Recent articles on this site looked in great detail at the 501 Queen car and the problems with its service. Often, when people talk about Queen, they miss the streetcar routes that are, in effect, branch operations of the Queen line serving Kingston Road in The Beach:
- 502 Downtowner (formerly Kingston Road) operates between Bingham Loop (at Victoria Park & Kingston Road) and McCaul Loop sharing trackage with 501 Queen west of Woodbine Loop (which is actually at Kingston Road, and is named for the old racetrack, which itself became “Greenwood” when “New Woodbine” opened in northern Etobicoke). This route operates weekdays until the end of the PM peak. Evening and weekend service is provided by the 22a Coxwell bus.
- 503 Kingston Road Tripper operates rush hours only between Bingham Loop and York Street running into the core via King from the Don Bridge, and looping downtown via Church, Wellington and York.
This service design has been in place, with only a few changes, since 1948:
- 1954: Streetcar service cut back from Birchmount Loop to Bingham Loop.
- 1966: Coxwell bus replaced Coxwell streetcar and evening/weekend service on Kingston Rd./Coxwell (same as the 22A today).
The route name “Downtowner” arose from an ill-advised proposal to provide “relief” to the downtown subway by extending Kingston Road cars from McCaul Loop west and north to Bathurst Station in 1973. This didn’t last long. A year later the extended service became a peak-only operation, and that remained, on paper at least, until 1984. We have the name as a memento of that extension now 30-years in the past. The basic problem was that very little of the service actually reached Bathurst Station with many cars short turning either at Wolseley Loop (Queen & Bathurst) or at McCaul Loop.
The situation is not unlike what we see today because the 502 Downtowner schedule does not provide enough running time, and short turning is a chronic problem. This is particularly troubling because the short turns defeat the purpose of the route’s existence:
- A short turn eastbound at Woodbine Loop removes service from the street which the route is intended to serve.
- A short turn westbound at Church (looping via Richmond and Victoria) sends a car east without serving the major stops downtown from Yonge to University.
- A short turn westbound at Parliament (looping via Dundas and Broadview) removes a car even more from downtown, and not even a clever rider walking a block east from Yonge (an “illegal” move with a regular transfer) can take advantage of the service.
This is compounded by extremely erratic headways that are far worse than I have seen on any other route I have analyzed. According to TTC route performance stats, the 502 is “on time” (that is to say, within ±3 minutes of the scheduled headway) 30% of the time. As we will see later, even that claim is a stretch.
As for the 503 Kingston Road Tripper, service on that route is supposed to be blended with the 502, and during AM peaks it can work out, sort of, there is a vaguely reliable headway of alternating 502/503 cars on Kingston Road. But it’s a hit-and-miss situation, and very large gaps in 503 service are quite common.
Anyone attempting to use transit on or to Kingston Road is well advised to get on the first thing that shows up and be prepared to transfer. This appalling situation is a mockery of what the TTC claims is its “customer service”.
Service on Kingston Road was substantially better in past decades, and it is no wonder that ridership and scheduled service levels have fallen given the unpredictable nature of these routes. Recently, there has been some improvement. In April 2013, off-peak headways of 502 Downtowner improved from 20 to 16 minutes, and in June 2015, from 16 to 10 minutes. However, the fundamental problem of headway reliability undoes much semblance of “improvement”.