Apologies in advance to readers as this is a long post with a lot of charts both inline and linked. It is intended as a resource to show how the TTC has provided less than sterling service on the 501 Queen route west of Humber Loop over past years, and especially since mid-February 2018.
Updated March 19, 2018 at 7:30 am: The TTC has assigned 15 additional buses to the 501L service to deal with overcrowding and the route extension from Windermere (planned) to Dufferin (actual).
Updated March 20, 2018 at 9:15 am: A chart of the time spent by buses at Long Branch Loop for the first two months of 2018 has been added at the end of this article.
Riders on the western end of the 501 Queen route might be forgiven for thinking that the TTC really does not want their business. For many years, service west of Humber Loop has had the feeling of an afterthought, an unimportant outlying part of the TTC’s system.
Until 1995, the (507) Long Branch car was a separate route operating between Humber and Long Branch loops. This split was a vestige of the former zone boundary at Humber when the service further west was outside of the City of Toronto, and a recognition that demand on Lake Shore Boulevard was not at the same level as on the principal route as (501) Queen further east. The forced transfer was a mixed blessing in that service west of Humber was immune to disruptions on Queen Street downtown, but riders bound to and from destinations east of Humber always faced an uncertain transfer connection thanks to the frequent short-turns of Queen cars at Sunnyside Loop. During off peak periods, demand west of Humber is more local between the residential and commercial areas, and a dedicated service gave rider some certainty that a car would show up reliably.
When the two routes were amalgamated, service on Lake Shore was always at the mercy of short turns on the Queen car and the inherently “gappy” nature of service arriving westbound after an hour or more crossing the city from Neville to Humber.
When the Long Branch route operated separately, it had strong ridership, almost 15,000 per day in 1976. This fell over the years for various factors including the declining industrial base on southern Etobicoke, a reorientation of traffic to north-south routes linking with the Bloor Subway, and a decline in service level. In the last year for which the TTC reported separate ridership numbers on the two routes, 1993, Long Branch was down to 7,000 riders per day. Over the same period, Queen fell from 66.5k to 49.4k partly due to riding losses brought on by less frequent and reliable service with the route’s conversion to the larger ALRV streetcars on wider headways. Daily car mileage on 501 Queen fell from 8,263 in 1976 to 4,300 by 1993. The early 1990s were also a period of recession when riding on the TTC as a whole fell back from historically higher levels in the 1980s.
Recent years brought a partial restoration of local service to Lake Shore thanks both to schedule tinkering and to complete shutdowns of streetcar service for track and road works. Buses operating on the “501L” service run much more frequently thanks to the TTC’s substitution for streetcars at a high ratio to compensate both for vehicle capacity and presumed requirements for extra construction-related running time. Riders tend to like these substitutions if only for the more frequent service. Reliability, however, is another matter and the TTC’s supervision of “temporary” construction routes tends to be even more “hands off” than for regular routes.
Service on 501L is further complicated by the lack of a proper turnaround at Roncesvalles where the streetcar route has ended for over a year, and the buses have, until recently, been scheduled to operate east on Queen and then south to Dufferin Loop which they shared with 29 Dufferin and 514 Cherry. This takes the route through a notoriously congested part of Queen Street.
From February 18, 2018 onward, the service design has been completely out of whack with actual operations because the 501L buses, scheduled to terminate at Windermere on the assumption that streetcar service to Humber would resume, are operating east to Dufferin.