Updated April 25, 9:30 am. I have added material from the media briefing and the staff report that I did not have time to incorporate in the original article. The additional material is appended below after the break.
On April 24, the TTC announced that Bombardier has won the competition for an order for 204 new low floor streetcars for Toronto. The staff recommendation will go to the Commission itself for approval on Monday, April 27.
Both Bombardier and Siemens bid on this tender, and the proposals from both vendors were considered to be compliant both on technical and financial grounds. Therefore the question came down to cost and with Siemens’ bid over 50% higher than Bombardier’s, there was no question about the winner.
The vehicles will be a modified version of the Flexity car with three powered two-axle trucks and five car sections. Bombardier has not yet updated their site with information about the vehicles (as of 2:00 pm EDT April 24). An illustration of the proposed car is in the Toronto Star’s article posted earlier today.
Although not guaranteed, this contract places Bombardier at the front of the line for supplying cars to the much larger Transit City system, especially if that builds out to anything near its full extent. The contract includes provision for add-on orders, but the TTC will be negotiating their price separately as the Transit City cars will have significant differences affecting their cost:
- Transit City will be built to specifications that allow off-the-shelf cars to operate on it — no tight curves or steep grades.
- The TC cars will be double-ended and double-sided.
- The TC cars will likely have only two powered trucks rather than three.
Subject to funding, a process still under negotiation with the Federal and Provincial governments, the first prototypes would arrive in Toronto in mid-to-late 2011 for non-revenue testing. Production deliveries would start in 2012 and stretch out to 2018 by which time the last of the existing CLRV and ALRV fleets would have been retired. A new carhouse, likely in the Port Lands, will be required to house this fleet while the older cars would run from Russell and Roncesvalles.
Postscript: I cannot help mentioning that the illustration of the new car shows a vehicle facing westbound on Queen at Bay signed “Neville”.
Updated April 25:
Bombardier has a website nominally showcasing the Toronto cars, but this is left over from a previous marketing campaign and does not show the Toronto design. However, there’s a nice photo gallery.
The total recommended $1.286-billion cost of the order for 204 LRVs comprises several items:
- The base price of $993-million (Canadian dollars, 2009) including all taxes.
- Escalation provision of $145-million based on a formula described in the staff report. In brief, this allows costs to rise at 85% of the rate of inflation as measured by various standard indices. The allowance here is priced on the assumption of a prevailing 3.5% per year over ten years.
- Foreign currency adjustment provision of $17-million. This will be a one-time adjustment based on prevailing currency rates at the date the contract is finalized. If the Canadian dollar appreciates in the interim, this will be to the TTC’s favour.
- Spare parts at $14-million.
- “Specified options” — add-ons to the cars requested for pricing by the TTC but not included in the base configuration — $67-million. These items were not listed, and we don’t know which of these might be included in the final version.
- Potential contract changes — $50-million. Nothing specific is proposed at this time, but this is a 5% provision relative to the base price.
There will be a $56.9-million offset to the total price due to the GST rebate payable to municipal agencies. This value may rise depending on the terms of the proposed harmonization of Ontario’s sales tax with the federal GST.
The question of per-car cost relative to industry norms came up a few times. Direct comparisons are tricky because of local conditions (special options, size of order), but the TTC stated that this contact fell in roughly in the 75th percentile of car costs. In other words, about 3/4 of the orders currently are lower while 1/4 are higher. This position will likely change for the Transit City fleet (see below) which is not a special configuration.
Compared with a “standard” Flexity model, the car has:
- A reconfigured front section with the single door relocated behind the truck
- The second and fourth sections have one double door each rather than two doors
These changes are triggered both by the car length and the truck placement necessary to provide proper dynamics. All trucks are powered to handle the grades on the Toronto system including situations where a disabled car needs to be pushed uphill (for example out of an underground station where the approach ramps are between 6% and 8% grades.
The cars will have 62 seats, comparable to an ALRV but spread over a longer vehicle. Specs for the existing and future fleets are:
- CLRV: 15.4m long, 130 crush load, 74 service design load
- ALRV: 22.3m long, 205 crush load, 108 service design load
- Flexity: 28.2m long, 260 crush load
I believe that TTC engineering is overstating the capacity of these cars by analogy to the ALRVs shown above. Note the difference in ratios between the design loads (used by Service Planning) and the crush loads (used by engineering to calculate the maximum axle load of the cars). My guess is that a service design load of 150 would be in the likely range given the car’s size. However, all door loading may, by improving passenger distribution, allow the TTC to achieve a higher design load without sacrificing rider comfort. We shall see once the cars are on the street.
In his remarks, Chair Adam Giambrone pointed out that with the expected demand on this fleet, the TTC would get back to the level of streetcar ridership seen in 1928. This is a bit of a stretch considering that the 1928 was much, much larger than the capacity of the Flexity “city” fleet. I suspect he has included some or all of the Transit City capacity and demand in that statement.
The TTC claims that they will not double the existing headways, but will take a balance between capacity, demand and the attractiveness of service. This will require close monitoring to ensure that the destruction of ridership seen on Queen thanks to headway widening and poor service management is not replicated system-wide.
The TTC does not have committed funding yet from Queen’s Park or Ottawa, but they are in active discussions with both levels of government regarding this. There will likely be an up front payment at contract signing (common in transit equipment orders, and the balance will be spread over the deliveries in 2011-2018. This means that the total subsidy from any government will stretch out through many budget years and election cycles.
Toronto and the TTC have made it clear to both governments that funding for this new car order is the “number one ask” for stimulus fund. However, projects that will receive Federal stimulus spending are supposed to be completed within two years, a requirement that challenges provincial and municipal governments across Canada for projects far less complex than an LRV purchase. Which envelope, if any, Ottawa uses to fund this project remains to be seen. Changing the rules for the stimulus program would open up complaints of special treatment for a large Toronto project, and it would push “stimulus” spending well beyond the fiscal periods when it is supposed to generate employment.
The bids are valid until June 27, 2009, and the contract will not be awarded without funding guarantees in place. This process often can be tedious as each government waits to see whether someone else will bring more money to the table, or what offsets might be available in other projects. The TTC needs to have a “Plan B” in place is some, but not all, of the funding is announced by June 27. This could involve placing a partial order with more to follow once the funding is worked out.
Funding is already in place for some of the Transit City fleet as well as for the small additions needed to operate the eastern waterfront services. This money and those projects cannot go anywhere without a base order of cars for the existing system.
The bid called for a minimum of 25% Canadian content, but the degree to which this might be exceeded was not included in the requirement. Therefore, we don’t know if the actual values are higher for either bidder.
The TTC plans to negotiate with Bombardier to study increasing the percentage. If this has a cost implication, the funding agencies will have to decide whether they want to pump more money into the order to increase the local benefits.
Delivery and Commissioning
The first three prototypes will arrive in mid to late 2011 (the date depends on who you talk to). This is roughly a year later than originally planned due to the delays in concluding the tender process.
The prototypes will be extensively tested in non-revenue operation, mainly at night, to ensure that they can operate on the Toronto track geometry. Production deliveries will begin in 2012 stretching to 2018. During that time, the CLRV and ALRV fleets would be gradually retired although, clearly, the rate of retirement can be adjusted to match the ongoing demand for streetcar service much as the PCC fleet backstopped the new CLRV fleet three decades ago.
The original rebuilding plan for the CLRVs would have included replacement of the electronics among other subsystems, but the cost of this work could not be recovered over a long enough time, given the need for the system to be accessible by 2021. Therefore, buying new cars is cost-effective. Under different circumstances, a mixed fleet might have lasted longer.
A few cars from the existing fleet will be retained for historical purposes, but I doubt they will engender the same warm, fuzzy feelings of the PCCs or Peter Witts. They will also be devilishly hard to maintain given that their control systems use expensive, hard-to-source technology once the cars reach “heritage” status.
A new carhouse is planned for the Port Lands on a site yet to be selected, and it will be connected to the existing system via Leslie Street from Queen. This fits in with the overall plan for eastern waterfront transit service, but does not make the new carhouse conditional on completion of the western access via Cherry and Queen’s Quay. The budget for the new carhouse is $345-million.
Roncesvalles and Russell will remain active for the CLRV and ALRV fleets. Modifying them to handle Flexity cars would improse a requirement to bring old buildings up to modern codes, and this would have to occur concurrently with day-to-day operations. The maintenance requirements for Flexities are completely different because of their low-floor configuration, and the longer cars would affect track layouts in some parts of the existing yards. The eventual fate of the old carhouses is unknown, although there is probably a case for building a yard on the Roncesvalles site to handle west end operations. Any decision on this is years away.
There is no specific plan yet for assiging new cars to existing routes. One could argue that they should go first to routes with exclusive rights-of-way like St. Clair, Spadina and Harbourfront, and mixed operation of new and old fleets could produce serious problems with uneven loading and inconsistent fare collection procedures. However, an argument can also be made for very busy routes like King where streetcar congestion is becoming a real problem and a barrier to running more service even if we have the cars.
The TTC and the City must also address transit priority issues on the mixed traffic routes. This issue has dragged on for years with little action. Ridership growth is hampered by poor and unreliable service, and part of that arises from missing or inconsistently applied “priority” signals on transit routes.
Implementation of the Flexity fleet requires the TTC to move fully to proof-of-payment for its streetcar system. Moreover, the option of paying a fare to the operator will vanish, and some substitute must be found.
At this point, the TTC seems to be hedging its bets on smart cards due to the high projected cost of implementing Presto! system-wide. One option mooted by Chief General Manager Gary Webster was to use fareboxes within the car that would issue receipts for tickets, tokens and cash. This sounds like a recipe for confusion, not to mention the inevitable mechanical problems and complaints this will generate from passengers who are unable to pay a fare.
The TTC will also have to get serious about roving fare inspections at all hours of service.
Transit City Fleet
Within a year, the TTC must place its first order for Transit City equipment in order that it will be available for start of service on Sheppard in 2012 and Finch a year later. The contract provides an option for additional cars, but these will be more or less “off the shelf” designs because Transit City will be engineered to match the capabilities and constraints of industry-standard vehicles. They will likely have only two of three trucks powered, and will not be required to handle tight curves like the “legacy” network’s fleet.
The Waterfront West line, should it ever be built, will not be able to use Transit City cars because it will operate over a great deal of existing trackage.
The TTC will negotiate with Bombardier for a price on such cars, but if they cannot secure acceptable terms, then the order could go to tender. Whether anyone else will bid is another question, but that’s the plan.
Intriguingly, everyone at the media briefing spoke of Eglinton as part of the Transit City LRT network and it is clear that the TTC expects to build it that way, not as a so-called extension of the Scarborough RT. At this point, nothing has been announced on either the Eglinton or “RT” line’s technology.