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Streetcar shopping in a budget crisis

While the city threatens subway shutdowns, it asks citizens to check out new buys

JEFF GRAY

August 15, 2007

Even as the city goes through a budget crisis, potential bidders on the massive contract to replace the Toronto Transit Commission’s aging streetcar fleet are gearing up.

During the Canadian National Exhibition, from Aug. 17 to Sept. 3, two of the streetcar manufacturers expected to bid on what will be North America’s largest light-rail contract will have life-size mock-ups of their high-tech vehicles on display.

Representatives of Germany’s Siemens and Montreal-based Bombardier will be on hand to answer questions about their sleek light-rail cars, on public view near the Direct Energy Centre, not far from the human cannonball.

Some Ex-goers may find the midway, where the rides actually move, more interesting. Others may wonder how the TTC can afford to spend more than $1.4-billion on 204 new vehicles as the city’s budget crisis forces it to consider drastic measures such as shutting the Sheppard subway.

TTC vice-chairman Joe Mihevc points out that the city’s problems are not with its capital budget, which covers infrastructure and new transit equipment and is financed largely by borrowing, and with help from the provincial and federal governments. The crisis is in the operating budget, where the city faces a $575-million shortfall next year and by law cannot run a deficit.

Plus, the TTC has little choice but to move ahead with its streetcar order, as the current fleet is approaching 30 years of age and replacements are needed, he said.

Unlike its controversial $674-million subway car purchase last year, which was handed to Bombardier without competition to protect Canadian jobs, the TTC has committed to allowing several companies to bid on the streetcar deal.

Toronto plans to buy 204 new light-rail vehicles at a cost of as much as $1.4-billion. It could need more than double that if its $6-billion “Transit City” plan, which includes new light-rail lines across the city, is built. The first new cars should arrive by 2010.

The TTC used the Ex to debut its iconic Presidents’ Conference Committee streetcars, predecessors to the current fleet, in 1938.




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