Yonge-University-Spadina (Yellow) Line: Glencairn – Union Station; Union Station – St. Clair
Bloor-Danforth (Green) Line: Landsdowne-Victoria Park
Various Street cars and buses.
Time ridden: Four days.
The Toronto Subway has very good service where it does go, but that covers a fairly limited area. There are twomain lines, one that goes north-south in a “U” shape, and another east-west. There are also two short spur lines.
This Google maps overlay shows the area the subway covers. Each subway station has bus or streetcar routes that travel perpendicular to the line the subway station travels, forming a wonderful transit grid. This map shows the overall coverage, including buses and streetcars. If there isn’t a subway station or a streetcar line where you’re going, you’ll have find the nearest station, and then take the bus that travels perpendicular to the line and to your destination.
Service is very frequent. Most buses had frequencies under ten minutes except late at night – many ran 24 hours - and the subway comes every few minutes. Most stations had electronic signs to tell you when the next train was coming, but they were a mix of new LCD screens and some 30 years old or older, and many of the older models didn’t seem to work. Major bus locations also had next bus signs.
As far as I could tell (feel free to correct me in the comments), there are really only four major highways in Toronto (401, 427, 404 and “the Gardiner”), and those are mainly served by “bus rapid transit”, a service similar to ST express buses. Many of the rest of the bus lines are oriented around the subway, and the subway is mostly oriented in cardinal directions (N-S, E-W).
The subway is entirely grade-separated, and the streetcars have their own lanes in some places, as do some of the buses.
Downtown Toronto is a sea of modern skyscrapers, and there are many older, dense neighborhoods. Some outlying areas have become densely urbanized, such as North York. However, I was surprised single family homes with yards across the street from stations such as Ossington, just five stations from Bay station in the heart of downtown.
A surprisingly large number of people live in Downtown Toronto itself – apparently most of the over 2,000 skyscrapers in the city are residential – and the Toronto subway the beats the DC Metro for the 2nd most ridden rapid transit system in Anglophone North America at 910,300 people per day. The buses carry another 1.25 million, with streetcars carrying 300,000. Most commuters in the city either take transit or carpool. In the greater Toronto area, 22.2% of commuters take transit, according to the Canadian Census, compared to around 7.3% here in the Seattle area.
Fares for the Toronto subway are $3.00, but do not scale with distance. As hinted above, bus and train fares are transferable, but ask for one if your first ride is on a bus. Day, week and month passes are available, and the day pass pays for itself in three trips. Currently the fares are cash and tokens, but there is an on-going roll out of a “Presto” card, similar to Orca.
Like Montreal, every station has a station agent to give directions and sell tickets. Unlike Montreal, all of these agents speak English. The Toronto Transit commission also provides a One Bus Away type service with an SMS service, a phone service and a website, with the information posted at each bus stop.
The streetcars are great for tourists; they give a nice way to see the city and allow quick and easy boarding. They do tend to get very crowded, and since they are mainly located in and around the downtown area, they can get stuck in some pretty heavy traffic. On maps the lines are numbered and not named, so they are a bit confusing to ride. Toronto has a “transit city” plan to expand the streetcars as LRT into other parts of the city, as money to fund subway expansions has been hard to come by.
Toronto does poorly for accessibility, though better than Montreal. According to their website, 29 of the 69 stations are wheel chair accessible, and most of the buses are equipped with lifts or ramps. The streetcars are all heritage, and as such, none of them are accessible.
Toronto has done a remarkable job integrating its bus, streetcar and subway routings. With only three subway routes, getting the most bang for the buck was clearly a priority. At stations, the buses generally wait for trains to arrive before departing, and often the buses stop inside the station’s turnstile making transfers a breeze. All but one bus route operated by the Toronto Transit Commission stops on a subway route somewhere, and most were designed to extend the subway’s reach beyond the area it serves directly.
The lesson I took away from my Toronto transit experience was just how important intermodal transfers are to the success of a transit system. 69 stations for a city the size of Toronto isn’t particularly impressive, but the ridership really is. We should all pay very close attention to the bus transfers at future Link stations, they can be make huge difference in the rider experience and ultimately the success of a system.