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Public transit is a great way for visitors to get around Toronto. It's an easy, safe, and quick way to get around; in many cases it'll also save you a lot of money compared to renting a car and paying for expensive downtown parking.
The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) provides service within the city of Toronto (including all of downtown), ferries connect to the Toronto Islands, and GO Transit handles commuter service to the suburbs. All are described in more detail below.
The TTC provides subway, streetcar, and bus service within the City of Toronto. Most downtown routes have very frequent service and some run 24 hours. The TTC Trip Planner helps with directions, as does Google Transit.
You pay a single fare for each one-way trip. The same fare covers subways, streetcars, and buses within the City of Toronto -- there are no fare "zones" to worry about. You can transfer between routes for free as needed to reach your destination, but you'll need to pay a new fare for the return trip, or if you make a stopover (e.g. to shop, eat, or explore an area).
For adults, the most common fare options are:
|Option||Cost (current as of January 1, 2013)||Notes|
|Cash||$3.00||Bus and streetcar drivers do not make change|
|Tokens||$2.65||When bought in quantities of 3 or 7 |
|Day Pass - Weekday||$10.75||Unlimited rides all day|
|"Family" Day Pass - only good on Saturdays/ Sundays/ Holidays||$10.75||Unlimited rides all day; a single pass covers two adults and up to four youths (19 or under) or one adult and up to five youths|
|Weekly Pass||$38.50||Unlimited rides from Monday to the next Sunday|
|Monthly Metropass||$128.50||Unlimited rides from the first to the last day of the month|
Tokens and passes are sold at subway stations; while there, ask the fare collector for a free TTC Ride Guide map. You can also buy tokens and passes at convenience stores displaying a "TTC Fare Media Seller" or "TTC Ticket Agent" sign.
If you are paying cash or a using a single-ride token, you may need a paper "transfer" which is dispensed by a red machine inside subway stations or by the driver on a bus or streetcar. (This paper slip allows you to change between routes at street level without paying again, so long as you're making a continuous one-way trip. Since it's free, it's a good idea to always get one.)
The unlimited passes give you the flexibility to hop off your streetcar or bus when you see something interesting, and get back on the next one that comes along. And on weekends, the Day Pass is an unbeatable deal -- with two adults, it pays for itself on a round-trip.
Toronto subways run very frequently, as often as every two minutes in rush hour and about every five minutes at other times. Service runs approximately 6 am to 1:30 am, with a 9 am start on Sundays. All subway trains stop at all stations along the line (there are no "express" trains or diverging routes).
The subway map is posted above doorways in each car; you can also see an interactive subway map online (click the map to scroll left and right). Downtown Toronto lies within the U-shaped part of the Yonge-University-Spadina line (in yellow); the Yorkville area is along the Bloor-Danforth line between Bloor-Yonge and St. George stations.
When transferring between lines, note that "Bloor-Yonge" station is called simply "Bloor" when riding the Yonge (yellow) line and "Yonge" when riding the Bloor (green) line. Also, avoid transferring at Spadina -- it's a very long walk!
Each subway station has at least one staffed entrance which accepts all fares, including day passes and transfers. Other entrances are automatic and accept tokens and weekly/monthly passes only. If paying with cash or tokens and switching to a streetcar or bus later in the same trip, get a paper transfer from the small red machine just past the turnstiles.
Typical downtown subway entrances are marked with a TTC sign and/or the name of the subway station. To find your bearings when exiting a station, look for a round metal plaque in the ground near the exit. These indicate the compass directions as well as nearby streets.
Much of the above-ground public transit through downtown Toronto is provided by a large fleet of streetcars (known in some parts of the world as trams or trolleys). In 2007, National Geographic named the 501 Queen streetcar one of the world's 10 best streetcar rides, and many of the routes are a great way to see the city.
All streetcar stops are marked with a white pole with red bands and a streetcar icon. In some cases, the stop and waiting area are found on a separate platform along the tracks. On other routes, the stop is found on the sidewalk just like a bus stop; in this case, wait there until the streetcar stops, then walk out onto the street to board it. (Cars are required to stop behind the streetcar while its doors are open.)
When entering the streetcar, drop your fare in the fare box; if you're switching to another route later in the same trip, ask the driver for a transfer. Or, if you already have a transfer or pass, simply show it to the driver. When your stop is announced, pull the yellow stop request cord. If at all possible, use the rear doors to exit the streetcar.
Some of the route highlights -- from west to east for each route -- include:
TTC buses operate the same way as most buses in other North American cities. Outside the downtown core, it's important to plan your trip carefully, as some buses run infrequently and not all routes run at all times.
All bus stops are marked with a white pole with red bands and a bus icon (photo with a bus stop pole at the far left). When boarding the bus, drop your fare in the fare box; if you're switching to another route later in the same trip, ask the driver for a transfer. Or, if you already have a transfer or pass, simply show it to the driver. When your stop is announced, pull the yellow stop request cord or press one of the "Stop" buttons. If at all possible, use the rear door to exit.
For all your options, including TTC routes, see the articles Toronto: Getting Downtown from Pearson Airport (for most flights) or Toronto: Getting Downtown from the Island airport (for Porter Airlines and a handful of Air Canada Express flights from Montreal).
You can get a free Ride Guide, with maps and travel tips, at the collector's booth at any subway station. Or you can view the full system map online. The TTC's downtown map (486 KB PDF) covers most major attractions and is handy even if you're walking or driving.
The TTC has now added a trip planner to their website, and Google Transit now includes TTC, GO Transit, and other Toronto-area routes when you request directions and click "By public transit". The TripAdvisor Toronto Forum can also help you find the best route, or you can call the TTC Info line at +1-(416) 393-4636.
There are numerous applications, many free of charge, available for both Android and iPhone/iPad that will aid you with your trip planning as well. With them, it is possible to plan your route and to see when a bus or streetcar will be arriving at a particular stop.
The ferries to the Toronto Islands operate separately from the TTC. Fares (as of summer 2011) are $6.50 for adults, $4 for students and seniors, and $3 for children under 14. The return trip from the islands is free.
In the summer, try to go on a weekday: sunny summer weekends see ferry lineups more than an hour long. In other seasons, the ferries do still operate, but less often. Schedules can be found on the Toronto Island Park web site.
The Toronto Island ferry cannot be used to reach the Island airport; see Toronto: Getting Downtown from the Island airport instead.
GO Transit is the commuter rail and bus service that connects cities and towns across the greater Toronto area. It reaches as far north as Barrie, west to Hamilton, and a bit east of Oshawa. It also runs summer weekend service to Niagara Falls. You can find schedules and calculate fares on the GO Transit web site.
GO trains and buses arrive in downtown Toronto at Union Station. Service is much less frequent than the TTC — often an hour between trips — and some routes only run during rush hour. Although GO Transit stations have large parking lots, these often fill up early on weekday mornings with regular commuters. Outside the city of Toronto, local transit serving GO stations may be quite limited.
Although most visitors won't use them, the Greater Toronto Area is served by a number of other local transit services. Check schedules carefully as many routes have infrequent service.