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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

POLL: The splitting of the 501


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From October 18 to November 21, the TTC will conduct a weekday pilot in which the 501 Queen streetcar route will be split in two.

According to a meeting highlights document from early July, the pilot “will help examine the effects of a route split on streetcar gapping, bunching and short turns, as well as study the impact on customers forced to transfer to continue their trip beyond the split.”

Splitting the 501 is not a new idea, and the timing of the trial is most likely in response to growing criticism (particularly from residents of the Beaches) of how the TTC runs its longest streetcar route.

We want to hear from you:

Photo by Robert Taylor



  1. To save folks the bother of going to the TTC website to find out what the split means:

    The 501 Eastbound will run from Long Branch or the Humber Loop to the Church/Parliament area only.

    The 501 Westbound will run from Neville Park to the Bathurst/Shaw area only.

    To do the full trip, you will have to transfer somewhere in the downtown area from one 501 streetcar to the other 501 streetcar.

  2. If the westbound only goes to Church and the Eastbound only to Bathurst, how does one get to, say, Queen/University? Or Queen/Spadina?

    This will personally be very inconvenient for me, living in east Leslieville and travelling frequently to Parkdale and Roncesvalles. The trip is already long enough!

  3. If it’s a sure thing that I’m going to have a transfer when all I want to go is cross downtown, I won’t use the 501. This idea might be functional on paper but is terrifically annoying.

    Why not split the route into 3 parts. West, centre and east segments. West would run from Long Branch to Roncesvalles; centre from Roncesvalles to Broadview (like the King car) and east from Broadview to Neville Park. That way the car can better serve the 2 very distinct areas of the city that it serves. Hey, if there are a lot of people travelling from Kipling/Lakeshore to Queen/Jones…then I’m sorry, this isn’t a good idea. But I think that scenario (or ones like it) is unlikely.

  4. I feel like this will cause connectivity problems with the east and west ends of the downtown. With no subway or other method to get across the lower downtown i do not see this working.

  5. Would it make any sense to have the split route in addition to the continuous route? This way, if half or a third of the streetcars are continuous, people could still make their way crosstown.

  6. only in toronto would we still be talking about this. queen should be a subway line pure and simple. in any other city this size in the world it would be. it’s time for us to stop deluding ourselves into thinking streetcars are the way to go in a congested city like toronto that happens to be frigid almost half the year. where is the leadership and the vision??
    on an unrelated subject, just did the toronto-montreal and back-again via train trip for the first time in years. it was cool to be transported back in time to the 60’s thanks to the antiquated rail stock but i wonder, given the lineups and popularity of the route, where our high-speed trains are?? we are decades behind countries that we considered third world and backward only a few short years ago.

  7. One of the big problems with the Queen car is maintaining even spacing on a very long route. I think that the splitting of the route is part of the solution to poor service on Queen. I think that Shaw and Parliament should be chosen as the end points, to maximize the coverage through the central part of town.

    Also two of the ideas already tried should be continued.

    1. Step back driver exchange. Drivers take a break when they reach the ends of the line, which is perfectly okay. The run is 1.2 to 2 hours, after all. But presently the streetcar is out of service for that time. With the step-back, when a streetcar reaches the loop the previous driver, who has finished his break, takes over the car and gets it right back into service.

    2. Changing drivers instead of streetcars at the end of shift. Usual practice was to shortturn streetcars so the operator would be back at the carhouse by the end of her shift. The new method is just to have a new driver replace the old one when the streetcar passes the car-house, and the streetcar keeps going, hardly missing a beat.

  8. @Kate: They overlap in the middle, so both routes will go to Queen/University and Queen/Spadina. (Calling them “Eastbound” and “Westbound” is a bit of a misnomer.)

  9. and further to that, @Josh Hind, all cars will run between Church/Parliament and Bathurst/Shaw. So depending on your definition of downtown, there will in fact be lots of options.

    (I live in the Beaches and only very rarely travel west of Bathurst, so I’m provisionally happy with the idea.)

  10. Another thing that needs to be done is simply increase the number of streetcars on Queen. Steve Munro has a practical idea of how this could be done. King Street has higher ridership than Queen, and more frequent service. At AM peak it is a car every 2 minutes on King, every 5 minutes on Queen.) However most of the articulated streetcars (ALRVs) are on Queen, and very few on King. ALRVs hold about 50% more people than the regular cars (CLRVs). What if they put more ARLVs on the busy King route, and put 3 CLRV cars to Queen for every 2 ALRVs replaced. With 50% more cars the wait on Queen will be reduced to 3.5 minutes, while the King car still has an acceptable 3 minute spacing. Both lines would maintain the same total capacity.

  11. My reply isn’t really captured in the poll choices, which is that it might create some small improvement to service, but the inconvenience to riders having to transfer mid-ride is not worth it.

    I wonder if to some extent, though, the TTC already effectively does this. A lot of cars only go west to Roncesvalles, and some eastbound short-turn at Kingston Road. So in a way they’re just tightening the transfer space and making it universal.

  12. Using the option “Let’s wait and see” is somewhat redundant to the question, especially when it is about the outcome of the trial.

  13. The smart money should be on “no effect”. Since the 501 has many design and operational problems that are independent of route length, it’s hard to see how splitting the line is going to make any large difference.

  14. The proposed split in the middle is nonsense as has been discussed on my site at length. Unless a through service is maintained between at least Ronces an Coxwell, many cross-city riders will suffer from having to transfer between two poorly managed services.

    I am convinced this is TTC trying to make it fail, just like the integrated subway service so many years ago, so that they can say “see, we told you it wouldn’t work”. Anything to avoid putting the line back in a sensible configuration.

  15. Hi agree with Rick. Queen and/or King need subways or dedicated streetcar lanes. It’s the only long term solution!

  16. I hope someone is collating these responses and sending them to the TTC? What’s the public input process on this?

  17. Good god. uh, yeah – give it a trial run and see what happens…

  18. People here who concerned that they’ll have to change cars to get downtown either aren’t reading correctly the nature of the split or are actually going *across* downtown:

    A streetcar that begins at the west end of the line — Long Branch or Humber — will turn around on the other side of Yonge Street, at Church or Parliament.

    A streetcar that begins at the east end of the line — Neville Park — will turn around at Bathurst or Shaw.

    Judging from the turnover I see at the Yonge and University stops, it seems to me that there are very few people who actually go right across that core, between Shaw/Bathurst and Church/Parliament — a core that will be served by *both* ends of the line.

  19. Be glad that both splits will reach the downtown core. In Montreal, the west part of the Sherbrooke bus (route 105) only goes as far as a metro stop on the west side of town. The east part of the route (bus 24) only overlaps for a couple of blocks.

  20. Given the totally inept management of the TTC, this most likely will not work. They could improve matters by taking some cars off the Spadina route and putting them to use on Queen and King (or get rid of the streetcars and put in buses, which can negotiate the traffic better, since a right-of-way would be a disaster on a narrow street like Queen).
    Almost every morning I pass Spadina and Queen and can count at least six Spadina streetcars in eye shot (once I counted ten), and nothing on Queen, just forlorn would be passengers. Worse, most of the Spadina streetcars turn at King, making them useless for the people in the condo ghetto south. I still believe that it’s to pretend that the right-of-way “works”. I’m still convinced that it’s a political decision to flood Spadina with streetcars, not operational.

  21. @Steve Munro: Why does the TTC want it to fail? What motivates the TTC to seek its own failure?

  22. I agree with Steve. Splitting it in the middle of a congested downtown is utter nonsense. Many riders of the 501 use the service to get through downtown, from residences on the east side to jobs on the western edge of downtown (such as near Spadina) and vice versa. Making them wait for hopeless transfers is just an invitation to chase these riders away.

    The best option would be the earlier proposal to short-turn the 501 at Roncy and then run a 507-ish service from Long Branch up Roncesvalles to Dundas West station. I would also short-turn every other 501 streetcar at, say, Coxwell and run an express bus service from Union via Front/Eastern to Coxwell and then provide local service through the Beaches. Finally, has everyone forgotten about Kingston Road? The infrastructure is in place, but the service is perhaps the weakest of any part of the 501/502/503 route. Why not just have it run in a loop between Bingham Loop and the aforementioned Coxwell loop?

  23. How great that we have a transit system that is desperate to provide poor service.

    It’s also worth mentioning that anybody who regularly uses the 501 to get from the Beaches to west of Roncesvalles is crazy enough as it is, and any new transfers probably won’t be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

  24. I think the split is a counterproductive idea. The real problem is the car traffic on Queen slowing down the streetcars. Firstly, all of Queen St should be mandated as No Left Turn for cars, right now. Then the downtown section, say from Bathurst to Parliament, should be made car free, dedicating the road to streetcars, bikes and pedestrians. This car-free zone can then be progressively extended east and west as people get over their initial tantrums and start to see the advantages. It is the only affordable, sustainable solution.

  25. “Many riders of the 501 use the service to get through downtown, from residences on the east side to jobs on the western edge of downtown (such as near Spadina) and vice versa.”

    As has been mentioned already in the comments, the first scenario described above should be catered to, because all cars from the east end will be going west of Spadina (absent short turns). People coming from the west end won’t get east of Church without a transfer, but that isn’t a huge group of riders.

    The interesting question is whether all west-end service will be scheduled to Long Branch. In theory, service west of Humber will improve over the current every-other-car-if-you’re-lucky (and sometimes not even then). However, we have to wait and see i) what the scheduling of the split is like; and ii) the frequency and location of short turns during the route split experiment.

  26. I think it’s a good idea, the overlap between the two is very large.
    The TTC is very limited on where the streetcar can turn around, they can’t just put them anywhere.

    I’d like to see more “no left turn” signs, that would also speed up the traffic.

  27. The TTC does want it to fail. If they were really concerned about the service, they would re-instate the 507, and terminate the 501 at Humber Loop. Traffic on Lakeshore is fairly light during rush-hours, and the 507 should require 2, maybe 3 cars at the most.

  28. @Ed People coming from the west end won’t get east of Church without a transfer, but that isn’t a huge group of riders.

    When was the last time you took the 501? That streetcar serves tons of people from Leslieville and beyond who commute toand from the downtown core for work.

    Ideally, the city would build the DRL. As many posters have noted, it’s ridiculous that this stretch isn’t served by a subway or something more efficient than a streetcar.

    The 501/504 have been on diversion lately and any east ender could tell you what a nightmare it has been to commute. And the TTC (and city) wonders why people stop riding.

  29. “When was the last time you took the 501? That streetcar serves tons of people from Leslieville and beyond who commute toand from the downtown core for work.”

    I’ve taken the 501 lots and lots of times.

    Anyone coming from the east can go as far as Bathurst or Shaw. That’s the “Neville-Shaw” leg, as opposed to the “Long Branch-Church” leg.

    The two parts of the 501 overlap between Church and Bathurst/Shaw. That’s clearly stated by the TTC release and by several people.

    This new arrangement will require a transfer for anyone travelling from esst of Church to west of Shaw, and vice-versa.

    It seems that the TTC will have to take out lots of ads to explain this arrangement to alarmed people; hopefully the plan will be criticized or praised on its actual merits, not some misperception of it.