Toronto’s public transit, just like many cities, can be confusing for outsiders—hell, I even get confused and I’ve lived here for almost three years. I constantly get questions about everything related to our public transit when my out-of-town friends come to visit—it can be intimidating not understanding the system and being surrounded by so many people that do. Here is a helpful guide to help you navigate your way through the city on the TTC (definition below).
What is the TTC?
The TTC stands for Toronto Transit Commission and is the public transit system in Toronto. Locals refer to our public transit often as TTC, so if you hear someone using the term when visiting, don’t fret—you’re now in the know.
Types of TTC:
Buses: Toronto has 140 bus routes that run throughout the city.
Streetcars: The streetcars are the trolley cars that run on a track above ground. Toronto has 11 streetcar routes throughout the city.
Subway Trains: Subway trains run underground with 4 different lines to take.
How much does it cost?
A ride costs $3.25 CDN if you’re an adult or $2.30 CDN if you’re a student/senior (children are free). There are machines on the streetcars, and in the subway stations to pay.
The TTC also adopted the PRESTO system to replace its day passes, tokens, and monthly passes. The PRESTO card can easily be used across all modes of transit on the TTC, and the GO Train. You’ll need to purchase a PRESTO card once for $6 at one of the following places and then you can easily load the card at any subway station, or online. This makes it easy to tap when you ride.
Note: The TTC prices go up each year, so check their website for the most up-to-date price
Where do I pay?
On the newer streetcars, you’ll see a PRESTO tap-on point as soon as you walk into any door. If you aren’t using PRESTO, you’ll find a machine to pay at around the middle of the car. On the older streetcars, or on the bus, when you walk onto a streetcar or bus you will see a little change bank that you throw your change into. The driver will then give you proof of payment/transfer—hold on to this as on occasion fare inspectors come on board and ask you for proof of payment. You may notice people boarding in the back doors—this is only for people with passes, not people that are paying with tokens or cash.
To pay to get on the subway, you won’t be able to access the trains without paying at the agent bank, or tapping your PRESTO card.
How do you know you’re getting on the right one?
This can be one of the most stressful things for people that haven’t taken public transit in any city in the world—not just Toronto. How on earth do you make sure you’re heading in the right direction and on the right streetcar, train, or bus?
Bus & Streetcar:
Take a look at the sign that sits on the top of the front of the streetcar and on the side above the door. This sign will have a number and also a name. The name is the last stop that the streetcar or bus will make, and the number is the route number.
If you’re like me who is directionally challenged, this may not help you much, but what will help you is Google Maps. Google Maps will tell you what streetcar to get on, including the number and the name. You’ll even be able to see what stops you’ll pass on route to your destination—this can help in case the streetcar may be ending its route before your destination.
Where do you catch a bus or streetcar? Look for the TTC signs on telephone poles that are along most major streets in Toronto.
There are maps in each subway station beside every track that tell you what way each subway is going, and usually, on the wall above the track, there will be a sign that either tells you the next station stop or what direction it’s heading in. The good news is—if you get on the subway and realize you’re heading the wrong way, all you have to do is get off and cross over to the track on the other side of the platform and get on that one. I live here and sometimes I still get mixed up!
Where do you find a subway station? They are well-marked with TTC signs scattered throughout the city.
If all else fails—ask! We Canadian’s are friendly 😉
What is a short-turn?
On occasion, you may see that the sign that displays the route number and name on the front of the streetcar or bus says “short-turn” or has the right number you are looking for but a different destination written beside it. This means that the car is not going all the way to the last stop on the line, and is only going to the stop listed and then turning around to come back again.
A short turn can also happen when you’re on board if the driver gets a call saying he must turn sooner than planned. If that’s the case, the driver will make an announcement and you can get off at any of the stops and hop on the next streetcar or bus coming without having to pay again—as long as you have a transfer/proof of payment. Note that if you’re not sure if the bus or streetcar is short-turning before or after your destination, the driver will be happy to inform you.
How do transfers work?
Your proof-of-payment you receive when you pay for your fare is also known as a transfer. Transfers are for when you are taking multiple TTC streetcars, buses or subways to get to your final destination. For example: In order to get to the Eaton Centre, depending on where you are in the city, you may need to take the bus south and then a streetcar east. To prevent you from having to pay a fare twice, transfers are only valid for use when you’re taking a subway, bus or streetcar one after another. You can’t keep a transfer and use it hours after.
Note: You can obtain a transfer from the red transfer machines in subway stations (photographed above). On buses and streetcars, the operator will give you one when you pay.
Must-have apps for navigation:
Google Maps: Simply put in your starting location and your destination and hit the transit option, this will tell you all the routes you can take on TTC to get to where you want to go.
Featured Photo Credit: Andy Nystrom
AlouiseOctober 15, 2015 at 8:37 pm
Great post. The first time I went to Toronto (back in 2010) my friend and I got confused trying to buy weekly passes from the vending machines. We ended up buying the wrong type of pass and had to go get them exchanged. Live and learn.
MirandaOctober 18, 2015 at 10:47 am
This is super informative – thanks! The last time I navigated the city by bus, streecar and subway and found it to be COMPLETELY friendly, you’re right. This is a great primer
Toronto on a Budget In Summer by a TorontonianApril 10, 2018 at 7:42 pm
[…] Getting around Toronto can be accomplished by taxi, Uber, walking, cycling or taking transit. The most budget-friendly option is taking the TTC. One ride will cost you $3.25 cash, but you can buy (a minimum of) three tokens for $2.90 each. A day pass, for $12, includes unlimited travel for one person on weekdays OR up to 2 adults and 4 kids on weekends. Remember to always get a paper transfer as proof of payment to allow you to switch between subway, bus and streetcars. (More about riding public transit here.) […]