Who Will Pay for New Streetcars?

A great deal of bilge was pumped out by Ottawa and Queen’s Park over the past few days about the TTC’s proposed order of new streetcars from Bombardier.

In today’s Globe & Mail, John Barber did a particularly nice job of eviscerating George Smitherman, the Minister of Infrastructure, for his apparent total ignorance of the TTC’s funding needs and requests.

It’s no secret that the TTC is looking for new streetcars.  The original bid process had to be halted when no vendor came up with a technically and commercially compliant proposal, and more recently the whole process of getting a second set of bids has been well covered in the media.

Many of us will remember walking through Bombardier’s mockup display at Dundas Square which happens to be in Smitherman’s riding.  Maybe he was out of town at the time and missed it.

Smitherman claims that the City can’t make up its mind what its priorities are.  Strange that in a letter to Dalton McGuinty, copied to Smitherman, dated December 16, 2008, Mayor Miller wrote of upcoming meetings of Finance and First Ministers:

Toronto’s first priority for infrastructure is to build Transit City, the 21st century modern public transit network that our city needs.  The Government of Ontario has demonstrated foresight and leadership in its support for Transit City.  Toronto City Council has unanimously agreed to request the Government of Canada to provide:

  • $368 million toward the streetcar fleet’s replacement and expansion; and
  • the federal $6 billion share of Ontario’s $17.5 billion Move Ontario 2020 commitment for the Metrolinx Regional Transportation Plan.

The streetcar fleet replacement also shows up in the list of funding requests under the stimulus program by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Other related letters to both Queen’s Park and Ottawa can be found on the City’s website.

Meanwhile, Smitherman’s comment that the TTC shouldn’t be awarding a contract without knowing funding is in place shows that he is badly out of touch.  First off, the TTC has not signed the contract, and its execution is dependent on funding being in place.

Second, there is a long history of agencies such as Metrolinx (a provincial body) announcing plans for which they have no funding, and for which even discussion of proper funding won’t happen for years into the future.  There are two subway extensions (Spadina/Vaughan and Richmond Hill) of which the first was not fully funded until long after the project was announced, and the second still does not have full commitments.

That’s how projects like this work.

The streetcar purchase will run over a 10-year period, and funding it can hardly be called a short-term stimulus.  Funding would likely come from some other program, but the funding should come.  Toronto is asking, in effect, for $40-million a year from Ottawa and from Queen’s Park to re-equip the core of central Toronto’s transit system and to anchor the expansion of LRT in our city.

27 thoughts on “Who Will Pay for New Streetcars?

  1. You might want to link to the CFM document. The replacement streetcars are # 392.

    Steve: Done in the main post. Thanks for the link.

    I’m off to Europe for 3+ weeks – no doubt it will still be up in the air when I return.


  2. If Bombardier proposed to build sports cars, McGuinty and Smitherman would have someone writing a cheque five minutes later.

    Steve: No, they have to threaten bankruptcy, and build cars nobody wants to buy, then they would get the cheque.


  3. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like Province is still trying to get (ART/ALRT/ICTS) technology along the Eglinton LRT. Even the the Journalist of the Globe & Mail seems to give a hint of this at the end of the article.


  4. I have always been saying let’s put VLTs in Toronto. After that, we should get our own gaming facilties. Why depend on the province for funding when gaming can easily provide $1 billion per year to transit while providing positive spinoffs to the Toronto economy. If lotteries can build the Great Wall of China and Imperial Rome, why not here?

    On a side note, I will write a letter to Mr. McGuinty. Bombardier must be supported at all cost until the end of time. Whether it is prodicing ICTS or trams or metros, Bombardier is the bedrock of the Canadian economy. We cannot loose any more manufacturing capability in this province. Daimler Chrsyler has just declared bankruptcy, Delphi will be next.


  5. Considering Smitherman’s mooted political ambitions in Toronto, he’s playing a seriously stupid game. Pretending not to know this was on the table and scolding his constituents is not going to endear him to many.

    McGuinty I can believe is playing to the non-Toronto base in Ontario, considering the ‘bad optics’ of spending more on Toronto on the heels of the $9B Transit City announcements a couple weeks back. He can pretend he is unwilling forced to bail out the city from its folly of ‘signing’ a contract when the money wasn’t yet in a trust fund, all while giving us wayward spendthrift a good tongue lashing in front of the cameras. And this with an election still 17 months away and no effective opposition… as of faux politicking is that necessary.


  6. The McGuinty government wants to step in it like this? Not a very politically astute move considering the jobs implication in the current economic climate and pissing people off in both Toronto and Thunder Bay. I wonder if the griping has more to do with the fact that the TTC and city of Toronto made the big, splashy announcement to select Bombardier as the vendor, causing the poor provincial politicians to miss out on a photo op?


  7. yeah, I was wondering if there was some ICTS snag to all this. “Oh no, we can’t possibly fund these new streetcars *and* fund a whole grade-separated Eglinton line…”

    Or maybe it’s just to make the pill of spending all that cash on Toronto go down easier in the rest of the province once they finally OK the one third funding.


  8. Honestly, when I read that Globe and Mail article today, I really wanted to find a way to get others to read it because it really frustrated me that this kind of thing just cannot be avoided in our government. Why can’t we just do something right and without playing little tricks and games like this? It’s ridiculous, and really embarrassing.


  9. I’m no fan of Barber – and I’ve never quite figured out how someone whose perspective rarely covers something that is not related to central Toronto or Muskoka is labelled as one of the G&M’s ‘national’ columnists. However, he’s right about Smitherman in this case.


  10. This stupidity has made me decide NOT to join the provincial liberals. Clearly they do not give a flying **** about Toronto and its citizens (unless, of course, you own a car).


  11. Of course the province should be funding these streetcars — one reason not mentioned here is that it’s the province’s own (long-overdue) accessibility regulations that require full replacement of the CLRV/ALRV fleet.

    But Bombardier is not the bedrock of the Canadian economy (it’s the 18th-largest company in Canada, according to the FP500) and Benny’s suggestion that “Bombardier must be supported at all cost until the end of time” is patently absurd. Imagine if the Ontario government had taken that position with Nortel, or the Texas government with Enron. Those companies were doomed to failure through their own mismanagement, and the government has much more important things to spend public money on than propping them up. Bombardier, thankfully, is in much better shape, and as long as it continues to win competitively-bid contracts, it’ll be fine. But keeping it that way is the responsibility of Bombardier’s management, not the government of Ontario.

    Imperial Rome didn’t work out so well either.


  12. I really wish that the Sun (and I Star and Post) stories that reported Smithy and Dalty’s lame lines had given the mere modicum of perspective that Barber’s column had. Granted, they didn’t need to venture a scolding or anything like that, but it’s sort of irresponsible to report their comments without mentioning that (1) it’s terribly unlikely they were caught off-guard and (2) that’s how these contracts work!


  13. My biggest question is why is the Province or Metrolinx is pushing ICTS/ART? It can’t just be Bombardier a Canadian company, seeing that Bombardier will be making the LRT’s for Transit City and building replacements for the CLRV/ALRT fleet.

    Steve: Ah yes, but an ART line could be farmed out to Bombardier or some other entity as a 3P thereby taking it off of the province’s books and handing Bombardier a potentially lucrative contract.


  14. Minister Smitherman’s comments are perplexing indeed. I wonder if they are related, in some deep way, to Metrolinx’s new powers, per Bill 163, to own and operate “prescribed transportation systems”. A prescribed system can be any transportation system in the regional area, whether proposed or existing.

    And 16 (2) allows Metrolinx to enter into commercial arrangements for designing, developing, constructing, maintaining or operating of any prescribed system.

    Perhaps there is a long term plan for Metrolinx to own some of the existing TTC lines, and then operate them as P3, in the interests of saving short term money. This would require major contract amendments to the Bombardier contract.

    Steve: The only problem with this theory is that the only TTC line Metrolinx has designs on is Eglinton, and that’s not part of the current order.


  15. How many Canadian companies can we name that export manufactured products to the world? Not many. Blackberries are not made in Canada. The Toyota, GM, Honda and Daimler Chrsyler plants are mere subsidiaries of foreign companies.

    I remember that back in the 1950s, shares of GM were as good as gold. People would leave GM shares to their offsprings so that they can have a piece of the “good times”. If GM shares do not perform well then the US economy would not do well.

    As a Canadian, I want Bombardier to do well. They pay taxes to the local communities, province and the federal government. Why do you think the OPP switch their cruisers to Chevrolet Tahoes? To support Canadian jobs.


  16. This is all politics. Senior governments tend to think that anything that does not actually involve pouring concrete is not “capital”, in as much as it doesn’t provide the ribbon cutting opportunities their politicians so enjoy. This purchase isn’t like buying some buses now and then (which municipalities could reasonably be expected to do); it is replacing an entire fleet of rail based transit vehicles with new technology, as part of a much broader plan. Major streetcar procurements in Toronto have been generational, only done every 30-40 years, and certainly these days they can’t be bought off the shelf, and therefore not cheaply. I am pretty sure that McGuinty and Smitherman will cave here – what is the realistic option? The existing fleet doesn’t have much life left in it – are we to have the same early 70s debate over whether to run streetcars at all? – how absurd!


  17. There was another great article on this subject today in the Sun, of all places.

    Don’t worry, we all know McGuinty & co. will come through once they’re done shooting themselves in the foot.


  18. There is another reason for the province to help pay. In addition to the province’s own accessibility regulations requiring full replacement of buses and streetcars, the province must pay to provide a means for drinkers to get home from the bar. Otherwise, they will have to get into their cars and risk getting caught with more than .5 alcohol in their breath, and lose their license for 3, 7, or 30 days.

    As well, the law requiring a zero blood alcohol concentration level for all drivers 21 years of age and younger, requires the province to provide a means to get home for them as well.

    So Ontario, pay up for the streetcars because of your own rules.


  19. I think it would be fun to start brainstorming ways for Miller to “protest” if Ontario doesn’t pony up the money … Subways skipping Queen’s Park Station during rush hour would be a good start … maybe creating a bus route from 10am-4pm on weekdays that goes around the Queen’s Park traffic circle but never anywhere else (with frequent honking and as many busses and can be mustered).

    Steve: Alas, that station is used by far more students and visitors to the area’s hospitals than it is by politicians. Queen’s Park wouldn’t even notice. Well, their staff might, but not the people who pay the bills (or don’t pay them).

    I think if Smitherman didn’t know about this it would be in the interests of the city council to permit a large billboard to be erected outside Smitherman’s office window at Queen’s Park since apparently he doesn’t read newspapers or pay attention to what’s happening in his own riding.


  20. Why doesnt David Miller (the genious mayor we have here) abolish one of the LRT lines that really isnt need now (ex: Sheppard LRT which i think is being rushed) and use the provinces fund from that for the new streetcars. I know this will probobly never happen because he will take a big hit in his transit city plan but at this rate it looks like its the only way to get funding from the province since the province cant fund every initiative the TTC needs/

    Steve: The Mayor does not have a choice where he spends the provincial money, and at this point we don’t even have the funding for Sheppard either. In any event, Queen’s Park does not give us a blanket dollar amount to spend as we will, but earmarks the funding for specific projects.


  21. ….or to say the least truncate a line….

    Steve: So you would have us build yet another Sheppard Subway with a line that doesn’t go to its proper terminus. Hmmm, let’s see, Eglinton from Don Mills to the Allen should just about do it.


  22. Today’s Star has an editorial in favour of the streetcar purchase, which casually mentions a detail I hadn’t seen reported before: “In behind-the-scenes talks prior to the contract announcement, provincial officials had previously tried to signal their concerns, but city officials either didn’t pick up on those signals or chose to ignore them.”

    Whoops. I think people assumed when the Eglinton line funding was announced that it was just a question of which got announced first, but it’s starting to look more like a question of which project the province considers more important. It’s too bad both sides procrastinated on the tough negotiations to get those priorities in sync.

    Steve: One of the huge problems with Queen’s Park is that one day it wants to make all the decisions itself, the next day it creates a supposedly independent agency to figure out a master plan, then it says “we don’t like what they are doing” and makes an announcement out of thin air that actually amends that plan. The fundamental problem is that Queen’s Park wants to continue funding on a project basis while transit agencies, including Metrolinx and GO, desperately need funding on a predictable revenue stream. Of course, if they get that, then the local agencies, not Queen’s Park or ministers looking for photo ops in their ridings, will get to make the decisions, and we can’t possibly have that sort of behaviour.

    To Toronto’s credit, the city is behaving just like every other level of government. Announce plans, then find funding.


  23. I feel like Toronto has to stop asking for specifics from the provincial and federal government. We become dependent on provincial politicians directing us on what to buy, what the priorities are. Part of being a big city should be being able to decide that ourselves. What would happen if Miller just said we need X Billion dollars for transportation per year, we will not accept it if there are strings attached. We deserve X Billion because we are Y percentage of the population. It seems to me there should be a base amount that the provincial government should be giving the city no strings attached … that’s not to say that everything should be no-strings attached, but some base amount should be given to the city to do with as they see fit. Above that the provincial politicians can have all the photo-ops they want.

    Steve: That is exactly what the one-cent sales tax campaign was all about — getting a dedicated revenue stream for cities everywhere. Alas, that does not play well with politicians at other levels who only want to “tax and spend” on their own pet projects.


  24. Steve:

    “So you would have us build yet another Sheppard Subway with a line that doesn’t go to its proper terminus. Hmmm, let’s see, Eglinton from Don Mills to the Allen should just about do it.”

    Now Steve that line might actually be useful to some people. How about from Don Mills to Kennedy and from Bicknell to the Airport.

    I just got back from the US where I rode the “METROLINK”, the St. Louis area LRT line again. They have two lines for 45 miles of track and 46 stations. One line is 37 mile long and runs from St. Louis Lambert Airport in west St. Louis to Scott Air Force base in Shiloh IL. They run 87 high floor vehicles that are 90 feet long with 4 double doors per side and one low door like Pittsburgh. (I think it is so the operator can get off the train between stations in an emergency.)

    The cars are similar to Pittsburgh and have two powered trucks with 2×275 hp motors driving two axles each; the middle truck is unpowered. They have a very high rate of acceleration and deceleration an top out at 55 mph. St. Louis really knows how to build a high speed interurban, too bad that it is not near places where people live. The trains travel 37 miles in 1h13 for an average speed of 30.4 mph, pretty impressive. Base service is a two car train every 20 minutes on each branch for a combined 10 minute service over the middle 24 or so miles. Rush hour service if 15 minutes on each branch or 7.5 minutes combined.

    Peak hour ridership is 1800 per branch or 3600 total. Daily ridership is between 66 000 an 70 000 or slightly better than the King car’s 57 000. They seem to have a number of bus lines that make connections but the ridership on them was low when I saw them. Their major tourist areas were dead on the weekend. The area has been badly hit by the economy and all of the car plants have closed, permanently.

    They have automated self serve fare system but they will not take debit or credit cards. The stations are unmanned but most have an armed rent-a- cop. His wage is probably just above minimum and [he] does not count as a transit employee. It is illegal to carry a concealed fire arm on the Metrolink but it doesn’t say anything about carrying an assault rifle over your shoulder. The St. Louis Metrolink board serves one city, two counties and two states so I guess that it answers to the ICC. It is an impressive line except that it does not serve population centres. It was built to make use of abandoned or under used rail lines instead of going into areas were you could actually walk to the line. At the few stations were it ran through a neighbourhood or a destination the loading was very good. At other it stations it was desolate. They provide about 3000 parking areas for cars.

    Perhaps all of those who think that every rail line in the GTHA [there appears to be text missing here] should learn a lesson from St. Louis. By the way, they use 750 VDC catenary for power distribution with two single arm pantographs, one over the middle truck which is used and a spare over the truck at the A end. The line is cab signalled with way-side signals only at interlockings. If the operator ignores the audible alarm which sounds like an English siren the car goes into emergency and must come to a complete stop before it can be reset. The operation is done by three foot pedals just like a PCC. Maximum speed seems to be between 55 and 60 mph and the acceleration rate presses you into you seats. An impressive interurban in the wrong location, but it does provide some beautiful views of rail yards and the Mississippi River.


  25. Robert Wightman wrote, “I just got back from the US where I rode the “METROLINK”, the St. Louis area LRT line again.”

    Robert! Did you take any photos? I have not had the chance to get back to St. Louis since the week before the cross-county line opened, and my page on St. Louis is very meager compared to others (see http://lrt.daxack.ca/St.Louis/index.html for a look).

    In addition to what Robert mentions, I would also add that the LRT in St. Louis is a very good example of a low-cost transit option to an airport. A one-way fare is $2.00 (no transfers) or $2.25 for a 2-hour pass, though departing from the airport it is $3.75. It actually takes the same amount of time to reach downtown on the LRT as it does by taxi from the airport.

    It is a good example of using former railway right-of-ways when appropriate. I believe that some similar implementations in the GTHA could be a useful complement to an LRT network.

    My only technical nit-pick about the system is that wherever they have crossovers to enable turn backs, they have installed both a trailing-point crossover and a leading-point crossover (see http://lrt.daxack.ca/St.Louis/hires4.jpg to see what I’m talking about). Some cities do this (Cleveland and Sydney for example) while others use only trailing point crossovers. I have never heard a good reason for this since turn backs can be easily done with only trailing point switches, when leading point switches can have safety issues (think of the stop-and-proceed rules in some situations) when a physical locking device is not used (which makes using the crossover more of a bother). Duplicating the crossover track work certainly adds to the cost with little, if any, benefit.


  26. Calvin Henry-Cotnam Says:
    May 5th, 2009 at 10:45 am

    “My only technical nit-pick about the system is that wherever they have crossovers to enable turn backs, they have installed both a trailing-point crossover and a leading-point crossover … [snip by Steve] Duplicating the crossover track work certainly adds to the cost with little, if any, benefit.”

    I am not positive, but I believe that they do this so that they can run a section of line with single track and this requires both facing and trailing point crossovers.


  27. Robert Wightman wrote, “I am not positive, but I believe that they do this so that they can run a section of line with single track and this requires both facing and trailing point crossovers.”

    That is a good point, and why it escaped me is especially strange as I was in St. Louis during the cross county extension construction. When the connection to the original line was being made, evening operation around Forest Park-DeBaliviere (the west-most shared station just east of the branch) used a single track.

    Given that most, if not all, of the TC network will be encased in concrete, this may be a good idea to allow future track repairs to allow some continued operation, though it may involve reduced head ways over the single-track section. When the track is not encased in concrete, a temporary switch can be put in place, as was done last summer in Oslo on one of their lines: http://lrt.daxack.ca/Oslo/hires085.jpg


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