Skip to content

Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Improving service on King and Queen — can it be done?

Read more articles by

Improving service on King and Queen — can it be done?

Steve Munro thinks it can, and he’s put together a detailed proposal showing how.

The King and Queen streetcars have been among the more problematic routes on the TTC network. Operating through the downtown core and through the revitalizing inner suburbs, they’re among the most heavily used routes on the city-wide network (King especially). The King streetcar is operating at capacity with a scheduled peak service of two-minute intervals, and the TTC claims that adding more capacity isn’t possible. The Queen car is suffering from lengthy delays that the TTC claims is caused by traffic congestion, and again the remedies are said to be limited.

But activists like Steve Munro have noted that the operating characteristics of Queen and King are hampering both routes performance. If King is a more heavily travelled route than Queen, why is Queen operated almost exclusively with articulated streetcars? The length of the Queen route, and the lengthier headways between vehicles serve only to increase delays and make short turns especially frustrating for commuters.

The solution, Steve Munro suggests, is to swap vehicles between routes. Operate King exclusively using ALRVs, and return the CLRVs to Queen. More importantly, ALRVs should replace CLRVs on King at a 1 to 1 ratio, so that frequencies don’t change, but the number of seats available to passengers increase. Service on Queen would remain the same, although with shorter vehicles, the rush hour headways would decrease from 5 minutes to close to 3. And if the TTC could find the money to pay for additional drivers, more CLRVs could be added, increasing service still further.

It’s not rocket science: improving service on King and Queen requires more vehicles so that passengers don’t have to wait as long for a vehicle to arrive and have a better chance of finding an empty seat when they do. Where additional vehicles cannot be added, lengthier vehicles should be used instead. This is the principle behind the TTC’s Ridership Growth Strategy. Spare ALRVs and CLRVs are available. All that remains is the money and the political will.

Contact your local councillor if you want to help them find the will.

More at Steve Munro’s blog.

photo by neuroticjose on Flickr



  1. I took the Queen car west to Yonge from Pape twice a day during rush hour for three years, and I can tell you that those ‘double-cars’ were completely packed. Where would all the extra riders not able to fit in the single cars go if the doubles were eliminated from Queen?

  2. The idea would be that you would not lose space, since a greater number of CLRVs would replace the ALRVs, providing the exact same seats per hour past your stop.

    Not that this helps you, I admit, but note Steve’s other suggestion: adding four more CLRVs above the replacement, reducing combined scheduled service from 3 minutes 30 seconds to 3 minutes, meaning more seats. But that assumes the TTC finds the money, and can provide the cars with the remaining number of spare CLRVs.

    Even if the TTC sticks with the standard ALRV to CLRV replacement ratio (2 ALRVs to 3 CLRVs), you would benefit because the cars would be arriving at your stop more frequently, so if one of those cars got short turned, you wouldn’t have to wait so long for the next one.

  3. Is this just a patch up solution for the streetcars along Queen and King? Because in my view no matter how many CLRV’s or ALRV’s you add or switch between them it will not make a difference whatsoever as long as transit doesn’t have its own right of way. You will need to close central lanes along these streets and even put the tracks underground in some places. There is no political will (or vision) nor money to do this, so just forget about it, people will keep travelling those routes like sardines in a can.

  4. Carlos,

    If you read Steve Munro’s original post, this is specifically cited as a patch up solution that could be implemented quickly — as early as October if the TTC commissioners get behind this. It’s not the only solution, but it’s one that can be implemented early, and one which will achieve substantial benefits to the riders on Queen and King. King riders especially will benefit from a 20% increase in capacity over periods where ALRVs are currently mixed with CLRVs, and a 50% increase in capacity over periods when CLRVs are operated exclusively.

    In the longer term, as the TTC replaces and expands its streetcar fleet (the measure is in the City’s capital budget), we can consider route realignments, breaking Queen into smaller overlapping routes to make the sections more reliable. But right now, this is a measure that can be implemented almost immediately, and we should get behind it.

    The old adage here is that if we wait for a perfect solution, none will arrive. The question asked is, is this measure an improvement over the conditions that now exist. And I think you have to agree that this would definitely improve matters.

  5. Something has to be done about Queen. I shouldn’t have to wait 20 mins in between street cars. Especially if I have to pay for a taxi to get to Yonge and Queen subway to go to north,

  6. A patch-up is better than zip, and the opposition to doing right-of-ways is likely strong enough to sink any real improvements till the ice caps melt some more. But we’re still not looking at converting the Front St. road folly to a Front St. transitway in a ROW. By restoring transit to Front St. and extending the service to the west we could link to Etobicoke and it’s easier because Front St. is wider and not as used up as it were with various interests insisting on car parking outside their space, or a stop near them, so expedited service is more possible.
    An intermediate fix might be to divert some of either the King or the Queen cars down alongside the Weston rail corridor to Front St. and a ROW.

  7. Hamish,

    Ideally, I think we should be doing both: maintaining and improving service on King and Queen in this fashion, and running cars along the Waterfront West LRT, either through the Fort York/Bremner Blvd arrangement, or via a Front Street transitway.

    The benefit of the Waterfront West LRT is that it would improve the commutes for those in southern Etobicoke, bypassing the heavy loads on King and Queen streets, reducing some of the load on the 501 and 504 cars. But the demands on the 501 and 504 cars enroute remain, and Steve Munro’s proposal addresses this more than anything else.

    If we proceed with Transit City, and if the planned streetcar fleet replacement and expansion goes forward, then there is a good possibility that we can have decent streetcar service along King and Queen, as well as a proper LRT operating along Front or Bremner Blvd to Union station.

  8. If you want to open up public space, don’t forget to avoid jargon that excludes insiders! What is an ALRV? What is a CLRV? Why should Torontonians care?

  9. Thanks Serge.

    CLRV and ALRV refers to the two main types of streetcars that operate on our streets. The CLRVs are the shorter ones, and the ALRVs are the longer ones that can bend. The acronyms stand for the following:

    CLRV = Canadian Light Rail Vehicle
    ALRV = Articulated Light Rail Vehicle.

    These vehicles, like Toronto’s buses and subways, carry thousands of Torontonians around the city each day, and this altered arrangement promises some quick improvements.

  10. ^CLRV = ‘Canadian Light Rail Vehicle’, the shorter, more common Toronto streetcar.

    ALRV = ‘Articulated Light Rail Vehicle’, the longer, accordion streetcar with the bend in the middle.

  11. ALRV-Articulated Light Rail Vehicle
    CLRV-Canadian Light Rail Vehicle (smaller than the ALRV)

    It isn’t’ that hard to find out what it means. This is the age of the Internet and Google after all…

    Torontonians should care because the future of the city depends on how people move about. If you are not passionate about the TTC then you are not a real Torontonian.

  12. I strenuously disagree with the Metro-era WWLRT because it’s mixing up two goals with one costly project while not considering all of the transit options through the corridor, including more GO trains. The WWLRT is based on the Front St. Extension being in place, but the FSE hasn’t looked at transit options including higher order transit. If one adds up all the projected costs of waterfront area transport – the FSE atc. $250M, the WWLRT @ c. $350M and the fixes for the Union Station loop c. $150M, that’s nearly a billion bucks, and could we not think of building a subway for that amount, direct into destinations?
    We shouldn’t be fooled into providing gold-plated service through an undeveloped area via a milk run when we haven’t explored what transit options exist.
    Having Etobicarians get on transit means providing good transit, not milk runs. Sorry, I’m opinionated.

  13. I hear you, Hamish, but I think this is another discussion for another day. I agree with you that the residents of southern Etobicoke would be best served by bypassing the Queen and King services and taking them into Union station as quickly as possible, and I see your point that replacing the Front Street Extension with a Front Street transitway could do this very effectively, while ditching this questionable road extension.

    But this post is more about what we can do to King and Queen in the short term, and I hope you agree that this swap and increase in service would of benefit to TTC riders.

  14. I honestly believe that no short-term solution will make much of a difference in the Queen/King corridor because of all the traffic you get there (especially in the financial district core). The city should start talking about long-term solutions, and they should include the construction of a subway (or at least a ROW LRT) underneath king and modernizing the streetcar fleet. Many Hydro and Rail corridors should also be used to divert Queen/King transit users.
    The best short-term solution I can think of is to create a good bike infrastructure and educate people that it is sociably responsible (and acceptable) to use a bicycle to commute.

  15. Hamish Wilson indeed put it well. The real challenge is building a subway for less than $1 billion/kilometre. Solve that one guys.

  16. A.R., that one’s pretty easy to solve. Subways cost about $200-$250 million per kilometer. And costs aren’t going to go down, they’ll only go up (unless you have a Nobel prize-worthy formula to reverse inflation.) The key to bringing down the cost to the City of Toronto is to find an adequate and predictible long-term cost sharing program with the other orders of government.

    Regardless of that, A.R., what Hamish is referring to isn’t even a subway. It’s the combined cost of a new road, an LRT and upgrades to Union Station.

  17. which is cheaper: burying car traffic or burying transit? how expensive would it be to bury parking?

  18. What about having rush hour bus service on Adelaide and Richmond? Part of the problem is that there are no other alternatives to the Queen and King streetcars, except you know cars and bikes.

  19. “It’s not rocket science: improving service on King and Queen requires more vehicles . . .”

    More vehicles? More streetcars of any type, yes. Cars with single occupants, no.

    It’s time to conclude single occupancy cars are the real problem and if we can reduce or ban (yeah, BAN) their use in the downtown core that alone might vastly improve the speed and comfort in which patrons can be shuttled around.

    The ripple effect might also reduce pointless traffic well out into the burbs as folks entertain the notion that once they drop off their car they can get downtown speedily and in comfort.

    Or not…TAXI!!!

  20. It is going to come to a ban on single-occupancy vehicles eventually, indeed a ban on all private motorized vehicles. Yes car drivers, you are a dinosaur. Whether it’s gridlock, a lack of oil, or the law, the ban is coming. However, it will be ‘a day late and a dollar short’ by the time we do it.

  21. Thanks for reading and thinking about all this. Yes, something quicker and cheap to do something as Steve suggests likely would be useful; yet in the four years of waiting for a decision about the EA appeal of the FSE, could we not have added half a dozen more GO trains and still had some money left over with the FSE quarter billion? And perhaps we could have built an expedited route to the core via the Weston railtracks to Front St. too but our dominant Never Diminish Paving crowd seems fixated on road-building. Extra redundancy in east-west transit services could have eased recent tensions with disrupted King service too.