Our New Streetcar: The TTC Wants To Hear From You! Really! (Update 3)

Updated Dec. 19 at midnight:

At the Dec. 18th TTC meeting, the reports linked below were discussed along with a technical report and appendix from Booz Allen.  Note that these links point to the National Post’s site where they are linked from this article.  As and when the TTC puts them on its own website, I will alter this link to point to the TTC’s copies.

Thanks to Mark Dowling for alerting me to the documents on the Post’s site.

From a friend who attended the meeting, I learned that organized labour made a strong showing arguing for Canadian content and, of course, for the contract to go to Bombardier in Thunder Bay.  Some members of the Commission echoed this position.  I can’t help thinking that they are overplaying their hands on this one.

First off, Bombardier is the only potential bidder with a Canadian rail car manufacturing facility, and this gives them a leg up on costs against any other contender.  Second, the TTC’s decision to opt for a 100% low-floor specification narrows the field of potential suppliers.  At this point, I would be extremely surprised to see more than two bids for this contract, and given the obvious inside track Bombardier has, why Siemens would waste their money bidding against them is a difficult question. 

This gives us the impression of an open proposal call, but there is clear evidence of a desired outcome, and we’re back at the Toronto Rocket subway car order mess all over again.  Light Rail has enough problems in Toronto, not to mention an uphill battle to secure funding from Queen’s Park and Ottawa, without the odour of a predetermined contract.  The last thing we need is for Ottawa to say “you didn’t run the bid properly” as an excuse to back away.

Booz Allen is a major consulting firm for Light Rail projects, among others, and has participated in many studies and designs for new and expanded systems.  The material in their report is drawn from  experience on other systems, and they are vendor-independent.

The information here is no surprise to anyone familiar with the component costs of rapid transit vehicles.  A very large proportion of the new LRVs will be sourced offshore because that’s where components are manufactured.  Half of the cost per car comes from components that are not manufactured in Canada, and this order of LRVs isn’t remotely close to the quantity that would justify anyone setting up a local plant.

Because any 100% low floor car will be based on a European design, the engineering and fabrication work will be done overseas since the expertise and facilities already exist. 

Best case, Booz Allen estimates that 25% of the value of the car order can be provided in Canada, and of this, a goodly chunk is not going to be the work of the folks at Thunder Bay.

If the TTC were to insist on a higher Canadian content, this would effectively lock out every bidder except Bombardier, and even then Toronto would pay a premium to have overseas manufacturing capability duplicated in Canada.  Indeed, if the Can-Con level is set too high, nobody will bid.

Whoever gets this order will be building light rail equipment for the Toronto area for decades.  As I have said before, I have no brief for any would-be supplier, but want only that Toronto gets an excellent car at a good price. 

This contract, plus the Transit City add-ons, will give us Toronto’s streetcar/LRV fleet well into this century.  This is our last chance, after all the years wasted on alternatives, to get LRT right, for it to be a credible form of transit in the GTA.  The last thing we need is a lemon, or “the Edsel of streetcars” as a former TTC Chief General Manager described the CLRVs.

The Request for Proposals will be issued in early 2008.  The next moves are up to the potential bidders and transit’s “funding partners” to prove how serious they are about the future of rail transit in Toronto.

Updated Dec. 18 at 12:30 pm:

The report to be discussed at the Dec. 18 meeting is now online along with its attachment (a 4.2-meg pdf). 

This includes:

  • statistics about the existing system (fully built-out, the Transit City network will raise the proportion of TTC riding carried by some form of LRT/streetcar to a much higher level, over twice today’s streetcar riding) 
  • the timelines for the evolution of the fleet from the current CLRV/ALRV mix to the new cars (some new lines such as Waterfront East and at least one Transit City line will open before the existing fleet is completely replaced)
  • information on the planned scale of the Transit City network (note that the Waterfront East and Kingston Road projects still do not appear as part of the overall plan)
  • a map showing areas of geometric difficulty such as steep grades and tight curves
  • samples (including one rather elderly car) of vehicles worldwide

The original post follows below.

In what has to be one of the least advertised events surrounding the proposed new streetcar purchase, the TTC will hold a meeting for public input.  Here is the press release:

Dec 14, 2007 10:27 ET

TTC to Hold Special Meeting: Tuesday, December 18, 2007

TORONTO, ONTARIO–(Marketwire – Dec. 14, 2007) –

A special meeting of the Toronto Transit Commission will be held Tuesday, December 18, 2007 at 4 p.m.

The purpose of the meeting is to deal with the following matter:

1. Low Floor Light Rail Vehicles – Request for Proposal

The meeting will take place in Committee Room # 2, Toronto City Hall, 100 Queen Street West.

For more information, please contact

Toronto Transit Commission
Marilyn Bolton
Media Relations
(416) 393-3741

Note that this announcement hit the wires mid-way through Friday morning, and the meeting is not listed on the TTC’s website.  With a 4 pm start time, it is just early enough that anyone who wants to speak to the subject must make special work arrangements to do so.

According to an article in today’s National Post, TTC Chair Adam Giambrone says that “this deserves some public debate”.  The first thing about public debate is that you have to tell people it is happening, and then you have to hold the debate when they can attend. 

Why has this suddenly appeared?  Does the TTC want a figleaf to cover its criteria for new cars? 

There are two obvious issues:

  • Should the proposal call specify that only 100% low floor designs are acceptable, or will alternatives be allowed?  Will versions that have mixed floor heights be judged differently from those that do not? Are we (or more accurately, our “funding partners”) prepared to pay a premium for a completely low floor?
  • Should there be a Canadian content requirement, and if so, at what level?  Many components of Toronto transit vehicles are already sourced offshore.  Moreover, the leisurely production rollout makes it hard to understand why anyone would tool up a Canadian facility without significant subsidy incentives for much beyond basic assembly.

If we are going to debate alternatives, this must be done on an informed basis, but the TTC has not made any background material available for review in advance of the meeting.  I have no brief for any model or design, but find it odd that the TTC seeks public input in such an obscure way.

44 thoughts on “Our New Streetcar: The TTC Wants To Hear From You! Really! (Update 3)

  1. That article in Beach Metro contains a beautiful passage: [Councillor Bussin] “brought up the option of splitting the route in two”. The TTC planning chief’s responded that “Splitting the route would only be attempted if it could be proved that it would help improve service – something he didn’t have data on yet.”

    I am very curious how are they going to ever get such data, if they never try to actually split the route. 🙂

    Regarding buses vs streetcars, I can’t imagine how mixed-traffic streetcars can ever become “premium” service compared to mixed-traffic buses. In mixed traffic, buses are inherently more flexible, they can change lanes, bypass another bus with greater load … even detour via side streets if needed.

    Let’s hope that the Transit City LRT lines will be “premium service” compared to buses. This is doable but won’t come for granted (requires good transit priority, comfortable shelters, thoughtful spacing of stops etc). Good that TTC is now attempting to look at the “old” streetcars lines seriously, perhaps they will design some good business practices. Otherwise, they could screw even the future LRT service, despite its right-of-way advantage.


  2. To follow up on the comments on headway management, I had the pleasure of making several short trips in the Beach in the late morning and early to mid -afternoon on the 24th when I was doing some last-minute Christmas shopping. I really have to hand it to the TTC; the service was great. I made at least 4 to 6 trips, and on all of them the streetcar was either right there or there within a few minutes. Further, when looking through store windows or walking it looked like service was actually pretty regular in both directions. Ran into a short turn at Kingston Road, but the service was good enough that it didn’t make a big difference. No standing around fuming, wondering whether one would arrive in two or 30 minutes; it felt like you could rely on the expectation that one would be around within 4 to 5 minutes, just like you would on the subway.

    Since moving from an apartment on Queen a year or two ago, I don’t see the Queen car as regularly anymore to tell whether this is actually representative of typical operations since the new new headway management policy was implemented, but I’m hoping this was a result of the new policy and not just an isolated incident or Christmas miracle. Whatever it was, keep it up… and start transferring it to other frequent surface routes!


  3. When the 52 foot long Large Witt streetcars ran on Yonge Street, they pulled trailers that increased the capacity and length to… ?

    Does anyone know what the length of the trailers that were pulled by the Large Witt streetcars on Yonge Street? It seems that the Witt trains also had a driver and two conductors, one in the Large Witt and one in the trailer. How does this compare with the future LRT vehicles we are to be getting?

    Steve: I believe that the trailers were the same length as a small Witt, about 48 feet. This makes a Witt train roughly 100 feet long, or about 10 feet longer than one of the proposed new cars. Capacity is hard to compare because these cars were set up optimally for standees, and the TTC really packed folks in given the loads. The current CLRV/ALRV fleet has all forward facing seats (no perimeter seating as in the Witts), and people tend not to want to be as tightly packed.

    When the large Witts ran with pay-as-you-pass fare collection, there was a conductor at the centre door. The entire front half of the car was the “unpaid area” and you paid when you went past the conductor either to get to the rear half or to get off. This allowed cars to swallow large crowds at stops without any holdups to handle fare transactions. We will get this benefit back with all-door loading and self-service fares on the new cars.


  4. Hi Steve:

    I represent one of the potential bidders for streetcar replacement program in Toronto, Inekon Trams Company of Czech Republic. Inekon introduced the first Low-floor streetcar in North America in Portland, Oregon on July 20, 2001.

    I read your Web site with interest since you really have insight, however I am trying to get some information and clarification on meeting of December 18. 2007. I read the official TTC PDF files as well as [the] Booz Allen report, however I could not find any information about alleged 100% low-floor requirement by TTC. In your latest report on your Web site you have mentioned it.

    I know that TTC have always talked about it, but I am not sure, if they still insist on this in spite of other opinions about it. I talked to our service people in Seattle last December about it, since we supplied the first streetcar line in Seattle, with Grand Opening on December 12, 2007. So I would appreciate any additional information about this that you might have. Well, we are bidders, but sometimes we have to look for infos on the street as well.

    Mike Koplas

    Steve: Please see my previous post on this issue in which I quote from a letter sent to all known interested bidders by the TTC in October. I am surprised that you don’t have this aready.


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