As with most big cities, if you’re planning on coming into downtown Toronto, it is generally best to leave the car behind and take advantage of public transport. Traffic is a hassle, parking is expensive and unreliable, and it often feels like each and every single intersection forbids left turns during rush hour.
I know public transit in an unfamiliar city can be daunting, but the good news is that in Toronto it’s fairly straightforward.
Public transit in Toronto is run by the Toronto Transit Commission, and as a result, the entire system is universally referred to as “the TTC.” As in, “are you kidding, I’m not driving to the CN Tower, I’m going to take the TTC.”
For the most part, Toronto is laid out in a grid pattern, with roads running either east-west or north-south. In the downtown core, the major streets are pretty close together, and it’s a great city for walking, if the weather is good. The transit also pretty much follows that grid pattern.
I’ll give an overview of the public transport options below, but really the best tool I can give you is the Trip Planner on the TTC website. You can plug in either an address, an intersection, or the name of an attraction, like the CN Tower, and the website will give you the option of a couple of routes with estimated travel times, connection details, and walking directions on either end. It’s fantastic.
For those with smartphones, there are also a variety of TTC apps out there. There are various options in terms of route planners and some of them can also chart streetcar arrivals in real-time, so have a browse to see which one will best suit your needs.
The TTC includes three different forms of transportation: subways, buses and streetcars. This map of the city should help in terms of referencing the street names used below.
Subways run underground for most of their length, and are really the fastest way to get around the city. Unlike New York or London, we only have three subway lines, and all of the trains will stop at all of the stops on their line. There are no express subways.
The TTC has a great online map. If you hover your mouse over a stop, it will give you details about the station.
Subways run every few minutes or so from 6:00am to 1:30am Monday through Saturday, and 9:00am to 1:30am on Sundays and holidays. During the hours that the subway is closed, there are Blue Night buses that run the same routes (but aboveground) approximately every half hour.
The Yonge-University-Spadina line is named for the three main roads under which it operates. It is U-shaped, and runs south down the length of Yonge (pronounced ‘young’) Street from Finch Ave to King Street, then loops down to Union Station, which is the very bottom of the U, then turns north up University Avenue to Bloor, where it shifts west to continue north on Spadina. All subway cars on this line will run the entire U-shape in both directions.
The Bloor-Danforth line runs east-west for pretty much the entire width of the city. It takes its name from the street above it, which is Bloor in the west and the Danforth in the east. It intersects the U of the Yonge-University-Spadina line at three stations: Spadina, St. George and Bloor-Yonge.
The third line, Sheppard, is in the north of the city and runs east under Sheppard Avenue from Yonge Street. It is the newest and least-used of the three lines.
Streetcars operate aboveground, for the most part, and run on tracks down the centre of the street. There are a couple of streets where the streetcars have dedicated lanes (Spadina and St. Clair are the major ones), which makes them nearly as fast as the subways. For the rest of the routes, the streetcars share lanes with the cars on the road.
Most streetcars run from 6:00am to 1:00am Monday to Saturday, and 9:00am to 1:00am on Sundays and holidays.
Streetcars operate on most of the east-west roads in the south half of the city. King Street, Queen Street, Dundas, College/Carlton, and St. Clair all have streetcar routes. Also, Bathurst in the west and Broadview in the east both have routes that run north-south from Bloor Street to the waterfront.
The rest of the city is served by bus routes, almost all of which will intersect with subway stations at one or several points on their route. Most major roads have a fairly frequent and reliable bus service (except for Avenue Road, for some unknown reason). Bus stops are marked by signs or shelters, and the buses will not pick up passengers between stops.
Most buses run from 6:00am to 1:00am Monday to Saturday, and 9:00am to 1:00am on Sundays and holidays.
Blue Night Buses
Between 1:30am and 5:00am, there are buses that run approximately every half hour on most of the major routes, so there are transport options after 1:00am. Just make sure to check your options if you plan to stay out late drinking or dancing.
And, of course, there are always taxis.