Toronto

After a rocky 2017, can Bombardier deliver on new promises?

Notorious for being slow and overpacked, Toronto’s streetcars have been a source of fiction between transit riders and the transit authority itself. However, the TTC says long lines and overcrowding are a by-product of its streetcar supplier, Montreal-based manufacturer Bombardier, missing deadlines.

CBC Toronto spoke with some key players in regional transit for a look back on the year

TTC first signed a $1.2 billion contract with Bombardier in 2009 for streetcars, but a series of delays has meant the streetcars haven't made it onto Toronto streets. (Toronto Transit Commission)

The TTC's red and white streetcars are synonymous with Toronto, but for transit riders in the city they are also synonymous with frustration.

Notorious for being slow and overpacked, Toronto's streetcars have been a source of friction between transit riders and the transit authority itself.

However, the TTC says long lines and overcrowding are a by-product of its streetcar supplier, Montreal-based manufacturer Bombardier, missing deadlines.

The agency first signed a $1.2 billion contract with Bombardier in 2009 to replace 204 of their 248 aging streetcars, which were built in the '70s and '80s, with new light rail vehicles.

That contract outlined that a prototype vehicle was to be delivered to the TTC in 2011 with passenger service set to begin in 2012. Delivery of all 204 cars was promised by 2018, according to the TTC archives.

After testing, revisions and a 2014 Bombardier strike, a new delivery schedule pushed the deadline for all streetcars to 2019. But year after year, the numbers of actual deliveries lagged far behind the quotas agreed to in the contract.

The company revised their numbers in 2016 to deliver 40 new streetcars in 2017, bringing their total up to 70 of the 145 streetcars promised.

That was again reduced to 65 as of Nov. 13.

In an email to CBC Toronto, the company confirmed that only 63 cars will be in the TTC's possession by Dec. 31 and blamed the delay on supply chain issues.

"We've confirmed to the TTC that we are mitigating issues in our supply chain," Bombardier spokesperson Eric Prud'Homme told CBC News.  

The TTC says long lines and overcrowding are a by-product of Bombardier missing deadlines. (John Rieti/CBC)

Production plants in Kingston and Thunder Bay will remain open over the holiday season in an attempt to fulfil the quota.

"We are working over the holidays to honour our commitment," Prud'Homme added.

The missed deadlines may suggest Bombardier may be struggling, but the company's president of transportation in the Americas, Benoit Brossoit, says the numbers tell a different story.

Bombardier increases production

"Total numbers for 2017 have more than doubled from our 2016 production levels in December alone," he said in an interview.

The company delivered seven streetcars this December, and Brossoit suggests that if they keep that monthly trend, they will be able to hit their to 2019 deadline for 204 streetcars.

Brossoit joined the company in April 2016 and adopted a "Get Well" plan to get production on track.

"In the last 18 months we've invested $16 million in our infrastructure in Ontario and I'm talking here specific to RV projects," he said. "The idea was to more than double the manufacturing capacity in our Kingston factory. We expanded a production line in Thunder Bay. We added people actually we created hundreds of manufacturing jobs in Ontario over the past few months."

But a major challenge remains in their supply chain.

"We've started a very intensive communication with our supply chain both here in North America as well as those suppliers that are overseas to make sure that they understood our plan, the investments we've made and our customer expectations so that they were also fully linked with our game plan," Brossoit said.

He also said he has almost weekly conversations senior-level managers at the TTC.

TTC 'will wait and see'

When asked if the changes at Bombardier reassure the TTC that the company will meet their new seven LRV per month goal, agency spokesperson Brad Ross says, "We will wait and see."

"We need, bottom line, our new streetcars. Get them here because the frustration and the fear that we have is that we are going to be overly fleet constrained through 2018," he added.

Ross revealed to CBC Toronto the TTC's plan to look at pulling streetcars off the 505 Dundas and 506 Carlton routes and re-assigning them to more critically overcrowded routes, like the 504 King.

The TTC is currently pursuing $50 million in court against Bombardier for breach of contract after their missed deadlines.

Metrolinx troubles

A relatively small legal engagement compared to the company's dispute with Metrolinx.

Metrolinx is the public agency responsible for coordinating transit for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area. It operates GO Transit and the UP Express among others.

The company was contracted to deliver 182 light-rail vehicles, most of them going to the Eglinton Crosstown transit line in a $770 million deal. However, this contract was similarly undercut by missed deadlines, leaving the relationship between the companies badly deteriorated.

But the two companies have since renegotiated their original contract and Metrolinx announced Thursday it will accept only 76 light rail vehicles of the 182 originally ordered from Bombardier. A source confirmed the new contract is worth $392 million. The remainder of vehicles will be built by a French competitor, Alstom.

Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster calls this "a significantly better" deal and one that makes him hopeful for the future.

An image of an LRT vehicle released by Metrolinx and Alstom Canada. Metrolinx has placed an order for 61 vehicles from Alstom, who is also building LRT vehicles for Ottawa. (Metrolinx)

"The relationship going forward as to be positive because we've created the right context and the right environment for that relationship to be one of delivering a successful outcome here," he said in an interview.

Bombardier's contract with Metrolinx is still in the early stages compared to the TTC's.

As Mayor Tory says, it's an easy switch for the municipal agency.

"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.

But Bombardier says they are confident the future will only allay the concerns of both agencies.

"We have a plan," Brossoit said.