TTC streetcar deal to Alstom?

Alstom Trams and Streetcars for Toronto

Alstom Trams and Streetcars for Toronto

By Christina Blizzard

It’s a contract worth $3 billion in tax dollars and thousands of jobs for the provincial economy. The TTC’s bid to buy 204 low-floor streetcars is the largest public transit contract in the world right now. Yet it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the way it’s been negotiated is more like a soap opera than a massive public transit deal.

In what would be a major upset, it seems likely the deal will go to a French company, Alstom, and not to the Bombardier plant in Thunder Bay.

Last year, the TTC issued a request for proposal (RFP) from bidders. It’s a two-phase deal worth $1.4 billion in the first part and up to $3 billion by the time it is finished.

There were only three serious bids at the time — Siemens, the big German corporation, Bombardier, and Tram Power, a small British company whose bid, according to TTC Chair Adam Giambrone, was deemed “not commercially viable.”

In July, it was thought Bombardier was a shoo-in when Siemens abruptly withdrew from the bidding. Industry insiders were shocked when the TTC announced the Bombardier bid didn’t meet their technical requirements. Not just that, they made dire warnings that the Bombardier streetcars would derail, a claim Bombardier says is ridiculous.

In a July 26 press release Bombardier called for TTC commissioners to conduct a review of the decision after a team of Bombardier engineers and experts reviewed the TTC’s reasons for the disqualification and “found no acceptable rationale.”

The TTC threw the deal open for all to come and negotiate. Giambrone told me yesterday there are three finalists for the deal: Bombardier, Siemens and a last minute entry, Alstom, which built the Washington subway. Between the three companies they have 90% of the world public transit market.

All this comes at an embarrassing time for the provincial government. They recently instituted a 25% Canadian content regulation for public transit projects.

The TTC will make a mockery of that requirement if it awards the deal to an off-shore company at a time when the manufacturing sector in this province is in such dire straits. Thunder Bay has been particularly hard hit with the loss of jobs in the forestry sector.

“It is not the obligation of the TTC to do province-wide economic development,” Giambrone said in a telephone interview yesterday.

He pointed out the TTC pioneered the 25% Canadian content requirement even before the province mandated it.

“It was a realistic and a reasonable compromise that allowed us to have fair competition while at the same time ensuring that economic benefits come back to the Toronto area. The automobile industry is centred around the GTA so that will produce a lot of parts for it. There is also the possibility of assembly in Thunder Bay,” he said.

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