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Routes 502 and 503 - The Kingston Road Streetcars

1990s Bathurst Transfer

Text and photos by James Bow, except where noted.

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The Route

As of November 2023, the 503 KINGSTON ROAD streetcar, no longer a tripper, operated at intervals of every ten minutes or better, seven days a week, whenever the subway was open. Streetcars operate from Bingham Loop at the northwest corner of Kingston Road and Victoria Park via west on Kingston Road, Queen and King to Downtown Toronto. Officially, the downtown loop is via Church, Wellington and York, but due to continuing construction work on the streetcar network, 503 KINGSTON ROAD cars continue west on King from Church to Spadina, looping via Spadina, Adelaide and Charlotte. This arrangement, and 18-hour-a-day operation came after several changes with the streetcar network, resulting in changes to how streetcars operated on Kingston Road.

Before 2019, service on Kingston Road was divided between two streetcar routes and a bus service. The 502 DOWNTOWNER streetcar operated between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. Starting at McCaul Loop on McCaul Street north of Queen, streetcars proceed south on McCaul and east on Queen to Kingston Road, where they turn northeast and follow Kingston Road to Victoria Park Avenue. At Victoria Park, cars turn around inside Bingham Loop, a suburban streetcar loop nestled amongst residential housing.

CLRVs at Bingham Loop

CLRV 4056 waits at Bingham Loop while one of its compatriots departs for either York Street or McCaul. Photo by Rob Hutch.

Alongside 502 DOWNTOWNER, 503 KINGSTON ROAD TRIPPER operated to York and King via King and Wellington. As the name implies, the "tripper" service was initially operated only during rush hours. Service on the Kingston Road portion of both these routes is replaced during the evenings, weekends and nights by an extension of the 22 COXWELL bus.

The "tripper" term dates back from before the 1940s when several streetcar routes in Toronto had alternate "tripper" services supplementing the base route. The 503 service is called the Kingston Road "Tripper" because the 502 DOWNTOWNER route was, until 1974, named KINGSTON ROAD. When the TTC extended the KINGSTON ROAD streetcar along Queen and Bathurst streets to Bathurst Station, they made the name change to promote the new direct downtown connection from the Bloor subway. This extended service degenerated to a rush-hours only branch before long and was dropped altogether in the mid-1980s, returning the 502 route back to its pre-1974 McCaul-Bingham configuration. The name still hasn't been changed back to 'KINGSTON ROAD'.

Kingston Road's Suburban History

The earliest ancestor of the Kingston Road streetcar was a suburban service begun by the Toronto and Scarboro Electric Railway Light and Power Company, incorporated on August 18, 1892. Operated by a board of directors including some prestigious members of Toronto society, cars began trundling up a single track on the north side of Kingston Road from Queen to Blantyre Avenue on July 1, 1893. At this time, East Toronto, as the area was formally known, was fairly well built up, and prospects looked good for the new company. Branches opened, extending service south on the west side of Blantyre to Queen Street that same year(for summers only) and up Walter and Main Streets to Gerrard in 1894.

The combination of an unlucky accident, and competition from the Toronto Railway Company's new line along Queen Street brought hard times to the company. In 1898, management fought back by extending service further east, into the rural reaches of Scarborough, and abandoning the Blantyre track. By July 12, 1901, cars had reached Midland Avenue (location of the Half Way House, a historic building now residing at the Black Creek Pioneer Village) and on August 24, 1906, the line reached its easternmost terminus at West Hill, near today's Fairwood Crescent.

Despite the fact that, by this time, the line was owned by the same people who ran the Toronto Railway Company, the Kingston Road route remained a sleepy suburban line. Competition from the Toronto Civic Railway cars on Gerrard brought about the demise of the branch along Walter, Lyall, Kimberly and Gerrard Streets.

When Kingston Road was Queen and Queen Was Beach

When the City of Toronto acquired direct control over its streetcars with the Toronto Transportation Commission, the city extended its authority over the portion of Kingston Road between Queen Street and Victoria Park. The old Scarboro track was removed from Queen to Victoria Park and a set of double tracks laid down in its place and a new loop was constructed between Victoria Park and Bingham Avenue.

On January 12, 1927, the Commission acquired the operations of the Toronto and York radial lines (which included the Mimico route, the services on North Yonge, and the Scarboro route) and set about incorporating these lines into its system. A connection was made at Victoria Park to the Scarboro line. On January 27, 1928, a year later, the Scarboro route was cut back again, this time to to Birchmount Avenue, where the TTC laid double tracks to a new loop. On November 28, 1928, the TTC ran city cars to Birchmount Loop at 12 minute intervals; the remains of the Scarborough line maintained 30 minute headways, using some of the oldest cars on the system. Never very strong, the depression was the last straw for the Scarboro line, and cars stopped running in 1936.

Kingston Road at Dufferin

In the early 1950s, Kingston Road tripper cars ran to Dufferin Loop, as this picture illustrates. Witt 2748 is heading west along an industrial section of King Street. This photo was taken by Peter Lambert and is donated from Curt Frey's collection.

Service on Kingston Road west of Birchmount Avenue remained strong, however, even though Scarborough residents had to pay a second fare to continue their ride past Victoria Park Avenue. At this time, service was being handled by the Queen Streetcar, operating first from Roncesvalles, and then from a new loop on McCaul Street opened on February 18, 1929 (making the QUEEN streetcar of 1929 look very much like the Downtowner Streetcar of today). Service on Queen Street to Neville Park was handled by the BEACH Streetcar. This arrangement continued until August 2, 1937, when the truncated LAKE SHORE line was merged into the BEACH route, producing a line running from Neville Park to Sunnyside Loop which the TTC renamed QUEEN. The old QUEEN car finally became known as the KINGSTON RD streetcar. The BEACH name lingered until 1948 on a rush-hour tripper service along Queen and King to loop via Church, Wellington and York; after 1948, this service was handed to the KINGSTON ROAD TRIPPER, along with the remains of the old DOVERCOURT tripper route.

Service Cutbacks

The 1950s and the 60s further reduced streetcar service on Kingston Road. On July 1, 1954, the TTC implemented a new fare structure and, with it, streetcar service was cut back from Birchmount Loop to Victoria Park. The western terminus of the Kingston Road streetcar would shift from that time into the 1970s, with tripper cars using the downtown loop of Church, Wellington and York, Dufferin Loop at the CNE and Roncesvalles Carhouse before settling back into its downtown terminus.

From the beginning of TTC service on Kingston Road, the downtown connection only took place during the rush hours and midday on the weekdays, with COXWELL streetcars taking over operations for evenings, weekends and nights. Among the streetcar casualties resulting from the opening of the Bloor-Danforth Subway in 1966 was the COXWELL streetcar. When streetcar service on Coxwell disappeared, the TTC experimented with using every second QUEEN car to maintain streetcar service on Kingston Road during evenings and weekends. During that period, night service was basically eliminated, save for a single streetcar departing from Bingham Loop for Long Branch every Sunday morning at 1:02 AM. As night services went, this was probably the most infrequent with one car appearing every 168 hours.

The QUEEN-Bingham experiment was not successful, failing to meet the travel patterns of Kingston Road residents and contributing to the instability of QUEEN car scheduling during evenings and weekends. The QUEEN car returned to its normal route on May 22, 1966, and the 22 COXWELL bus was extended over the old KINGSTON RD-COXWELL route to Bingham Loop, with night service reinstated. During the experiment, however, the Bingham-Long Branch service was the longest single streetcar trip in Toronto, at 15.8 miles.

The Birth of the Downtowner

PCC 4300

PCC 4300 sits in Connaught carhouse in the mid 1970s, showing off the 'DOWNTOWNER' rollsign. Photo donated from the Brad O'Brien collection.

The biggest change to the McCaul branch of the Kingston Road streetcar came on April 2, 1973, when the service was extended from McCaul farther west along Queen and then north on Bathurst to Bathurst Station. Renamed 'DOWNTOWNER' to promote its new direct-downtown service from the Bloor-Danforth subway, this operation didn't catch on. On September 4, 1974, the Bathurst Station branch of the Downtowner car was cut back to rush-hours only, with base service returning to McCaul Loop. When McCaul Loop was rebuilt between 1976 and 1978 with the construction of the Village by the Grange, base service was temporarily extended to Wolesley Loop just north of Queen and Bathurst, but returned to McCaul Loop when it reopened. All DOWNTOWNER service was cut back to McCaul Loop on March 9, 1984, although the line retained the name given to it when service was extended.

In spite of the attempts to bolster service on the KINGSTON ROAD car, frequencies continued to drop, and patrons on the line became frustrated over delays on the route. By the mid-1990s, 502 DOWNTOWNER cars were operating at around 20 minute intervals during the midday and at 12 minute intervals during rush hours. Twelve-minute service on the 503 KINGSTON ROAD TRIPPER provided 6 minute service along the common portions of both routes.

In the early 1990s, however, as the TTC considered what to do with a surplus of streetcars resulting from service cuts, a proposal came forward to reinstate the COXWELL streetcar, extending streetcar tracks north from the Coxwell/Upper Gerrard intersection to Coxwell subway station. The route was rated as the most beneficial to convert, partly because of the small amount of new tracks required, and the fact that COXWELL streetcars could operate on Kingston Road on evenings and weekends, providing "continuity of service" on the street. Unfortuantely, the TTC felt that the ridership was not high enough to justify the costs of conversion. The bus-streetcar arrangement continued for the next twenty years, and although buses did replace streetcars on occasion, it was primarily to allow for construction to renew the streetcar tracks.

Temporary Bustitution and a Flip

In 2017, streetcar service faded and vanished on Kingston Road, as construction projects on Queen made streetcar service unfeasible. The streetcars stayed away as winter set in, as a result of a shortage of streetcars resulting from delays to Bombardier's delivery of Flexity streetcars. In the meantime, the City of Toronto and the TTC collaborated to try and address congestion problems on King Street that were holding back the heavily-used-line's performance. On November 19, 2017, the City of Toronto implemented a pilot project blocking through traffic for automobiles on King Street between Bathurst and Jarvis. 503 KINGSTON ROAD buses were there to take advantage of the clearance of the street of competing traffic

In January 2018, the TTC announced that, to deal with the increasing streetcar shortage, effective February 18, 2018, the 506 CARLTON and 505 DUNDAS streetcars would be temporarily bussed so that the streetcars could be moved elsewhere. This re-instated streetcar service on Kingston Road, but with a difference. 502 DOWNTOWNER would remain as a bus service, and operate rush hours only. The 503 KINGSTON ROAD TRIPPER would return to service, operating between Bingham Loop at Victoria Park and Charlotte Loop at Spadina (the tracks on Wellington were unavailable due to construction) on both rush hours and midday in order to bolster service on the street. Effectively, the 502 DOWNTOWNER and the 503 KINGSTON ROAD TRIPPER had switched prominence. Streetcars returned to 502 DOWNTOWNER on Monday, June 24, 2018 for the summer, thanks to trackwork being done on Broadview Avenue, but the service remained peak only.

Continuing construction and the streetcar shortage would bring buses back to 503 KINGSTON ROAD through 2019, with bus service on 502 DOWNTOWNER suspended entirely. Streetcars did return to the 503 route in 2020, operated with Flexities, however, with construction work elsewhere and ridership losses from the COVID-19 pandemic making resources available. In May 2020, 503 KINGSTON ROAD service was scheduled to operate at 10 minute intervals during the midday and afternoon peaks, and 9 minutes, 15 seconds during the morning peak, slightly more frequent than 501 QUEEN, which was set to 10 minute frequencies throughout its operating day. And while another bustitution was planned for the fall, ongoing construction and bus replacement on 506 CARLTON and 511 BATHURST kept streetcars in service on the 503.

In late 2023, the TTC announced that 503 KINGSTON ROAD would take over full-service duties on Kingston Road, formally replacing the suspended 502 DOWNTOWNER service and the Kingston Road branch of 22 COXWELL. By this time, construction on the Ontario Line had closed Queen Street at Yonge, suspending through streetcar service on Queen Street, meaning there was little reason to maintain the DOWNTOWNER car. Studies also suggested that travel patterns in the area had shifted, with more demand for downtown service from Kingston Road outside of rush hour and weekday middays.

The Future

During the 2010s, the 502 DOWNTOWNER and 503 KINGSTON ROAD TRIPPER streetcar routes had significantly lower ridership than the other routes on the network. This suggested that their future should be seen as less secure than any other streetcar route in the system. However, streetcar service on Kingston Road has survived numerous challenges that could have forced the TTC to end streetcar service on Kingston Road. Instead, the TTC has worked to maintain streetcars, and even looked at ways of making the 22 COXWELL service into a streetcar service to provide consistent streetcar service throughout all hours of the day. In the end, they elected to just establish full service on what was once a rush hour tripper.

Clearly, the Kingston Road streetcars have staying power, thanks to their history and the quality of service they manage to provide despite the challenges. And while these routes may be consolidated into one, we can hopefully count on streetcars to continue rolling on Kingston Road for the foreseeable future.

502 Downtowner / 503 Kingston Road Image Archive


  • Bromley, John F., TTC '28, The Upper Canada Railway Society, Toronto (Ontario), 1979.
  • Bromley, John F., and Jack May Fifty Years of Progressive Transit, Electric Railroaders' Association, New York (New York), 1978.
  • Stamp, Robert M., Riding the Radials: Toronto's Suburban Electric Streetcar Lines, The Boston Mills Press, Erin (Ontario), 1989.
  • The files of Ray Corley.
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