TTC Budget Update: New Streetcars vs Old

The issue of any new projects at the TTC is bound up in questions of provincial and federal funding right now, but at least one logjam is out of the way.

It turns out that one reason the Budget Advisory Committee was holding down the proposed order for new streetcars versus the rebuilding of all 196 old CLRVs is this:  Siemens, the supplier of the new electronics packages for the CLRVs, was not guaranteeing their price for an extended order (from 100 to 196) beyond this summer.  In effect, the TTC had to commit to the 196 cars now in order to get the current price.

Someone at Siemens woke up recently to the fact that they have no hope of bidding on a new streetcar order if they put Council and the TTC’s feet to the fire to commit to a 196-CLRV rebuild now.  Siemens wrote a letter extending the firm price to March 2007 which was considered at Policy & Finance Committee yesterday (the same day as the TTC meeting). This mollified the budget hawks who will now let the whole question go forward as part of the 2007 budget process.

Of course, if no additional money shows up from somewhere, we are not going to commit to any new projects, let alone have money to deal with stuff that’s already on the books.  TTC officials are meeting with folks from Queen’s Park tomorrow (Friday) to discuss this issue.

There is a much larger issue of the City’s capital budget problems generally.  If you want a really long read, you can look at the report on the City’s website here.  The fundamental issue is that on a broad basis the City is taking in far less revenue than is needed to fund the capital budget, and the TTC accounts for over half of this problem.  Unless there are major changes in City and especially transit funding, the TTC as we know it will collapse.

[Warning:  if you are going to print this, stop at around page 48 because the rest is mostly blank pages.  Starting on page 80, there is a copy of an old report about the St. Clair project.]

3 thoughts on “TTC Budget Update: New Streetcars vs Old

  1. What exactly is the role of the BAC with respect to the TTC?  (The TTC has a legal status unlike other city departments.)

    Steve:  Since all TTC capital expenditures and a healthy chunk of the operating budget come from City finds, the Budget Advisory Committee has to approve all budget plans.  However, the net effect is that they get to not only second guess the TTC (and any other agency) but to make changes in the proposed plans.  Frankly, I feel that this undermines a lot of the pro transit work the TTC might do.

    If there is difficulty in funding the city’s capital budget requirements then the City Council may have to ration capital spending.  (You mentioned the consequences for the TTC.)  If there are funds available for various TTC projects then why is the BAC meddling?

    Steve:  There are not funds identified to cover the TTC and the City shortfall.  That’s the problem.  We were short going into the 2006 budget cycle, shorter after the Provincial budget announcement in March, and even shorter again when items like the new streetcars (which never seemed to make it into the official budget as a line item) were included.  Between cutbacks from our fuinding “partner” and the fact that major projects appear out of nowhere (from a budgeting point of view) and therefore are not taken into account by budget planners, we have a very big problem.

    If they want to meddle, how about trying to get the money that is being held for the Spadina Subway extension released?  If the ciy is facing a capital funding shortfall now, how can anyone expect them to come with anything to contribute towards the line’s construction?

    Steve:  Aha!  You’re not supposed to ask questions like that.  The Spadina Subway will bring prosperity to our fair land and save York University, at last, from its subway envy of the U of T.  What it will not do is provide good transit service throughout the GTA.  The frustration with this whole process is that a project like Spadina stays on the books in the face of overwhelming evidence that it does not rank highly in our true priorities, no discussion of alternatives is entertained, and meanwhile the rest of the system can just rot for all anyone seems to care.  Don’t forget, by the way, that the lion’s share of the subway’s cost is to be paid by Queen’s Park and Ottawa, and they won’t give us that money to spend on buses in Scarborough, even though they would do far more good for the system and for the city.

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  2. Do the politicians use the street cars in Toronto?  Rebuilding the CLRVs and ALRVs is simply not an option.  Torontonians are stuggling to use their street car network.  On a brief trip on the Spadina street car, I witnessed senior citizens struggling to climb three steps of stairs just to board a street bar.  The center pole on the front entrance means it takes 3 people to move a baby stroller.  Is this what a world class city uses?  Toronto needs new street cars or trams now.

    Steve:  Back in the 70s when the CLRVs were in the prototype stage, I remember looking at one of them at Hillcrest Shops.  The entrance arrangement was deliberately set up to force passengers to file past the operator in one line (defeating the benefit of the wide door) because otherwise, it was claimed, they would cheat on their fares.  The pole and entrance barrier we have today is, believe it or not, an improvement on the original scheme.

    I really question the decision for city council to look at purchasing street cars from Siemens?  What happen to patriotism and economical development?  People would be outraged if the police purchased cruisers from Toyota instead of the Big 3.  Bombardier must win the contract for all of Toronto’s transit needs.

    Steve:  It’s always amazing to watch how economic interests ebb and flow.  These days, with the foreign makers setting up plants in Ontario thanks to government grants, the “Big 3” aren’t so big any more in Ontario’s economy.  If Bombardier only had a plant in Quebec, not in Ontario, we wouldn’t hear a word about helping to keep their plant open.  So much for national unity.

    Mr. Munro, I am always pondering about your advocacy for a light rail network in Toronto.  I agree that $2 billion will probably lay at least 70 km of light rail lines or probably purchase 2000 buses.  These new purchases would be rendered useless if traffic jams paralyze every part of the city.

    Shouldn’t a trunk line be built so that a light rail network can branch off from it?  A trunk line does not mean subways.  It could be ICTS operating isolated from traffic or monorails.  Both cost significantly less than subways, yet it move people between nodes fast.

    Steve:  We’re both thinking along the same lines, but we differ in where to make the break between the “trunk” routes and the rest of the system.  My position is that we already have a set of trunk lines called the subway, and further expansion will generally be a waste of money and will allow us to defer the point where we say “no more”.  I do not agree that ICTS [the RT technology] or monorails are an answer especially if they follow major streets.  The impact on neighbourhoods and the complexity of stations is huge, and the cost is still higher than LRT.  As an aside, the only reason the Scarborough RT renovation with ICTS is cheaper than LRT is that LRT requires replacement of some existing infrastructure.  If we want to extend the line, LRT is the cheapest alternative.

    If you really want to spread the money around, why don’t you advocate for a Guided Light Transit (GLT) system from Bombardier?  It is essentially a rubber tire tram as Bombardier calls it.  It requires even less infrustructure cost than a Flexity vehicle would require.  A $2 billion investment could probably create a 100 km GLT system in Toronto.

    Steve:  GLT is basically a guided bus, and it has capacity limitations putting it well below the capability of LRT.  If it is going to operate at any point in mixed traffic (e.g. at a grade crossing, or in an area where segregated operation is impractical), it still has to revert to native “bus” mode with a driver, and is subject to all of the same capacity limitations.  GLT is, putting it mildly, not widely implemented.

    While I may seem to beat the same drum for LRT a lot, my big concern is that people advocate every other marginal technology (and, yes, ICTS and GLT and monorails are marginal technologies) rather than addressing the possibilities of LRT head-on.  We have had 30 years watching the rest of the world build LRT networks while we dithered and built almost nothing.  Transit expansion in the suburbs is largely given over to cars.  All this because the TTC and the politicians were more interested in building subways at huge cost than in building a transit network.

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  3. A few questions about streetcars…

    How often does one street (Spadina or Queen, take your pick) have to be closed for streetcar related repairs? How long do these closures affect these streets and at what cost?

    Steve: This should occur about once every 20-25 years. However, we are still catching up on replacing very bad track that was installed in the 1980s and early 90s. The last pieces to be done are Dundas (this year), Bathurst/Fleet (2007/8) and St. Clair (2007/8). After that the TTC moves on to various pieces of non-revenue trackage that have not been rebuilt for a very long time. This will put the whole system in first class shape by about 2010/2011.

    Also, how much would it cost to ditch the cars and replace them with electric buses using the existing infastructure?

    Any cold hard facts would be appreciated…

    Thank you.

    Steve: The problem with moving to electric buses is the number of vehicles that will be needed to carry predicted demands in the next few decades. Streetcar service today is about 1/3 lower than it was in 1990, and once we start to buy more cars, we should see a return to substantially more capacity on these routes.

    Actual cost comparisons get tricky because you have to look at individual route characteristics, but the basic point is that anticipated riding on the streetcar system (and the future suburban LRT system) exceeds that which can be handled by buses. Obviously electric buses would use the existing power distribution system (supplemented by the second negative ground return wire), but would not use the tracks in which we have just finished investing millions to rebuild the network to modern standards.

    Well designed and maintained streetcars can last for 50 years. The only reason we are getting rid of the existing fleet before its time is to convert to low-floor operation.

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