‘I’m not happy’: Commuters ticked as Queen streetcar to shut down for 20 months

A busy stretch of the Queen streetcar will be out of service for almost two years starting in May - forcing riders onto shuttle buses in the heart of the city. As Tina Yazdani reports, some experts are calling it a failure to plan ahead.

By Tina Yazdani and Lucas Casaletto

It’s bad news for commuters relying on the widely-used 501 Queen streetcar, as hundreds of people will now be forced onto shuttle buses for almost two years. 

Starting in May, the popular eastbound 501 Queen route will be out of service for 20 months, subsequently forcing riders onto shuttle buses in the heart of the city, with some experts calling it a failure to plan as construction of the Ontario Line gets underway.

The 501 Queen is the Toronto Transit Commission’s (TTC) second most-used streetcar after the 504 King, which serves Broadview Avenue (east) and Roncesvalles Avenue on the west end.

“That doesn’t sound great. I am not too happy [about it],” one Toronto man said. “The shuttle buses are OK, but they’re a real pain. You can’t fit as many people. They’re not as fast. I didn’t know about that, and I am not happy.”

Another commuter said the wait time for streetcars already exceeds 15 minutes, noting that the time it will take to get passengers loaded onto shuttle busses will be even worse.

RELATED: Longer wait times coming to these TTC bus routes and subway lines in March

With the construction of the Ontario Line set to begin at Yonge and Queen streets, the initial plan was to divert the busy 501 Queen streetcar to Adelaide, but a detour has now been delayed due to unforeseen utility work. 

The 15-stop Ontario Line extension is expected to be completed by 2031.

“Underground, there are all sorts of other infrastructure down there, and it’s supposed to be mapped out. In some cases, they find things they’re not expecting,” said Matti Siemiatycki, Director of the Infrastructure Institute at the University of Toronto.

In a new report, officials said work to restore the streetcar tracks on Adelaide Street was “substantially completed in late 2022.” Still, the remaining portion is on hold as “the amount and complexity of utility conflicts and relocations have surpassed previous expectations.”

“These big projects typically go way over schedule and over budget,” Siemiatycki said. “The key is to be doing this type of planning upfront.”

Ontario Line just getting started

Experts are sounding the alarm over this latest delay, admitting it’s a preview of what’s to come as construction of the Ontario Line is only just beginning.

“People have become used to the fact that these projects become delayed, and their observations are accurate,” Siemiatycki noted.

“For complex projects that include anything underground when utilities are involved, the delays can be significant. You see the implications on travellers and surrounding businesses and communities — it’s really profound.”

Multiple communities have raised concerns regarding plans for the Ontario Line at different times over the last few years. Thorncliffe Park groups have raised issues about the large railyard for trains replacing local businesses and a mosque. At the same time, residents in Leslieville and Riverside rallied to keep the line from running aboveground through their backyards.

In a statement to CityNews, Metrolinx says it is working with the city and TTC to explore options in an effort to reduce the duration of shuttle bus service. The TTC said the work is several months away and will advise customers about diversions well in advance.

Drivers to also be affected as a result of construction

When completed, the Ontario Line will connect with 40 other transit routes, including GO train lines, TTC subway and streetcar stops. Metrolinx has pegged the project’s total cost at almost $11 billion, and it’s projected to be operational by 2030.

While streetcar tracks that connect Queen to Richmond already exist for westbound diversions, the TTC says it doesn’t know if the streetcar will continue to operate westbound once Ontario Line construction begins in May.

Toronto drivers will also be impacted as Queen Street will be closed for construction from Victoria to Bay for an estimated five years to build the new stop connecting with Line 1.

The city says pedestrian access to businesses will remain open.

With files from Mark McAllister of CityNews

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