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A 3-city investigation: Why would anyone do business with Bombardier?

Last Updated Oct 27, 2017 at 12:09 pm EST

“Why would any city want to do business with Bombardier?”

It is the first question I asked Marc-Andre Lefebvre, Bombardier Canada’s head spokesperson during a half hour interview.

It’s a valid question, given Bombardier’s performance with three major North American cities — Toronto, San Francisco and New York.

Torontonians know all too well about Bombardier’s dubious history with the TTC.

Under the $1.2-billion contract for 204 streetcars, by now, the city should have 150 shiny new, accessible, air conditioned streetcars on the road to replace its aging and outdated fleet.

Instead, we only have 48.

“It’s becoming increasingly problematic,” TTC CEO Andy Byford said.

That’s because the old streetcars are past their life span and have either been decommissioned or in palliative care.

“The stark choice that I face as the CEO is either cut service – which I’m not going to do – or do what I am doing which is substitute the old streetcars for buses and that puts an increasing strain on our bus fleet,” Byford explained.

Metrolinx, Ontario’s provincial transit agency, is so concerned that Bombardier won’t have LRT’s ready in time for the Eglinton Crosstown, it’s signed a contract with competitor Alston as a backup plan.

In San Francisco Bombardier’s performance isn’t much better.

They were supposed to have 60 new cars by the end of the year, they will only get 35.

For months, CityNews has been working with San Francisco news station KTVU to investigate the transportation manufacturing giant.

KTVU investigative journalist Candice Nguyen found the first test car delivered by Bombardier was three months late and crashed due to an electrical malfunction.

While in New York, after struggling with delivery delays, the city is no longer considering Bombardier’s bid for a reported $3.2-billion dollar subway contract.

So when asked “why would any city want to do business with Bombardier?” Lefebvre’s answer began like this:

“Bombardier itself, Bombardier transportation particularly cannot be identified or defined by just isolated projects. When you look at what we are globally we have the largest customer base in the world.”

It is corporate spin from a company that is in full on damage control.

Ryerson University associate professor and transit analyst Murtaza Haider believes part of Bombardier’s problems lie deep within its governance.

“I think the governance structure has to change,” he said.

“Something of this big size cannot be a family run business when the business is so complicated and engineering driven.”

But Bombardier insists it can and will deliver. The company maintains it has turned things around in Toronto, more than doubling its rate of delivery to the city from last year to this year.

Yet just this month it acknowledged it is going to fail to meet the 70 streetcar target by the end of this year. Instead, Bombardier said it will provide 65 new streetcars.

The company is blaming issues with the supply chain.

Bombardier maintains it will fulfill the contract of 204 streetcars by 2019, as per the original contract, and will only be four months shy of fulfilling San Francisco’s contract.

According to Bombardier, the delays the three cities have experienced are normal.

“Every rail manufacturer has these type of issues. That is unfortunately a reality of the industry,” Lefebvre stated.

Watch below for the extended Bombardier video

Yet Bombardier’s delays are of particular concern.

“I’d say this has been one of the most problematic I’ve ever encountered,” Byford said.

Watch below for the full interview with San Francisco journalist Candice Nguyen.

San Francisco’s Transit Woes

Watch KTVU’s investigative report on Bombardier’s role in San Francisco’s transit project delays: