Bombardier to charge $600,000 for TTC subway software update

The TTC will pay an estimated $600,000 to Bombardier for a "proprietary" software update affecting trains on Line 1.

It is an upgrade that affects each newer-model, 'Red Rocket' train car and will add names and other data pertaining to the 6 new subway stations that make up the Line 1 extension into York Region, which is set to open at the end of the year.

The changes will also see Downsview Station renamed to Sheppard West Station.

Officials with the TTC estimate the cost to update thousands of maps, literature, and signs across Toronto to be around $200,000.

The software system uses GPS to track each train and controls audio and visual notifications to passengers concerning which stop is next, and on which side they should exit the train.

It also updates the LED boards above the lead car to display the name of the next station.

TTC spokesperson Brad Ross admits that while $600,000 might seem like a lot of money for a software upgrade, he insists it is one that has to be done, and won't have to happen again for many years.

"This is proprietary software that Bombardier owns," he says, "we need them to do this work and that is what the cost is."

"It is expensive, but it is necessary," Ross adds.

Carmi Levy, NEWSTALK 1010's Technology Analyst, says even simple changes to the code in operating systems like the one in Toronto's subway trains rarely ever come cheap.

"It's not like you're selling (the software) to millions of people," Levy says, "there are not economies of scale and the types of skills required to make these changes are not a dime-a-dozen."

He points out that because there are so few subway systems in the world, in general -- such software is typically custom-built from the ground up and even the programming tools used to build the code have to be made from scratch.

Levy says it allows vendors like Bombardier to command a hefty price when it comes time to make changes to the operating system, but also allows customers like the TTC to save money on hiring and retaining staff to build and maintain the software.

This news comes as the Transit Commission is embroiled in a war of words with Bombardier executives over delays fulfilling an order for Toronto's new generation of streetcars.

Ontario's public transit agency has taken Bombardier to court over a contract to buy light-rail vehicles to be used on the Eglinton Crosstown line.