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TTC spent $26 million to save 30 aging streetcars. But majority of the vehicles are still in the garage in need of more repairs

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Less than one year after the TTC spent $26 million on what it billed as a major maintenance program to extend the life of 30 of its older streetcars, the vehicles remain so unreliable that the agency can only get two or three into service every day, the Star has learned.

The program began in 2015 and was supposed to help keep 30 of the aging streetcars on the road for up to an additional 10 years. But despite exceeding the program’s budget, the TTC fell far short of its target and did work on just 20 cars.

A TTC employee works on the steel floor of an articulated light rail vehicle (ALRV), built in 1987. The TTC spent $26 million in an attempt to extend the life of 30 of its older streetcars, yet the vehicles remain so unreliable the agency can only get two or three into service every day, the Star has learned.
A TTC employee works on the steel floor of an articulated light rail vehicle (ALRV), built in 1987. The TTC spent $26 million in an attempt to extend the life of 30 of its older streetcars, yet the vehicles remain so unreliable the agency can only get two or three into service every day, the Star has learned.  (Bernard Weil / Toronto Star file photo)

The work that was done failed to significantly extend the life of the cars, and as of this month on any given day the majority of the streetcars, which are known as articulated light rail vehicles (ALRV’s), are stuck in a garage in need of further repairs.

Although the ongoing poor reliability of the ALRV’s has been publicly disclosed, the TTC board, which provides civilian and council oversight of the transit agency, was never formally informed that the program had so badly failed to meet its initial objectives.

“That’s really bad,” said Councillor John Campbell (Ward 4, Etobicoke Centre), a TTC board member, when informed of the outcome of the program on Monday.

“I’m surprised that they would have spent so much money and gone ahead with that kind of expenditure without certain assurances that more of (the streetcars) could have been put on the road.”

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Campbell said that “whenever there’s that kind of waste” it “raises a red flag,” and the TTC board should have been told the repair program hadn’t worked out as planned.

“At some point, somebody in the chain of command should have said, we’re wasting our money here,” he said.

Brad Ross, a spokesperson for the TTC, said the agency “did get some additional years out of the ALRV’s based on the work performed — more so than if we did nothing.”

But he stated that at the start of the overhaul program the vehicles had already reached the end of their intended service life and “the program’s intent was to keep them on the road, safely.”

He said that as the repairs progressed the TTC realized more work than anticipated was required, and the agency determined “it was better to work with Bombardier to get new streetcars in service here as quickly as possible and to rely on buses to supplement streetcar routes in the interim than to spend any additional money” fixing the ALRV’s.

The TTC has two types of older, so-called “legacy” streetcars: smaller vehicles called Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (CLRVs) and the larger ALRV’s, which are used on busier streetcar routes and are recognizable by their accordion-style middle sections.

The TTC bought 52 of the 23-metre ALRVs in 1984, and they were supposed to last about 30 years. In May of 2015, as Bombardier fell behind schedule in delivering new vehicles to replace the older fleet, the TTC secured approval to overhaul 30 of the old ALRV’s in order to extend their service life. The repairs began in June 2015, and were supposed to be complete by the end of 2017.

The articulated light rail vehicles (ALRVs) are distingishable by their accordian-style middle sections.
The articulated light rail vehicles (ALRVs) are distingishable by their accordian-style middle sections.  (Bernard Weil/Toronto Star file photo)

The life extension program was supposed to help ensure the cars could last another decade, although they would require additional work over that period as some streetcar components like wheels and trucks need to be revamped every five years.

The TTC trumpeted the return to service on the 501 Queen route of the first of the overhauled cars in an October 2015 press release, which described it as the initial ALRV to “undergo a major life-extension overhaul that will improve reliability and ensure continued, safe operation of the streetcar fleet.”

But an internal TTC tracking document obtained by the Star shows the agency quickly fell behind on the planned repairs. By the final months of 2017, the last year of the program, it had completed work on just 17 of the 30 cars.

By that time, the document shows, the agency had already burned through almost all of the $24.5-million program budget, having spent $22.8 million.

According to Ross, the TTC spokesperson, the agency eventually completed work on 20 cars, at a cost of $26 million, but decided at the end of 2017 not to do more work on the ALRV’s, including the remaining 10 vehicles that had been selected for the overhaul program.

Richard Wong, who was appointed the TTC’s head of streetcar maintenance in April 2017, midway through the repair program, said the overhaul work should never have been described as a life-extension program because the repairs it entailed didn’t include work on the electrical systems that was required to keep the cars operating in the long run.

Instead they focused on work like repainting and repairing corrosion on the streetcar bodies, replacing flooring, and refurbishing pneumatic air systems, propulsion motors and braking systems. Work was also done on the vehicles’ wheels and axles, suspension and structural beams.

Wong said that falls under the kind of more routine “state-of-good-repair” maintenance that keeps vehicles in good condition, but doesn’t extend their service life.

“I don’t know why it was advertised as a life extension,” he said.

“What you’re seeing (now) is that we have very low vehicle availability because they’re always breaking down on the electrical side of things.”

Copies of three of the TTC’s daily streetcar availability reports obtained by the Star and dated between Oct. 31 and Nov. 5 2018 show the agency planned to deploy 10 ALRV’s on each day, but only two or three were available for service each morning. Most of the remainder are listed as unavailable due to “corrective maintenance.” Wong acknowledged the numbers are typical of the current ALRV reliability.

A newly painted articulated light rail vehicle (ALRV) streetcar awaits final repairs. As a result of delays by Bombardier to deliver new streetcars on time, the TTC decided to overhaul 30 streetcars to keep them in service. It eventually completed work on 20 cars, at a cost of $26 million.
A newly painted articulated light rail vehicle (ALRV) streetcar awaits final repairs. As a result of delays by Bombardier to deliver new streetcars on time, the TTC decided to overhaul 30 streetcars to keep them in service. It eventually completed work on 20 cars, at a cost of $26 million.  (Bernard Weil/Toronto Star file photo)

Their unavailability means the TTC has even fewer vehicles to make up for the delays to the delivery of its new streetcar fleet, leading to worse service on the busy streetcar routes on which ALRVs are supposed to be deployed. The TTC has been supplementing some streetcar routes with buses, and now plans to retire all of the ALRV’s by around 2020.

Wong didn’t dispute the idea that the program wasn’t a good use of taxpayer money.

“We could have done a better job of planning this, to be honest,” he said. “Planning some more electrical work would have probably been prudent, but that would have also cost more money as well.”

In order to comply with provincial accessibility legislation, the TTC has to retire all of its old-model streetcars, which aren’t accessible, by 2025. The new low-floor streetcars supplied by Bombardier are accessible.

Under the terms of a 2012 agreement, the company was supposed to have delivered 148 of the cars by the end of last year. Due to well-documented production problems, it only delivered the 106th vehicle last month. Bombardier has met revised delivery targets this year, however, and says it will supply all 204 of the new cars by the end of 2019, as scheduled.

The TTC is suing Bombardier for costs the agency has incurred as a result of the delivery delays. It isn’t clear whether the $26 million spent on the ALRV repairs could be recouped as part of those claims.

Ross said the agency hopes to announce a settlement with the company “in the coming weeks.”

Don Peat, a spokesperson for Mayor John Tory, said the money spent on the ALRV repairs “is another example of the costs the TTC has incurred trying to keep streetcars on the road while we wait for Bombardier to deliver the streetcars we have ordered.

“This is why we need the new TTC streetcars and why the Mayor has pushed for them to be delivered as quickly as possible.”

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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