TTC to replace some streetcars with buses on routes as Bombardier misses latest deadline

The TTC is looking to replace streetcars on two popular downtown routes with buses as Bombardier misses another deadline. The agency's spokesperson, Brad Ross, told CBC Toronto that they plan to move some of the cars from the 505 Dundas and 506 Carlton routes to more critical routes, like King.

TTC plans to move streetcars from 505 Dundas and 506 Carlton to more crowded routes

The 504 King streetcar in downtown Toronto.
Bombardier has cut down their numbers to 63 streetcars being delivered by end of 2017. (John Rieti/CBC)

The TTC is looking to replace some streetcars on two popular downtown routes with buses as a result of ongoing delays with the delivery of new streetcars from Bombardier.

Brad Ross, spokesperson for the TTC, told CBC Toronto on Friday that the agency plans to move some of the cars from the 506 Carlton and 505 Dundas routes to more critical routes, such as 504 King. The TTC will put the idea to the board in January, and if approved, it expects the plan to take effect starting in February. 

The TTC's ridership numbers rank the two routes as the eighth and 12th most used respectively as of December 2016. 

Buses have less carrying capacity than the streetcars but Ross said the TTC is forced to shuffle around the vehicles because of "fleet constraints."

Experts, however, say this type of triaging could have a ripple effect. 

"These main east-west routes are really important as they provide key access into the city," Matti Siemiatycki, associate professor of urban planning at the University of Toronto, said.

"It is important that we have the full capacity that is needed to carry all the people on those routes."
"We clearly hear the frustration," Bombardier president, Benoit Brossoit, told CBC Toronto. (Toronto Transit Commission)

Ross said the bottom line is the TTC new streetcars.

"The old streetcars that we have today are failing and failing. They're just too old," he said. 

Montreal-based manufacturer Bombardier was earlier projected to deliver 65 streetcars to the TTC by the end of the year, but recently revised that down to 64 and then again down to 63. The number falls short of the company's initial target of 145 vehicles by 2017, according to a December 2016 TTC board staff report.

"It's sort of groundhog day, unfortunately, with Bombardier," Mayor John Tory said Friday, referring to the recurring problem.

"We don't really have the choice of walking down the street and going to someplace where they can readily make streetcars so we have to work with Bombardier," he explained. "If we started with another company tomorrow morning, it would probably take them two years to get ready to make streetcars for us," he said. 

More than a capacity issue

Benoit Brossoit, president of Bombardier Transport, Americas says the company is taking drastic measures to cut down logistics and make its production more efficient. 

"We clearly hear the frustration," he told CBC Toronto. "But at the end of the day the people in the field love our cars, we know they want more of them and we have been absolutely focused on getting the product out." 

Bombardier spokesperson Eric Prud'Homme told CBC Toronto on Thursday, the company has "more than doubled the rate of deliveries" since last year.

"With the investments we made, we've steadily ramped up production like we said we would," Prud'Homme said in a statement. "This has helped us this month to deliver our highest monthly number of cars, with seven streetcars being shipped out of Thunder Bay."

Prud'Homme said Bombardier executives recently met with key suppliers to "demand corrective measures to improve performance and accelerate deliveries."

Siemietycki, however said streetcar delivery delays pose more than just a capacity issue to the TTC.

"There was an expectation for riders that the new streetcars were going to deliver a more modern, user-friendly experience," he said. 

"The TTC for the first time in a long time is facing plateauing ridership and there are concerns about whether growth is going to continue," he said, adding that the "modernized streetcars" would better equip public transit to compete against the emerging ride-share industry.  

"Part of the TTC strategy needs to be to provide efficient service but also an excellent experience and I think getting the new streetcars was a really important part of that."

TTC 'eager to see who else is out there'

Ross said the TTC is hopeful that Bombardier will hold to its delivery commitments moving forward.

"We don't pull our punches with them, we are very frank with them," he said. 

The agency is pursuing a $50 million legal claim against Bombardier for breach of contract as the two companies continue their working relationship. 

As for the future, Ross says the TTC is open to alternatives. The agency currently has a request for information open to manufacturers for 60 streetcars needed in addition to what is covered in their contract with Bombardier. 

"We are eager to see who else is out there in terms of manufacturers," Ross said. 

With files from Kari Vierimaa