Agenda Index City of Vancouver



Vancouver City Council


General Manager of Engineering Services


Traffic Signal Management System Upgrade - Signal Controllers




On March 28, 1996, City Council approved that purchases over $100,000 be subject to a tender process.


To obtain approval for bypassing the normal tendering process and negotiating directly with Novax Industries for the supply of 600 traffic signal controllers. This is being recommended because of year 2000 considerations.


Controller - A microprocessor that supervises and commands the traffic signal. It can also receive information from traffic detectors (or other equipment), and can send and receive information from a central computer.

Controller Cabinet - A box which holds the controller, a modem, intersection wiring, and other electrical equipment which assist the controller. These boxes are installed on poles or in boulevards at intersections.

On June 16, 1998, City Council approved the upgrade of the TSMS. The basic pieces of equipment used by the TSMS are the central computer, central software, communication lines and modems, and traffic-signal controllers.

The main purposes of the TSMS system are to provide continued coordination and monitoring of the signal system, enhance safety, and provide improved response to transit and pedestrians. The current system is at capacity, which means that no new signals can be linked and controlled by the system. The upgrade will double the number of signals that can be controlled from 600 to 1200. The upgrade will also provide the opportunity to introduce new technologies such as a link to the internet, video monitoring, improved traffic detection, and transit preemption.

The most critical and expensive component of the signal system is the controllers, since they are required at all traffic signals. Currently, all controller cabinets and internal components are supplied by Novax Industries of New Westminster BC, the sole Canadian manufacturer of controllers. Most of these cabinets hold Novax’s 3905 controllers, which the City began to install about 15 years ago, and which are now old technology. These controllers will need to be upgraded to conform to the new system, and because they are obsolete.


The year 2000 problem and how it could impact the various components of the existing signal system is a major concern. City staff have contacted the supplier of the central software (Computran Systems Corporation) and the supplier of the central computer (Concurrent Computer Canada Inc.). Computran has noted that its software is non-compliant and has stated (in writing) that it will fix the problem by the middle of next year. Concurrent has not responded in writing to the City. If the traffic signal system ceased to function on January 1, 2000, it would not be catastrophic to the City because the controllers are compliant and could continue to operate independently. However, the City would temporarily lose its ability to centrally control and monitor any traffic signals. This would mean the loss of consistent coordination of traffic signals, which would increase congestion and travel times. It would also mean the loss of the ability to monitor signal malfunctions, which could reduce safety.

The City’s suppliers are not able to warrant the current system for the year 2000 problems. The system is scheduled to be upgraded over the next three years in any case. Given this situation, the most prudent action is to accelerate the upgrade, and complete the critical elements by January 1, 2000. In order to accomplish this, it would be necessary to bypass a tender process, in this case, to save time. The following is a schedule that has been prepared by Delcan Corporation, who have been hired by the City for the design of the system. This schedule assumes a tender process is bypassed:

Specifications for controllers

Oct. 1, 1998


Oct. 31, 1998

Negotiate with supplier

Nov. 1, 1998


Nov. 30, 1998

Manufacture controllers

Dec. 1, 1998


June 30, 1999

Controller testing and installation

Feb. 1, 1999


Oct. 31, 1999

Testing, integration and training for the new system

May 1, 1999


Aug. 31, 1999

Input database into new system

Aug. 1, 1999


Nov. 31, 1999

Transfer intersections to new system

Sept. 1, 1999


late Dec. 1999

This schedule also contains time needed for software customization. Both the controllers and the central computer will require some software development and a protocol will need to be developed to allow the two to communicate with each other. Considering this need for software, the schedule proposed by the consultant is considered to be an aggressive one, but still feasible.

A tender process for the purchase of controllers would add between three and four months to this process since it would need to include preparation of tender documents, advertising, waiting for bids, evaluation of bids, and award of contract. This would push the completion date past January 1, 2000, and would lead to the problems discussed above.

The City has purchased a number of 6905 controllers (Novax’s current model) as part of the regular signal program, and these are currently in operation. Staff have confidence in the quality and functionality of these controllers. This knowledge will reduce the time to implement the new system.


The next step would be to negotiate with Novax. Staff believe that a fair price can be negotiated based on the following:

- currently, all controllers are bought from Novax so approximate costs are known.
- Delcan deals with a number of controller suppliers and can provide cost comparisons
- the City is purchasing a large quantity of controllers, so a price discount is expected
- the City has a good working relationship with Novax.

If negotiations do not meet staff expectations, the City could arrange to change-out Novax controller-cabinets over time. To deal with the year 2000 problem, the City would have other courses of action it could follow. However, staff anticipate that negotiations with Novax would be successful.


A tender process is the normal City procedure for large jobs, but in this case it would delay completion of the TSMS upgrade until past the year 2000. This could lead to a number of year 2000 related problems. Negotiating directly with Novax would reduce the schedule time, and allow the critical parts of the upgrade to be completed before January 1, 2000. Therefore, it is recommended that City staff negotiate directly with Novax for the supply of the 600 traffic signal controllers.

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