The devil, they say, is in the details. But could the hapless Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) have done anything more to add to its already tarnished image than to tell us that, after the extensive upheaval to construct the streetcar right-of-way on St. Clair West, there is now more disruption to come?
TTC executives must be getting ulcers knowing that they have to go to the public on a now regular basis to reveal the latest mea culpa.
This week we learned that St. Clair West would again be plagued by TTC construction that will likely take us well into 2014. Why? Because, despite the $1.2 billion price tag for 204 new streetcars, nobody, not one single individual among all the TTC’s engineering experts, bothered to verify whether the height of the islands at TTC streetcar stops and the floor level ramp entrances for the new models would match up. Nor did they apparently require Bombardier, the company manufacturing the streetcars, to coordinate the specs. And this is despite TTC CEO Andy Byford’s comment that the new cars are “designed specifically for Toronto”.
So does the TTC put out job ads for engineers to manage and oversee these massive projects without including ‘must be very detail oriented’ and have ‘excellent communication skills’?
Now the TTC will spend a reported $58 million to fix this problem, part of a total $700 million citywide adjustment plan for the new vehicles. If you listen carefully you can just hear the moaning from the businesses along St. Clair West.
It would be nearly impossible to forget the upheaval along the length of St. Clair West from east of Keele St. to Yonge St. between 2005 and 2010, a three-year project that in actuality ran for an additional two years and went from an initial budget of $48 million to an actual cost of more than $106 million. That does not even include losses to commercial interests along the corridor which took the city to court in a $100 million class action lawsuit that accused the TTC of gross negligence and charged the city with public abuse of authority.
As soon as the right-of-way appeared complete, the city then had workers digging it up again to lay hydro wires underground, and then further to upgrade water service and relocate fire hydrants. That was then.
Now, complaints about the TTC have shifted notably from public resentment about the general anti-social tone of service from frontline workers to the frequency of TTC delays and overcrowding in public transit vehicles. Mid-March, Byford took the unusual step of uploading a message to YouTube to apologize for what has been called a ‘perfect storm’ of delays and mishaps during one Monday evening rush hour, including the doors of a train with passengers opening inside a tunnel.
At this time, Byford would have us believe there would be no repeat of the ‘fiasco’ that played out during the construction of the St. Clair West right-of-way. But he told news media that the streetcars were ordered before the platforms were built. So what is the thinking: ‘Let’s just build the platforms and then tear them up again once the streetcars are built’?
The TTC can explain that the retrofit has been budgeted for, but any way they dress it up, it will still be understood as an expense that need not have happened, coming from the public purse.
We can only hope that all involved have learned from the post construction review of the St. Clair West right-of-way, which found the project suffered from too many project managers and too many changes on the fly. But there are always new mistakes to be made.
There is no question that upgrades have to be made, that has been the cry for decades both in public transit and management of automobile traffic. What the public does not want is a repeat of the right-of-way headaches, but rather to keep these disruptions to a realistic minimum.
The larger point, though, is this anticipated disruption is only one more sorry installation in Toronto’s ever worsening transportation and mass transit concerns. With traffic already the worst it has ever been, we certainly do not need additional headaches to be brought to one of the city’s main thoroughfares.
Yet, it is coming.