The King Streetcar & I Are Friends Now

Borrowed from the Toronto Star, a shot of the King car and the 504 Replacement Bus
Borrowed from the Toronto Star, a shot of the King car and the 504 Replacement Bus

A little under a year ago, I started commuting downtown using the King streetcar. My journey involves taking the Ossington bus down to Shaw and King and then the 504 car to Simcoe. I quickly grew to hate it and, once the weather warmed up, I started walking to work. It did take a little longer but not by much and it was a much more pleasant experience. Then the cold came and it was back to the streetcar, twice a day.

For a few weeks, it seemed like I’d be spending the winter watching packed streetcars roll by me until I was lucky enough to finally squish my way onto one. Then one morning in December, a bus marked “504-Parliament” appeared at the King/Shaw stop. Now, normally a bus on the streetcar route means that something has gone wrong but this bus was half empty. Weird. 

Those of us at the stop cautiously approached the bus and I think everyone asked the drive if yes, the bus was going along King to downtown. He said yes and we got on, with some of us even getting seats.

The next few stops weren’t bustling with people and part way through our journey, we caught up with a streetcar that was ahead of us, which explains why the bus and the stops weren’t there usual packed selves.

That evening, before I went out into the cold, I checked my TTC GPS act and saw that something called the 504 Replacement Bus was running alongside the streetcars. I ended up missing that bus but a minute there was a streetcar and, thanks to that earlier bus, it wasn’t bursting with people.

Over the next few days, I noticed a number of 504 buses running in between the streetcars. I happily used them but some other riders were cautious about these unusual creatures. One morning I heard someone actually ask the bus driver what was up with the buses and he said that additional buses had been added to the 504 route in order to relive congestion. He added that it was a trail run that would continue until Christmas but that might be extended depending on the results.

I guess the TTC is happy with the results because the buses are still running, which certainly makes me very happy. The additional buses mean that jam-packed vehicles are mostly a thing of the past. Previously, on my evening commute, roughly half of every streetcar was too full for me to get on. But since the replacement buses have come long, that’s drop to one out of every 10 vehicles.

And that one vehicle is a lot less rage-inducing because there’s always another, less full streetcar or bus shortly behind. While I have no hard evidence to back this up (and can’t find anything online about this), it seems like during rush hour, there’s a bus or streetcar every two to four minutes, sometimes even more frequently (prior, waits of five-seven minutes weren’t uncommon in the morning). Thanks to these buses, I actually don’t mind taking the TTC to or from work.

The crackdown on gridlock-causing parked cars
The crackdown on gridlock-causing parked cars

This increase in service has also led to my commute being more civil. I’ve noticed less shoving, cramming and rushing of streetcar/bus doors since the next vehicle is only a minute or two away.

John Tory’s crackdown on illegally parked vehicles also appears to be having a positive impact on my commute. Before that initiative started, my evening commute from Simcoe to Shaw normally took between 20 and 30 minutes, with my eastbound morning trip being a little quicker. But since the start of the year, both directions almost always take under 20 minutes.

This combined with more frequent service has led to my overall commute time being noticeably reduced. Barring some issue with the Ossington bus, my total commute time is now under 30 minutes, something that definitely wasn’t the case in November.

Cold-weather hating streetcars; photo by 640 Toronto
Cold-weather hating streetcars; photo by 640 Toronto

I know that the current cold snap has been stressing out our aging streetcar fleet but, apart from that one morning when a streetcar died right at King and Shaw, I haven’t noticed any weather-related impacts on my streetcar commutes. But I know that they’re out, messing up the travels of some unfortunate residents.

If my 504 commute has noticeably improved despite the havoc being caused by the weather, I wonder how much better it will get when the cold and snow is gone. Maybe it’ll drop to a mere 20 minutes, from the moment I arrive at the TTC stop to the moment I get off.

Now that would truly make the TTC the better way.

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