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Toronto Transit Commission chair Josh Colle rejects out of hand a call by the TTC for $53-million this year to buy an option for 60 more streetcars. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto Transit Commission chair Josh Colle rejects out of hand a call by the TTC for $53-million this year to buy an option for 60 more streetcars. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

TTC chair, CEO at odds over option on new streetcars Add to ...

Toronto should not spend “another cent” toward extending its streetcar order until the manufacturer comes through with vehicles already purchased and repeatedly delayed, TTC chair Josh Colle says.

Mr. Colle rejected out of hand a call by Toronto Transit Commission staff for $53-million this year to retain the option of buying 60 more streetcars, vehicles that would be added to the current production run.

“It just seems totally absurd to me that we would write another cheque when we haven’t even received the products we bought in 2008,” he said hours after TTC CEO Andy Byford presented a budget that included the request.

According to Mr. Byford, the money would probably have to be paid this year to get any additional streetcars at the best possible price. But Mr. Colle dismissed the urgency, saying that he was more concerned with having the current order filled.

The rift emerged amid frustration within the TTC over the slow pace of production at Bombardier. The TTC ordered about 200 streetcars and by now, according to the latest schedule, the manufacturer was expected to have delivered 15 or 16. Instead, production problems are hampering delivery and the city has only three in service.

“I want to get the fourth car from Bombardier long before we start discussing putting aside those kind of capital dollars that we just don’t have,” Mr. Colle said.

“Will we need them one day? For sure, we’re a growing city and ridership never stops going up. But let’s get these streetcars in and start asking Bombardier where the hell they are and why they’re being delayed.”

Mr. Byford said that he had a productive meeting recently with Bombardier and he was insisting on a sped-up delivery schedule. The company’s last proposal fell short, though, the TTC head said.

The TTC budget presented Wednesday included $1.15-billion in capital spending and $479-million in operating expenses. Among the expenses are a variety of service improvements and a mayor-driven push to let children ride free, even as most other strap-hangers face a cost increase.

“We’ve been asked to look at [the children’s fares]. We believe it can be afforded,” Mr. Byford told reporters. “Don’t forget that this is just a proposal at this stage. This has still not yet been through the board. That will happen next Monday, where I suspect there will be a big debate.”

Letting children ride free would cost an estimated $5.4-million, according to the transit agency. By comparison, the proposed $7.75-a-month increase in the cost of a monthly pass will raise about $8-million. The budget proposes increasing all other fares as well, except for those riders paying cash, generating $35-million.

Meanwhile, Mayor John Tory was questioning the TTC’s desire to hire hundreds of additional staff. He said he was asking the city’s budget committee and council to take a closer look at the numbers.

Underpinning the debate are the city’s tight finances and the fact that the TTC is seeking more money to improve service. And the streetcar delivery delays are a nagging concern.

Although Mr. Byford is clearly unhappy with Bombardier, he said there was value nonetheless in retaining the option to purchase more streetcars.

“The key thing for me is that we maintain that option because what we don’t want to do is allow the production run to end, because otherwise you then typically incur greater cost because you don’t achieve the economies of scale,” he said.

But Mr. Colle did not share his urgency. “We can talk about it next year, probably even the year after,” he said. “We have lots of time. We don’t have the money and we won’t be spending the money on that.”

With a report from Ann Hui.

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