Should Bombardier build more streetcars for Toronto? Here's why one TTC board member says no

Now that TTC staff have officially let their political masters know that they want to spend tens of millions of dollars on 60 new streetcars, should Bombardier build them? At least one TTC board members says the answer should be no.

Board meets Monday to discuss $4.6B in spending priorities, including new vehicles

Now that TTC staff have officially recommended buying 60 new streetcars, some are saying Bombardier should be asked to supply them, even with its rocky history in delivering vehicles on time. (John Sandeman/CBC)

Now that TTC staff have officially let their political masters know that they want to spend tens of millions of dollars on 60 new streetcars, the question is: who will build them?

Could Bombardier, even after all the problems the company had delivering the city's order for 204 low-floor Flexity vehicles, be the best bet to get the contract?

The TTC board meets Monday to discuss a staff report that includes the recommended streetcar purchase. But at least one member opposes handing the Montreal-based company the job.

Coun. Denzil Minnan Wong tweeted a letter Thursday from Bombardier to TTC CEO Rick Leary assuring him that the company "remains committed to our clients globally and closer to home, the Toronto Transit Commission, the City of Toronto and Ontario."

But Minnan-Wong was unmoved, tweeting that Toronto was "ignored and neglected" by Bombardier.

In an interview with CBC News Tuesday, he cited the firm's "horrible record" delivering vehicles on time and evidence the firm is in financial trouble.

"Bombardier's all about big promises until they get the contract and then they're AWOL. They have no credibility in terms of any promises they're going to make," Minnan-Wong said.

The TTC board has to decide whether to endorse the spending priorities in the staff report as part of the 2020 city budget process. But eventually, it will have to look at whether to open up the bidding to several companies, or invite Bombardier to build 60 more Flexity streetcars for Toronto at its factory in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who sits on the TTC board, says Bombardier has a 'horrible record' when it comes to delivering streetcars on time for the City of Toronto. (Mike Smee/CBC News)

"Bombardier, not just in Toronto but all over North America, have ... demonstrated that they cannot deliver on time," Minnan-Wong said. 

Bombardier's struggles

Since the TTC awarded Bombardier the more than $1-billion contract in 2009, the company repeatedly missed its delivery targets, blaming the setbacks on issues such as faulty parts from its supplier in Mexico, labour trouble, the intricate nature of the new streetcars and staff changes.

The delays forced the TTC to keep its fleet of creaky old CLRV streetcars on the rails well past their use-by date, and to replace the aging vehicles with buses on several streetcar routes.

The situation became so vexing for the TTC that it sued Bombardier in 2015. 

But some city councillors say that even in the face of all that, Bombardier should get the job. They say the city needs more vehicles as soon as possible to get them back on streetcar routes where buses are running, and to improve the frequency of service.

Coun. Gord Perks says giving the contract to another manufacturer would mean waiting much longer to have vehicles designed, built and delivered. He also says it would make maintaining the fleet more costly.

Coun. Gord Perks says it would be more efficient and less costly to have only one make of vehicle in the TTC streetcar fleet. (CBC)

"If you're operating a transit fleet, having many different kinds of vehicles adds an awful lot of expense and decreases efficiency," Perks told CBC Toronto. 

"For every type of vehicle that you see out on the street, we have to have a parts warehouse and a repair yard that specializes in that vehicle, as well as crews of people who are trained in maintaining that vehicle and a spare parts supplier," Gord Perks said.

"It makes sense to stay with one vehicle."

Transit advocate Steve Munro agrees the manufacturer deserves another chance. 

"It took them a long time, but they finally did get to a point where the cars they were churning out were good cars," Munro told CBC News. 

Bombardier 'financially unstable,' Minnan Wong says

But Minnan-Wong is expressing doubts Bombardier is in good enough shape to fill the order and support the vehicles over the long haul.

"Bombardier right now is financially unstable. In fact ... it's been reported out by experts that they might not even exist in five years," he said.

Minnan-Wong says he's "looking for a company that's financially stable ... I don't want to find ourselves in a place where we make a deal, enter a contract with a company that we're going to find goes into receivership."

But in emailed statements to CBC News, and in its letter to Rick Leary, Bombardier says it's in good shape financially. 

"We also continue to win major contracts and expand our backlog in our developed as well as growing markets and the financial situation of Bombardier Transportation remains solid," the statements read.

"Our industry can be volatile and cyclical. Therefore, in order to fully appreciate where we stand and where we are heading, it is best to consider our overall performance, rather than a snapshot in time."

For his part, Minnan-Wong says Bombardier should be welcome to bid in an "open procurement process," along with other companies like Siemens and Alstom.

"If Bombardier can win an open procurement process then that recommendation will come back to the commission and we'll deal with it at that time."


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