TTC CEO Andy Byford says he shares Torontonians' disappointment over the slow delivery of the new streetcars and is happy to look beyond Bombardier when it comes to purchasing more vehicles in the future — especially now that the Canadian transportation giant has admitted it might not meet its target of delivering 70 new vehicles by the end of 2017.
Byford told reporters Wednesday that Bombardier informed him in a meeting Tuesday that achieving that goal is "at risk" and is going to be challenging.
"They have not ruled out that 70, I'm not letting them off the hook for that 70, but they have flagged that there is a risk that we may fall a few vehicles short," he said.
Byford added that he wasn't surprised by the news, because he knew the "ramp-up" Bombardier needed to undertake to meet the commitment was going to be difficult
Bombardier released a statement Wednesday, echoing Byford's comments.
"We are deploying extraordinary resources to ensure we can work towards continuing to meet our deadlines in the next five months," the statement reads.
"This includes extending our work week in Thunder Bay from five to seven days, adding resources in all our sites and flying rather than shipping streetcar cabs from Vienna to save a month in the transportation time it would take by sea.
"All cards are on the table. No stone will be left unturned."
The news of Bombardier's difficulties came as a motion by Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong motion was easily approved by the TTC board.
The motion asks the transit agency to do a "market sounding" to look for potential competitors before exercising an option in its contract with Bombardier to purchase 60 more streetcars was easily approved Wednesday.
While it's a relatively small contract, Byford thinks some transportation companies will be interested. It will also, he said, send an important message to Bombardier.
"Do not assume, given your track record, that you're going to automatically get that deal," Byford told CBC Radio's Metro Morning.
"We're opening up the field."
Bombardier's struggles to deliver the new streetcars have been well-documented. The TTC will soon get its 41st of the 204 new streetcars it purchased from the Canadian transportation giant and is expecting to have 70 of the new vehicles operating by the end of this year.
A TTC spokesperson said the company is now "on track" when it comes to its delivery schedule.
Bombardier spokesperson Marc-Andre Lefebvre said the company is confident it will be able to deliver the remaining streetcars on time.
"We will show by our actions, by mitigating our current challenges, by meeting our delivery commitments, as we've consistently done in the last year, that we remain the supplier of choice for the TTC," he said in an email.
Fall deliveries will be 'acid test' for Bombardier
Byford said the delivery schedule ramps up to seven vehicles per month in the fall, something that will be the "acid test" for how Bombardier is doing.
He said in his meeting with Bombardier officials on Tuesday, he warned them if they don't hit the target of delivering 70 vehicles by the end of 2017, the two sides will be back to having "tough conversations."
"They know that I'm not a happy bunny," he said.
Minnan-Wong said that while Toronto may be stuck with its Bombardier contract, which was signed in 2009, it's not stuck with using the company in the future.
"The idea is to see who's interested out there right now, and to pre-qualify them, so that if and when we're in a position to make that order, we'll have the flexibility to make the right decision for the city," he said.
Using different streetcars could prove tricky
There could be some logistical challenges for companies hoping to get their vehicles onto Toronto's streets.
For example, Byford said the TTC uses a "unique" track gauge (the spacing between the rails) and also requires specific designs around floor height.
TTC maintenance crews, meanwhile, would need to learn a new system and also carry more tools, Byford said.
The TTC has to let Bombardier know about its decision on the additional cars by November. However, Byford suggested that may not be a hard deadline.
He also suggested there's a major carrot for companies considering putting in a bid.
"Do a good job for the TTC and the world's your oyster," he said, noting many North American cities are considering adding streetcar lines.
Metrolinx inks deal with Bombardier rival
Mayor John Tory says he "strongly supports" the idea of lining up other companies.
"I hope that Bombardier will stick to what it's doing now," he said.
"But I think that when you have the kind of history that we have in this area, it's very prudent and business-like to have a backup plan."
The province recently spent millions on a backup plan of its own, inking a deal to buy 61 light rail vehicles from Alstom Canada, a Bombardier rival. The trains are set to serve the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line if Bombardier can't deliver its vehicles on time.
If Bombardier comes through, Metrolinx will use the Alstom trains on other GTA routes.