TTC To Discuss New Streetcars with Three Builders (Update 1)

Updated August 29:

At the Commission meeting on August 27, various deputations spoke to the issue of the streetcar contract.  I am not going to attempt to reproduce their presentations and, in some cases, the extensive Q&A sessions that followed, but will give an overview.

The TTC has not yet posted the staff presentation on their website.  If it has not appeared by this evening, I will scan and post my copy along with comments in a second update.

Mario Péloquin spoke for Siemens Canada with a brief presentation.  Siemens, for internal reasons related to their corporate reorganization, had chosen not to bid but is now interested in the streetcar contract.  Péloquin was slightly apologetic for Siemens’ not having emphasized their long-standing presence in Canada and Ontario.  Obviously this is not as a rail car builder, but in the many other aspects of Siemens operations.

An Alstom representative, who did not expect to be called on, and who has only about half a year’s experience with the company, spoke briefly indicating his company’s interest in the contract.  It would be useful if Alstom can find someone with more depth and credibility the next time they show up.

Skoda was not present, and TTC CGM Gary Webster said that because they chose not to respond after the RFP cancellation, they are no longer at the table.   Whether Skoda accepts this situation remains to be seen.

Representatives of the Toronto Labour Council and of the Canadian Auto Workers (who represent the Bombardier Thunder Bay plant) spoke of the importance of Canadian content in any contract.  This is a difficult issue because so many subsystems for rapid transit cars are built offshore, and even the carbodies would likely be fabricated in existing foreign plants and shipped to Canada for final assembly.

The TTC and Ontario already have a 25% Canadian content rule, and the Commission passed a motion indicating that they would like prospective builders to work toward a higher goal of 50% if this contract progresses to include the 350 cars needed for Transit City.  A proposal to ask for sliding scale bids based on various levels of Canadian content was not adopted.

Bombardier’s representative, Mike Hardt, spoke about his company’s unhappiness with the process.  Bombardier feels that their bid was disqualified on a technical ground that was not justified, and they are concerned about now being placed in a different, unstructured bidding situation.  Bombardier claims that the mismatch between their cars and the TTC’s existing track system can be remedied by $10.4-million worth of work, but it is unclear of the time period this would cover nor the validity of the estimate. 

The work would involve grinding and filling track mainly at intersections to fit the Bombardier equipment’s wheel profile.  The TTC disputes this scheme and is concerned, legitimately I believe, that this would impose an ongoing requirement to maintain all track to a special standard to avoid safety problems with the new cars.  Ironically, Hardt also stated a few times during the Q&A that Bombardier could meet the TTC spec if they had to, but disputes the requirement.  The positions are contradictory:  either Bombardier could bid a car that met the spec, or they have strong objections to doing so and prefer that the TTC adapt their infrastructure.

Hardt said that if Bombardier’s cars wouldn’t work on the TTC system after delivery, they would be repaired at the vendor’s cost.  Commissioner Perruzza told Hardt to put that in writing.  However, we already know that Bombardier’s idea of “working” includes having the TTC make track changes, and there would doubtless be endless wrangling over whether a derailment was the TTC’s or Bombardier’s fault.  It’s easy to claim you will pay to fix something when you have an escape clause of blaming the client.

Most striking about Hardt’s deputation was the arrogance he displayed toward the TTC.  I was fascinated to watch the faces as one Commissioner after another could not believe the way they were being treated.  If I had presented a deputation half as contemptuous of staff, I would have been at best given my five minutes and at worst told to shut up and sit down.  Even Commissioners of a left-wing bent who support the Thunder Bay workers were driven to far more aggressive questioning than Hardt might otherwise have received.  He did Bombardier and its workers no favours and has likely alienated the very “friends at court” Bombardier might need if the debate comes down to a close decision between proponents.

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