission to negotiate with preferred supplier from a better position.
New negotiations started with all builders in July 2008. The Commission at this time pre-selected only 3 companies for second negotiation process. The companies were Bombardier, Siemens and to everybody’s surprise, a French company Alstom that was not clearly interested in bidding for Toronto’s transit project. The preselection process was justified on the base of proven reference for 100% low-floor vehicle. In the opinion of TTC, such a reference was most important. Many technically knowledgeable people questioned the validity of such limitation. No manufacturer has produced vehicle yet that could turn radius of 11-metre. It was a new game for everybody. Why close the door to other builders?
The tender called for delivery of 204 streetcars with 24 vehicles to be built and delivered per year. Additional option was for 350 LRVs for Transit City, a project still under consideration. The original budget had the amount of 41.2 Billion that was to be split among 3 funding sources. City, Provincial and Federal Government. Until now, Federal Government has refused to participate in the funding, and the city has to pay 2/3 of the costs. Second tender closed in April 2009, and only two bids were submitted. As announced by the commission, the Canadian based and favored company was the winner. The second builder had bid more that $500 million in excess of Bombardier. The difference was for sure due to difficulties and extra cost associated with fulfilling Canadian content requirements.
It has taken more than 2 years after the tender award for Torontonians to be able to see mockup. Saga of this project is most likely not over yet, since most important testing is yet to be done. Test vehicles are expected during the next year, and nobody is more specific about the dates. One might expect testing to be done before unveiling a mockup.
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.
Politics aside, we hope that the project will come to a successful conclusion. We should see new streetcar coming to the city in few years. Toronto residents and visitors to our city should accept them with great pride and prefer them over cars. There have been some negative comments on the record. I do not believe that they represent the general population. New streetcars in Toronto will have an appeal and that should reflect in higher ridership. Subway lines are currently priority of our city administration. The city need subway lines, but they have to be complemented by streetcars. Both modes will create city-wide transportation. Subways are great for long trips, but streetcars can serve more people on shorter trips with more frequent stops. Transit City project to built new surface rail lines will be resurrected with the next administration.
New low-floor LRVs will come to our cityConsider new alternative to the use of your car. Recycle, re-use and take public transit anywhere!