Updated June 13, 2018 at 10:00 am: The discussion and actions at the Board Meeting are reported at the end of this article.
Streetcar riders in Toronto are a long-suffering bunch. The size of the fleet has not changed since the mid-1990s despite the addition of a new streetcar line on Spadina in 1997 and the Harbourfront extension to Exhibition Loop in 2000. As the fleet wore out, its reliability dropped, and the now 40-year old CLRVs (single section) and 30-year old ALRVs (two section “articulateds”) are showing their age.
The TTC needed new cars some time ago, and the process of ordering the low floor Flexity fleet goes back to 2006. The first attempt, one that might have brought Toronto new cars about the same size as the ALRVs with a mixture of low and high level floors, was called off when the 100% low floor Flexitys (a design originally for Berlin) became available. That delay, combined with foot-dragging by incoming Mayor Rob Ford, and manufacturing incompetence by Bombardier, has left the TTC with a fleet far below its needs, and new cars straggling onto the property at a glacial rate.
During the past 20 years, population and employment downtown has grown far faster than in other parts of Toronto, and the residential density, once on a downward trend as family neighbourhoods gentrified, is growing. This is not confined to the new south-of-King areas, and is pushing north into the territory of other streetcar lines. The rate of growth is also changing. When the TTC ordered 204 Flexitys, these were expected to handle rising demand through 2027. This date has been revised much earlier to 2020
A major issue for the TTC, and for transit advocates in Toronto, has been the problem of “latent demand”. If the fleet stays the same size or declines, service and capacity follows the same path. The original plan for Flexity roll out onto the streetcar lines focused as much on reducing the number of operators required to carry demand little changed from then-current levels. Now, the TTC acknowledges that growth on streetcar lines went unmet for years.
The 1990s were a critical period because Toronto was coming out of a recession during which the TTC had lost 20% of its ridership, but the streetcar fleet, sized to mid-1990s demand, was unable to expand service as the system recovered. Many of the complaints about “bad streetcar service” come directly from the failure to add capacity as the economy rebounded, and then as the population along streetcar lines began to grow.
Much of the residential growth Downtown between 2012 and 2016 took place south of Queen Street. Almost 50% of all Downtown growth occurred in the King-Spadina and Waterfront West neighbourhoods. The Bay Corridor, King-Parliament and Waterfront Central saw moderate increases accounting for 36% of new residents. As a result of the increase in development in Toronto’s Downtown area, TTC streetcar ridership increased by 20% between 2008 and 2018 which is much higher than what was anticipated back in 2008. Transit mode share across the City has also increased from 23% (2006) to 27% (2016), putting additional pressure on the system.
Recent revision of the projected employment and population growth for Downtown Toronto has introduced higher forecasts which now extend to 2041. The revised estimate of number of new residents in the Downtown is 500% greater than originally projected. The revised estimate of new jobs in the Downtown is 200% greater than originally projected.
The size of the TTC’s streetcar fleet has been unchanged for almost 30 years, during a period of continuously-increasing ridership growth. This has resulted in streetcar capacity, during peak periods, being completely exhausted more than 10 years ago, with no ability to accommodate additional ridership during peak periods. Experience with deployment of the new LFLRVs on the first few streetcar routes has shown that there is an existing unmet, latent demand for peak-travel on the TTC’s streetcar routes. King Street is an excellent example of this. Over the first few months of operation the route experienced an increase of all-day weekday ridership of 16%. There are other factors that have contributed to the ridership increase (such as priority treatments and increased reliability); however, latent demand is one factor driving the ridership increase.
On King Street, the TTC has seen the combined effect of running more capacity (larger vehicles) and more reliable service (the King Street pilot). This number is still constrained by the capacity of service on the street.
On Queen Street, the shuffling of vehicles between routes and the retirement of most of the ALRVs has led, finally, to a schedule that reflects the equipment actually available to operate the route and a net increase in capacity provided, as opposed to scheduled.
Higher-density development is beginning on the Dundas, Carlton and St. Clair routes, and it is spreading away from the central part of the city where the subway is the primary mode.
Future new routes in the eastern waterfront as well as a new link to southern Etobicoke will require even more streetcars.
The TTC projects that by 2033, the peak service requirement will be 287 cars, (345 including spares), equivalent to about 570 (690) CLRVs. At their height, there were only 196 CLRVs and 52 of the larger ALRVs. This is a huge increase in the streetcar system’s capacity, almost to the level of the 745-strong PCC fleet which dominated the system through the 1950s and 60s.
At its meeting on June 12, 2018, the TTC Board will consider a report from staff that summarizes the result of a vendor survey to gauge interest in producing streetcars and proposes the following actions:
Over the coming months, staff will undertake the following:
- Request funding approval through 2019 budget process;
- Update contract documents based on stakeholder input, contract changes, and lessons learned;
- Engage consultant to validate RFI responses (e.g. technical and commercial performance, on-time delivery performance, etc.);
- Develop scope and budget for additional maintenance capacity at Hillcrest; and
- Report back to the TTC Board in Q1 2019 with recommendations.
The wild card in all of this will be the outcome of the provincial election on June 7, and the degree to which the incoming Premier will support or attempt to sabotage any expansion of streetcar service. Funding arrangements, especially under the federal PTIF scheme, depend on all three levels of government contributing. This effectively gives any one level the ability to veto a project unless there is a change in the rules.
The Current State of the Streetcar Fleet
The Flexity (low floor) streetcar fleet status is summarized in the charts below.As I write this on June 6, cars 4400 through 4480 are in Toronto, except for:
- 4401: This is a prototype car that was used for testing and training. It has recently been sent back to Bombardier to be brought up to “production” specs.
- 4466: This car was damaged in transit to Toronto, and it has been returned to Bombardier for repairs.
- Two cars, 4478 and 4480, are not yet in revenue service.
This makes a total of 77 cars available. By year-end, the TTC hopes to be up to 121 cars, roughly a 50% increase. Deliveries will be helped by Bombardier’s second production facility in Kingston that will start shipping in October 2018.
Although 204 new cars represent a net increase in fleet capacity, they do not keep up with need. The chart below shows the scheduled service the TTC projects, and the difference between the available Flexity fleet (red) that must be made up with older streetcars (gray) and buses (yellow). Note that this chart does not include spares which add about 20% to the figures.
However, there is a disconnect between the chart above which shows 121 new streetcars in service by the end of 2018 and the 79 shown in the chart below. The 121 figure includes spares, and so it corresponds to 100 cars actually in service, not 79. The TTC’s capital budget published in fall 2017 included a streetcar fleet plan based on deliveries of only 103 cars by year-end, not the 121 shown in Figure 1 above.
If the TTC actually does have 121 cars by the end of 2018, this would allow some reduction in bus replacements shown below, or an accelerated retirement of the old fleet.
I asked the TTC for clarification of this and here are their replies [email from Bem Case, Head of Vehicle Programs, June 7, 2018]
Q1: Figure 1 shows the number of cars in service, including spares, with this building up to 204 by YE 2019. The interim number for YE2018 is 121. With a 20% spare ratio, this implies that about 100 cars would be available for service. (100 * 120% = 120)
However, Figure 3 shows the evolution of the actual service including the use of other vehicles, and this shows only 79 new cars available for service by year end. This implies that only about 96 cars would have been delivered.
What is the explanation for this discrepancy?
A: General rule for spares ration is 20% for operating spares and 3% for capital spares. Further, as is common with rail vehicle procurements, rework or repair is often required to address quality issues associated with production start-up. The 23% spares ratio does not include any additional vehicles out temporarily for repair.
The 79 vehicles reported for 2018 reflects the number of streetcars in service at the time the report was written – consistent with the CEO report. By the end of the year, assuming 121 streetcars, then yes approximately 96 would be in service by year end.
Q2: Assuming that the TTC does have 121 cars on property by year end, will the additional cars be used to replace buses, or to accelerate the retirement of the legacy fleet?
A: Both. Anticipating a reasonable follow-up question “How many CLRVs and ALRVs would be retired and how many buses would be returned to bus operations”: we have plan of course that includes a bias towards decommissioning old streetcars, but would like to maintain some flexibility in order to strike the right balance between retiring old streetcars that are increasingly more difficulty and costly to maintain and freeing buses up for bus routes.
Q3: On a related note, even by the end of 2020, the number of new cars in service is shown as only 156 in figure 3. This implies a spare ratio of almost 30%. This drops to about 24% by 2023.
A: Referring to the first response, the total number of vehicles out of service over the next three to four years will include spares as well as vehicles out temporarily to address early production quality issues – this results in the 30% and then a drop down to roughly 23% thereafter.
The transition referred to here occurs in about 2023 (see chart above), and I hope that we will be beyond “early production quality issues” well before then.
Who Would Build New Streetcars
Were it not for the ongoing problems of manufacturing and delivery of the Flexitys, Bombardier would be positioned to automatically get any add-on orders, and provision for this was included in the original contract. However, the TTC Board is more than a little displeased, and they instructed staff to canvass the market for interested bidders. The presentation deck included with the report includes a list [at p. 11]:
Number of High Potential Respondents
Of the 10 respondents, as many as five may prove technically and commercially compliant in a formal RFP
- Bombardier, Canada / Germany
- CAF, Spain
- CRRC Dalian, China
- CRRC Qingdao, China
- CRRC Tangshan, China
- Hyundai Rotem, Korea
- Innekon, The Czech Republic
- Siemens, US / Germany
- Stadler, Switzerland
- Tatra-Yug, Ukraine
Notable by its absence from this list is Alstom who supplied the fleet for Ottawa’s soon-to-open LRT line, and will be building LRVs for Metrolinx. This may be due to an incompatibility between the cars they will produce for Metrolinx and the geometry of the Toronto streetcar system’s curves and grades.
Bombardier has an advantage because they are already producing cars, albeit with well-known delivery problems [p. 12]:
Bombardier, Canada / Germany
- Poor contract performance, but improving
- Vehicle is proven to meet technical requirements
- Options priced at $3.6 million ea. + escalation, tax, and amendments
- Delivery of additional 60 would start in Q3 2020
- Various efficiencies (e.g. common parts, maintenance, operations, reduced material/warehousing requirements, standard contract management, and standard customer experience)
As for their competitors [p. 13]:
- Contract performance unknown
- Vehicle likely to meet technical requirements after modifications to the carbuilders’ base vehicle platform to meet TTC’s mature network requirements
- Best price believed to be in range of Bombardier options pricing
- Delivery of additional 60 anywhere from Q1 2023 for Prototype to Q1 2025 for completed delivery
This would result in a project plan as shown below:
Assuming Bombardier could actually deliver, the timelines are on their side because the entire process of specification, evaluation and prototyping would be eliminated. On the downside, Toronto would continue to be captive to one supplier for its rail vehicles.
Maintenance and Storage Facilities
Although there is some room at Leslie Barns beyond the requirements of the original 204-car order, this will not be able to handle all of a 60-car supplementary order let alone a large number of cars beyond that.
However, once the last of the “legacy” fleet of CLRVs and ALRVs is retired, the existing streetcar maintenance facility at Hillcrest will be of little use because the new streetcars do not fit in a shops designed for much shorter vehicles. The property might be repurposed for the new fleet, possibly with only a small storage yard to handle the overflow from Leslie and supplying cars to nearby routes such as 512 St. Clair.
As for the “approximately 100 cars” contemplated in the chart above, that would require considerable space. By comparison, Roncesvalles and Russell carhouses will each have about 50 Flexitys after the base 204-car order is delivered with little room for expansion.
Staff do not propose to address that issue until 2025 [see p. 7 of the presentation], although this does not align with the timeframe in which such cars would be delivered.?
What Capacity can Streetcars Provide?
From time to time, the question arises of why we simply don’t build a subway to replace the streetcar routes. King Street is currently operating with about half of its trips in the core area served by new, larger cars.
- 504 King: 22 cars/hour (about 1/3 are Flexitys)
- 514 Cherry: 9 Flexitys/hour
- 503 Kingston Road: 5 CLRVs/hour
This gives a total of 20 CLRV and 15 Flexity trips/hour. Replacing all of the CLRVs with Flexitys would add almost 30% to the route’s capacity.
On routes which now operate with older cars, replacement by Flexitys could provide a very substantial capacity increase on current headways, let alone with more frequent service. Whether riders will ever actually benefit from this remains to be seen.
Updated June 13, 2018 at 10:00 pm:
Discussion at the Board Meeting
During the Board meeting considering this item, there was a strong sense of wanting to get on with procurement of new streetcars sooner rather than later. This took two forms.
One was a discussion of whether Bombardier should be given the 60 car supplementary order now in recognition of compatibility and (probably) lower cost as this would continue an existing production run. Acting CEO Rick Leary stated that until he sees Bombardier actually achieve a delivery rate of 20 cars/month as planned in fall 2018, he is not prepared to recommend giving them more work. Leary reported that he spoke to Bombardier the night before the meeting, and that they would deliver 89 cars by the end of the quarter. This will be a challenge considering that deliveries only appear to be up to 4482 so far (with 4401 and 4466 missing).
Although the chart showing the fleet mix earlier in this article includes the survival of some ALRVs into 2020, it is likely that they will all be retired by the end of 2019 because the data behind that chart assumed a slower delivery of vehicles than is actually happening. Note, however, that the chart also shows some of the new cars arriving in 2020, and this assumes a quite brisk delivery that one would expect from an add-on order rather than a completely new procurement.
Another more troubling discussion arose from comments by Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong who spoke about a meeting between him, TTC staff and a vendor (who turns out to be CRRC according to lobbyist registry records).
Minnan-Wong begins his remarks saying that there is information the other members of the Commission should know, indicating that up to this point they were not involved in the discussion. He reported that a Chinese bidder was prepared to build to the TTC’s spec a prototype vehicle in 18 months, and that the remaining cars could be built in six months. Minnan-Wong commented that this means the cars could be here in two years from signing a contract, although this assumes no time for actually testing a prototype and determining what changes would be required for the production order. He went on to say that TTC would probably not want the cars this quickly because of carhouse capacity limitations (as discussed in the report).
Minnan-Wong asked for confirmation that the original “sticker price” for the Flexitys was $6 million, and staff confirmed that number. What they did not mention was that this contract included training and spare parts, the built-in startup costs to produce a new vehicle, and provision for cost escalation during the life of the contract. Staff also confirmed that the price for add-on cars would be $3.6 million plus escalation and taxes.
The issue here is that one member of the Commission and a representative from the Mayor’s office were engaged in discussions with a potential vendor. If this were a formal bid process, that type of contact would be prohibited, but it appears that one would-be vendor’s trying to get a leg up is considered to be acceptable.
This led to a proposal that the TTC put out an RFP immediately to get bids, but that proposal runs aground because there is no funding approved in the City’s budget nor any Council approval for this project (it is “below the line” in the TTC budget). Whether vendors would take such an RFP seriously is an issue not just for this contract but for future bids where there could be concern that the TTC was on a fishing expedition and the volume of work needed to produce a bid was not worth the effort. This could artificially narrow the list of willing bidders.
The Board agreed to defer the report to their July 2018 meeting so that staff could pursue the issue further. We can only hope that this will include an evaluation of the readiness of all potential bidders to respond quickly rather than taking the results of a private meeting as gospel.