Route 508 - The Lake Shore Streetcar

Text by James Bow.

The Route (see also 507 Long Branch)

The 508 LAKE SHORE streetcar was a limited-run rush hour service that served Lake Shore Boulevard, the Queensway and King Street through downtown Toronto. On weekday mornings, between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., three streetcars would depart from Long Branch Loop and end their runs at Parliament. Sometimes these cars would return to Roncesvalles Carhouse via Parliament, Queen, Church and King, but other times the service would return via Parliament, Carlton, College, Dundas, Howard Park and Roncesvalles, supplementing service on the 506 CARLTON streetcar. During the afternoon rush hours, five streetcars would enter service from Queen and Church, operating via Church, King, the Queensway and Lakeshore Boulevard to Long Branch loop.

While it was challenging to maintain a consistent schedule through the heavy rush hour traffic of downtown Toronto, the 508 LAKE SHORE streetcar had a base of riders who took advantage of the direct connection offered between the financial district and southern Etobicoke. Unfortunately, since July 2015, the service has been suspended due to a shortage of available streetcars.

A History of the 508 Lake Shore Streetcar

The 508 LAKE SHORE operations date back to the TTC’s 1992 Service Plan. After successfully testing direct downtown, limited run express buses, the TTC considered a similar operation using streetcars to link southern Etobicoke to downtown Toronto. For obvious reasons, the new streetcar operation could not be considered an express route, but the TTC still felt that the benefits of direct, transfer-free service to downtown Toronto would generate enough riders to justify three additional streetcars.

On Monday, January 6, 1992, three streetcars signed “504 PARLIAMENT” left Long Branch loop at 7:25, 7:34 and 7:43 a.m., scheduled to arrive at Yonge and King at 8:26, 8:35 and 8:44 a.m. respectively before continuing east on King to Parliament. The service did not have its own route number, and though it was signed as a branch of the 504 King streetcar, was considered a branch of 507 LONG BRANCH.

The venture paid off. According to the service’s review in the TTC’s 1995 Service Plan, the three streetcars were originally projected to carry 90 customers a day. By February 13, 1994, this number had grown to 200 customer trips per day and a per-boarding profit of $0.30 a passenger, according to the accounting statistics of the day. Additional trips were added in the afternoon rush-hour.

On Sunday, March 26, 1995, the 507 LONG BRANCH streetcar was merged into the 501 QUEEN route, but the direct downtown service remained, and was renumbered into 508 LAKE SHORE. At first, 508 streetcars operated displaying ‘507 LONG BRANCH’ as well as ‘504 PARLIAMENT’ on their rollsigns, but by 1999 new rollsigns were added, and the 508 number was finally shown to TTC Patrons.

West-end Downtowners

Despite how recently the 508 LAKE SHORE streetcar came into being, it’s far from being the first streetcar service between Long Branch and downtown Toronto. The 507 LONG BRANCH streetcar operated additional service east of Humber Loop to Queen and Church (looping via Church, Richmond and Victoria) as recently as 1967.

Before that, from 1928 until 1937, Queen Street’s streetcar service was split at the downtown by routes coming in from the east and the west, among these being Lake Shore. This history is covered in greater detail in the 507 LONG BRANCH page. Thus, the modest 508 streetcar carries with it a long legacy of direct streetcar service between southern Etobicoke and downtown Toronto.

It is worth noting that southern Etobicoke did eventually receive an express service connecting it to downtown Toronto, in the form of the 145 HUMBER BAY DOWNTOWN EXPRESS, albeit serving stops on Richmond and Adelaide Streets rather than King. This service started on October 19, 2009, and the two routes co-existed for the next five years. In terms of demand, there seems to have been room for both.

The Future

While there may have been demand for both services, by 2015, there weren’t the streetcars. The aging CLRV and ALRV fleet, along with the unexpectedly slow delivery of the replacement Flexity LRVs, along with rising ridership on other routes on the system meant there was soon a shortage of streetcars. In January 2015, all afternoon rush hour service on the 508 was temporarily suspended, as the cars were needed elsewhere. In May 2015, the TTC announced that, effective June 21 of that year, all morning service would stop as well.

The suspension was supposed to be temporary, but the streetcar shortage continued into 2017, and will likely continue until 2018 when (and if) all of Bombardier’s Flexity LRVs are delivered on time. In the meantime, ridership has increased on other routes, and a new route, 514 CHERRY, launched on June 19, 2016. The 504 KING streetcar now carries over 65,000 passengers on an average weekday, but with 514 CHERRY adding additional service on its busiest section, there may not be room for 508 LONG BRANCH cars.

Distillery Loop on Cherry Street, which opened with the Cherry Streetcar, might have been the new eastern end of the 508 LAKE SHORE service, but as of this writing (March 2017), it is not certain if the 508 LAKE SHORE streetcar will return. In January 2016, the TTC decided to address service concerns on the 501 QUEEN streetcar by splitting the route at Humber, operating the Humber-to-Long Branch section more frequently with CLRVs, and keeping the ALRVs on the section east of Humber. This contributed to the demand for streetcars. Trackwork on the Queensway and the rest of the 501 QUEEN route promise a complete suspension of the 501 QUEEN streetcar from Neville to Long Branch until the end of 2017, further preventing the 508 from returning. The time may come when 501 QUEEN service resumes to reassess services on Queen Street, King Street and Lake Shore Boulevard, to see whether the split of streetcar service at Humber loop should remain, and what direct downtown services would most benefit the residents of southern Etobicoke.

On the other hand, if work on the long-planned and long-delayed Waterfront West LRT ever resumes, possibly with a proposal to link Exhibition East loop and Dufferin loop with 700 metres of new double track on private right-of-way, then this could result in the resurrection of the 508 LAKE SHORE streetcar, taking southern Etobicoke residents off of King Street and into Union Station.


508 Lake Shore Image Archive


References

  • 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.