- Maybe we could learn a lesson from Sesame Street.
« ZELC ne peut exiger que la STM redéfinisse ses besoins et ceux de ses utilisateurs, change le produit qu’elle exploite avec succès depuis 40 ans (…) et qu’elle modifie radicalement ses spécifications techniques. »
– Guy Du Pont (from Rue Frontenac’s Michel Van de Walle)
In the gospel according to Émile, there is a parable about a man from Galilee – or maybe it was Verdun.
Anyway, he goes to a store and asks for a bicycle.
The saleswoman says, “I have no bicycles but I could sell you a car.”
He says, “I don’t want a car, I want a bicycle.”
She says, “Bicycles are outdated, not as efficient, and not as durable in all weather conditions.”
He says, “True, but I still want a bicycle.”
She says, “Cars are not as bad as they used to be. All you need to do is make small alterations to your house in order to build a garage for your new car.”
He says, “If you can’t offer me a bicycle, then I will have to take my business elsewhere.”
And she takes him to court.
For those of you who don’t know, there is an engineering and transit ideological war, involving billions of YOUR dollars, brewing in Montréal. Let me break it down for you:
Back in 2006, the STM and the government of Québec got together with Bombardier to replace our well-aged fleet of metro cars.
Then Alstom SA, a French company, got mad and cried foul. They said the government should be soliciting competing bids.
The government, in true fashion, said, “Whatever.”
So Alstom SA said, “I’ll show you ‘whatever’”, and took the government to court.
(p.s. Alstom SA won.)
But instead of continuing to fight, Alstom SA and Bombardier hooked up and have decided to work together.
This led to an even juicier bid. Like super-ripe summer peach juicy.
The city’s original tender for 340 subway cars, worth an estimated $1.2-billion, became 765 cars, with an option to purchase another 288 cars, valued at more than $3-billion.
And that, my friends, is a lot of cash.
But at $3-billion, we’re talking a whole different ballgame. So the government put the offer back out : any company that believes it can fill the order for rubber-tyred vehicles only, and with a commitment to do all the final manufacturing in Canada, now has 30 days to signal its interest.
This seemed to be a bit of a formality – only Bombardier and Alstom SA are known to be able to fill such an order with the requirements stipulated by the government.
And, ils vécurent heureux et eurent beaucoup d’enfants.
Not so fast.
Enter China’s Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive. They say the bidding process is unfair because, while in theory it is open to everyone, in practice it is only open to companies that can produce rubber-tyred cars.
They say no one really uses rubber tires anymore for modern metro systems.
- (Except most French cities – including Paris, a gaggle of Japanese ones, and Mexico City … to name a few.)
They say rubber wheels are less efficient and durable than steel.
- (That may be true, but with the amount of hydroelectricity Québec produces, I think we will manage.)
They say conversion to steel wheels could be done without service interruption and would end up in significant savings on operating costs.
- (Experts say that the entire system would have to be shut down for about a year to install new track. Considering it took almost 30 years of planning, consultations, and false starts to redo the Parc-Pins interchange, I’m placing my bets on the experts.)
Maybe steel wheels have come a long way. Maybe my judgement has been clouded by youth spent riding the Toronto subway (minute 3:55 is pretty exemplary). Or maybe the earthquake simulator that is the NYC subway riding under my ex-girlfriend’s apartment has coloured my reasoning.
For this, I apologise.
But here in Montreal, we have stuck to the rubber-tyred method. And for that, I am grateful.
So unless Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive is willing to fund the conversion of our system to steel tires and guarantee that it could be done without service interruption, then I think we have heard enough from them. Passons à l’action! Our metro cars aren’t getting any younger.