Toronto spending between $37-$89K per vehicle more than other cities on new street sweepers

Toronto is spending tens of thousands of dollars more than other cities, including Hamilton, on its new fleet of street sweepers.

The city's own documents show the new machines were badly needed in 2015, but it took until this spring to purchase 30 Tymco 600 street sweepers for a total of $12.4 million CAD. The move came as crews failed to meet street-cleaning targets on local roads and expressways due to an aging fleet of sweepers that are frequently in for maintenance.

That failure damages the city's environment. When sweepers aren't at work in Toronto, the city's own documents state more airborne fine particulate matter hangs around for people to breathe in, while more "toxic loads" are washed into the city's stormwater system.

After CBC Toronto reported on the purchase, a source with knowledge of the industry said the city is paying "way too much" for the new machines and that they were baffled by the process.

"Either you're a very poor negotiator," the source said of the city, or, "You're just stupid."

City officials wouldn't comment on that accusation, but are defending the purchase. However, on Friday the city's auditor general issued a report calling for more oversight at the fleet services division. 

At $408,124 per vehicle, the city's spending between $37,000 and $89,000 more than several American cities for the same model of street sweeper, even though it acquired the machines through the same government group-purchasing organization, Sourcewell.

Here's what those cities paid in 2019: 

  • The City of Dover, Delaware — $319,000 CAD per vehicle
  • The City of Burlington, California — $371,181 CAD per vehicle (it purchased two)
  • The Town of Wytheville, Virginia — $342,089 CAD per vehicle
  • The City of Peekskill, New York — $326,068 CAD per vehicle

Closer to home, the City of Hamilton purchased Tymco DST-6 machines — the Texas-based manufacturer's top-of-the-line sweeper and the one currently being used in Toronto — for less money. In 2018, via a sole source deal, Hamilton bought brand new machines for $365,103 CAD, and in 2019 acquired more for $415,665, although those came with an upgraded stainless steel hopper.

CBC Toronto further contacted the City of Watertown, Minnesota, which managed to purchase a sweeper in 2018 for $325,991 — and that city saved a further $39,813 by trading in its older machine.

Toronto plans to decommission its old vehicles.

Sweeper modifications led to higher cost

City officials admit the sweeper purchase is overdue — Toronto hasn't bought a new sweeper since 2007 — but say the new deal is a good one. 

Toronto's new sweepers are more costly, they say, due to a number of add-ons that are required to meet health and safety concerns, and that the upfront cost will result in the city getting the best value possible in the future.

John Rieti/CBC

"The initial price is not the prime indicator of the best value," said Vukadin Lalovic, a manager at Toronto Fleet Services.

Those modifications include everything from stainless steel hoppers and high-capacity dust separators, to a custom yellow and blue paint job. The machines also feature a 360-degree camera system, which is aimed to protect vulnerable road users near the heavy-duty vehicles.

The city also spent $500,000 per vehicle on two of the 30 sweepers, which are more expensive because they run on compressed natural gas, rather than diesel. 

The modifications were not included in any public documents, but staff say they're in line with city initiatives like Vision Zero 2.0 and the Corporate Green Fleet Plan.

Lalovic also said the Tymco 600, "optimized" for the City of Toronto, is the best product available to clean the city's streets — even though the model has not been verified by ETV Canada, the organization that certifies green technology in this country (the DST-6, on the other hand, was recertified in 2017).

Tymco is the only company whose sweepers have passed the ETV testing, something the city requires.

Auditor general eyeing purchase

On Friday, the city's auditor general released a report containing 20 recommendations to improve oversight within fleet services.

"The city needs a central oversight function in fleet services to ensure the most economical decision making for the city as a whole," one of Beverly Romeo-Beehler's key findings states.

Among the recommendations is for city staff to "revise the timing for replacement vehicle purchases to take into account the time required to acquire complex and specialized units."

Michael Pacholok, a director in the purchasing and materials management division, said he's confident the auditor won't find anything wrong with the sweeper purchase that took years to complete.

The city first issued a request for proposal (RFP), but cancelled it when it realized Tymco was the only applicant. "That's when we realized the RFP wasn't going to work," Pacholok said.

Officials then explored a sole source deal with Tymco, but unlike Hamilton, it scuttled that negotiation in favour of purchasing through Sourcewell.

"That took some time, some analysis had to be done," Pacholok said.

Documents show the city did enter sole source contracts to buy other heavy machinery during this timeframe. 

The new sweepers will begin arriving in Toronto in the coming months, although the bulk of the machines are set to arrive in 2020. It's unclear if or when the city will buy 20 more to completely replace its fleet.