Imagine this: it’s Friday, so you and your friends are planning on grabbing dinner after class to celebrate the end of the week. It sounds like a fantastic idea and a great way for you to explore some of Toronto, but there’s one problem: the restaurant isn’t within walking distance. How will you get there?
Sure, Uber is an option, but there’s a more wallet-friendly way to get to your destination: public transit. Here in Toronto, most of it is run by the Toronto Transit Commission, or the TTC for short. The TTC is responsible for running and maintaining numerous bus and subway routes that span across the city. It doesn’t matter whether you want to get from downtown to the suburbs, or from the west of the city to the east, the TTC is capable of taking you wherever you want to go as long as it’s within Toronto.
Let’s start by introducing Toronto’s subway lines. There are four in total: the yellow line (Line 1), the green line (Line 2), the blue line (Line 3) and the purple line (Line 4). The yellow line is the most used subway line in the city, as it connects downtown Toronto (“Old Toronto”) to the northern suburbs. If you want to get around Toronto from campus, you’ll most likely be using the yellow line for at least part of your journey, as most campus buildings (including Chestnut Residence) are a short walk away from a subway station on the yellow line.
The subway doesn’t restrict you to north-south travel. Using the green line, you can travel from downtown to Etobicoke, a suburb west of downtown, or to Scarborough, a suburb east of downtown. Getting to the green line is simple – there are a few stations on the yellow line that allow you to transfer to the green line. Some of these transfer stations are easily accessible from campus, like St. George Station, which is only a ten-to-fifteen-minute walk away from the engineering buildings.
The blue and purple lines service a very small portion of the city and are located a considerable distance away from the campus. You probably won’t find yourself using them too much, unless you find yourself in Scarborough, serviced by the blue line, or in the eastern parts of North York, which is serviced by the purple line. Transferring to these two lines is also possible using other subway lines. If you want to travel on the purple line, you can transfer there using Sheppard-Yonge Station, which is located on the yellow line. To transfer onto the blue line, use Kennedy Station, which is located at the eastern end of the green line.
If you can’t get to your destination exclusively by train, then you can catch a bus or a streetcar. The TTC’s surface routes run along most major roads in the city. Most bus and streetcar routes converge at platforms located at various subway stations, making trains accessible through a short walk. If the subway station you’re at doesn’t have a separate area for a bus station, don’t panic – there will be a bus stop just above the station for you to wait at, which is serviced by a small handful of surface routes.
All of this information might be a bit overwhelming and hard to remember. Fortunately, if you look up directions to your destination on Google Maps, you’ll be presented with which buses or subways to take, their estimated arrival times, and where to transfer between TTC vehicles. You’ll also be presented with a rough estimate of how long it’ll take to get to your destination, but take this estimate with a grain of salt, as you may run into delays during your journey.
Subway delays are common – especially during rush hour – and surface routes are susceptible to traffic delays and road closures. The weekends aren’t free of delays, either. A sizable chunk of the yellow line is closed almost every other weekend for track maintenance, requiring you to catch a shuttle bus, which ferries you from one of the closed stations to another. To ensure that you get to where you want to be on time, allocate extra time for your commute and plan to arrive at your destination fifteen to thirty minutes earlier than needed.
Fun fact: the delays are so frequent that some people joke about how TTC stands for “take the car”, but please don’t take that joke as literal advice. Despite the delays, the TTC still remains the best way to get around the city, especially if you’re travelling to or within downtown Toronto. Especially since the available parking spaces downtown are few and far between, and the parking fees are ridiculously expensive. If you plan on driving your car, prepare to pay at least $20 for parking – this may either be an hourly or daily rate, depending on the parking lot.
Travelling around Toronto is nice, but what if you want to explore the rest of the Greater Toronto Area? By taking GO Transit, you’ll be able to travel to neighbouring cities: Kitchener-Waterloo in the west, Oshawa and Peterborough in the east, Barrie in the north, and Niagara Falls and Hamilton in the south. It’s a great way to visit the cities around Toronto, and is also a great way to get to other universities, like Waterloo University, should you decide to visit.
All GO trains pass through Union Station, the southernmost station on the yellow line. This makes transferring between the TTC and GO Transit quick. But be warned: Union Station is difficult to navigate and its directional signs are often confusing, so be prepared to spend some extra time trying to navigate through the station! If you get lost, don’t hesitate to ask station staff for help. They’re friendly and will be more than willing to help you get to where you need to go.
If you’re not in the downtown area, you can also catch select GO trains at some other TTC stations. For example, the Downsview Park TTC station connects you to GO trains heading north of Toronto, and the Dundas West TTC station is near a GO train station for trains heading west of Toronto. If you need to take a GO bus, you can also use the York Mills and Yorkdale TTC stations to access GO bus terminals.
However, there are a few things to note if you decide to use GO Transit. For starters, your TTC fare does not carry over to GO Transit, so you will have to pay an additional fare if you board a GO train or bus. GO Tickets can either be bought online or in-person using an electronic ticket kiosk. Additionally, while the TTC fare is a flat rate, the GO Train fare rate is not, so your fare will increase from a base rate depending on how far you travel.
GO Trains also only operate with long intervals between each train. TTC trains are scheduled to come every five minutes, but GO Trains will only come and go every half hour to hour. Thankfully, a schedule of expected train arrival times can be found online, so you can plan your journey and ensure that you aren’t waiting half an hour (or more) for a train to arrive.
Alright, so now you know about the different GTA transit systems; but how do you pay your fare? Most commuters use a PRESTO card, which is a reloadable fare card. You can buy PRESTO cards at any Shoppers Drug Mart or subway station. When buying a PRESTO card, be sure to bring your student ID with you, as you can pay a reduced student fare on both the TTC and GO Transit.
Money loaded onto your PRESTO card can be used to pay both your TTC fare and your GO Transit fare, which makes payment super easy. If you’re travelling on TTC, tap your PRESTO to a card scanner to pay your fare. Paying your fare on a GO Train is a bit different; you’ll have to tap your PRESTO card when boarding a train, and you’ll have to tap it again when disembarking from the train. Don’t forget to tap when leaving a GO Train – you don’t want to spend more money on your fare than necessary!
With all that being said, you now know a little more about how Toronto’s public transit works. But, no matter how many guides you read, or how many maps you study, nothing will ever beat the amount of knowledge you’ll gain by just travelling around the city yourself. There’s lots to do and see in Toronto, and most of it is accessible by public transit. So get out there and embark on an urban adventure!