Toronto public transportation, more commonly known as the TTC is either excellent or terrible depending on who you ask. For many residents of the city, the network is subpar as there aren’t that many subway lines compared to other major cities in the world. However, visitors will likely find that Toronto public transportation is excellent for their needs

Like any transportation network, understanding how it works can be complicated when you first take a look at it. Trying to figure out your options, the cheapest way to get around and how to get where you’re going isn’t always that easy. In this Toronto public transportation guide, I’m going to teach you how to use the TTC.

Toronto Public Transportation streetcar

TTC Prices

TTC prices have gone up quite a bit over the years, but it’s comparable to the cost of other public transportation networks around the world. One thing to note is that children 12 and under ride the TTC for free. Unless your child is insanely tall, it’s unlikely they’ll be questioned if you say they’re under the age of 13.

TTC prices as of July 1, 2020 are as follows:

  • $3.25 – Adult 
  • $2.30 – Senior (65+) / Youth (13-19)
  • $13.50 – Day pass ticket

Toronto public transportation uses a timed ticket system. That means you can travel as much as you want and in any direction within a two-hour window while paying a single fare. Make sure you ask the driver for a TTC Proof-of-Payment (POP) or get it from the machine if you’re at a station or on a streetcar.

If you’re buying your tickets at a station, you can use the presto vending machine or go to the collector (where available) and pay with cash, credit or debit. Only cash is accepted on buses which you pay the driver when you get on (no change given). Streetcars also only accept cash, but you pay via a vending machine towards the middle/back of the bus.

Since a day pass ticket costs $13.50, you need to take at least 5 trips to make it worthwhile. There is no family pass available for the TTC.

Presto pass cost 

Getting around Toronto is easy if you have a Presto pass. This contactless card allows you to preload funds so you can get onto public transit in Toronto without having to carry any cash. The Presto pass cost is $6 and is non-refundable, but it gives the following discounts:

  • $3.20 – Adult 
  • $2.25 – Senior (65+) / Youth (13-19)

That’s right, you only save 5 cents per ride with a Presto card. That means you need to take 120 rides just to break even. No tourist is ever going to ride the TTC that much. Plus, you can’t get a refund on any outstanding balance or the card itself. Visitors are usually better off just buying tickets as they need them.

That said, if you plan on taking the UP Express from Pearson International Airport, a Presto card might be worth it, which I’ll explain below. 

If you do end up getting a Presto card, there’s no need to get a POP when riding the TTC. However, you do need to tap your Presto pass whenever you transfer to a streetcar or bus. You also only tap on the way in, there’s no need to tap when exiting.

Toronto Public Transportation map

TTC Map

Any visitor to Toronto should get to know the TTC map. There are many TTC maps out there but the one I’ve got here includes all of the subway and streetcar lines. It doesn’t include any of the bus routes, but I’ll touch on that below.

Downtown Toronto is generally classified as anything below the Green line 2 and within the vicinity of the U loop on the Yellow line 1 (Bloor/Yonge to St. George). Generally speaking, if you’re staying anywhere near that U loop, you’ll likely be able to access most of the city’s top attractions by walking or taking public transportation.

I’ll talk about the other TTC lines below, but basically, once you understand how they work and how to read the TTC map, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get anywhere using Toronto public transportation.

TTC Lines

When it comes to TTC lines, they’re numbered, coloured and have a name. What can be confusing is that most marketing and online resources just show the number and colours whereas locals refer to the TTC lines by name. The good thing is that the TTC map is pretty clear once you understand how the lines work.

Yonge-University Line 1 Yellow – With 38 stops, the Yonge-University Line features the most stations and is also the oldest line. As the name implies, it mainly runs along Yonge St. and University Avenue going north/south. This is by far the most popular line.

Bloor-Danforth Line 2 Green – Running east/west, the Bloor-Danforth Line has a few stops of interest as they’re close to major attractions such as the Royal Ontario Museum, Yorkville and the University of Toronto. If you’re taking the cheapest way to/from the airport, you’ll be using this line too.

Scarborough Line 3 Blue – Sometimes referred to as the Scarborough RT or SRT, the Scarborough Line 3 runs above ground from Kennedy station to McCowan station. It’s highly unlikely visitors would ever take this line.

Sheppard Line 4 – The most recent line (by Toronto standards) is Sheppard Line 4 which runs for a few stops along Sheppard Avenue in North York. Although most travellers wouldn’t venture this far north, Don Mills station on the eastern end of the line is where you would catch the 85A and 85B bus that takes you to the Toronto Zoo.

Streetcar lines – Here’s where things get confusing. Public transportation in Toronto relies heavily on streetcars in the downtown core which is the thin red lines you see on the TTC map above. Technically, they’re light rail trains, but locals refer to them as streetcars. Each line usually follows a street e.g. 501 Queen St., so it shouldn’t be too hard to get on the right vehicle.

Buses – The rest of Toronto’s public transit is handled by buses that follow specific routes (usually along one street). You likely won’t need to take a bus unless you’re going down to the water outside of downtown.

Toronto airport public transportation

Using Toronto airport public transportation is convenient as there’s a direct line known as the UP Express that goes between Toronto’s Pearson International Airport and Union Station. The entire trip takes only takes 25 minutes and is reasonably priced.

The UP Express costs the following for a one-way ticket.

  • $12.35 – Adults/Students (13+)
  • $6.20 – Seniors (65+)
  • $25.70 – Family (2 adults, 3 children under the age of 19)
  • $9.25 (with Presto) – Adults/Students (13+)
  • $5.80 (with Presto) – Seniors (65+)

Although getting a Presto card costs $6, adults/students that are 13 or over would save $6.10 on a return trip. You would just come out ahead going this route and then you have the convenience of having a reloadable card that can be used for Toronto public transportation. That said, these cards are non-refundable so you need to make sure you depart with a minimum amount left on the card.

The family ticket offers incredible value since it’s only $25.70 and it can be used for up to 5 people as long as 3 of the travellers under the age of 19. That’s a savings of $36.50. 

The UP Express at Union station is connected to the TTC indoors, but not directly. It’s about a 3-minute walk and you’d have to pay an additional fare.

If you’re looking for the cheapest way to get to downtown Toronto, you could take the 900 Airport Express bus that will take you to Kipling station which is on Line 2. You could then make your way across the subway before transferring to Line 1 to get downtown The cost of this trip is $3.25, but it would take you about 75-minutes to get downtown.

How to use the TTC

If you’re still feeling a little intimidated by the TTC, here’s a little step-by-step guide.

  • Pay cash or purchase a presto ticket/card
  • Tap your ticket/card to get in (if there’s no collector)
  • Get your POP if not using Presto
  • Head down into the subway and look for the platform which is going the direction you need to go (refer to the map and look for the direction of the last stop)
  • At your transfer station (if transferring), get off and look for the signs to the other lines (do not exit the station)
  • After exiting the station, get on the streetcar or bus (make sure you’re getting on the right one) and either show your POP or tap your Presto Pass again
  • Get off at your final destination (no tap at exit required)

Toronto public transit is pretty basic, but you should have no problem getting anywhere you need to without having to take an Uber or taxi. What makes things easy is that besides Union station, Toronto doesn’t have any major hubs with more than two stations so navigating won’t be that difficult.

The streetcar lines in downtown Toronto are incredibly handy, but quite often you may be better off just walking. The one exception is King street where only a limited number of vehicles can be on the street.

If you have data while travelling, getting directions from Google Maps is usually accurate, so relying on that may not be a bad thing.

TTC delays

The final thing to address with Toronto public transportation is the TTC delays. Ask any resident of Toronto and they’ll tell you that delays happen all the time. Since the TTC only has a limited number of lines, one unplanned stoppage can cause massive delays and crowds.

Always check the TTC website before you depart for any service alerts and disruptions. It feels like there’s some kind of scheduled closure every other weekend which could affect your travel plans. On a positive note, if it’s a planned disruption, the TTC does a great job of bringing shuttle buses. They’ll also have extra staff at the stations to help you with directions, so there’s no way you’ll get lost.

Even if there are subway closures or sudden disruptions, there’s no reason to panic. Quite often you can find an alternative route on your own. For example, if you’re south of Bloor, it would probably only take about 12 minutes to walk from the University side of the U loop to the Yonge side on Yonge-University Line 1. Walking from Bloor station to Queen Station would only take about 25 mins. 

Final thoughts

Although locals may hate the TTC, there’s no denying that the service is good (when there are no delays) and TTC prices are reasonable. It’s not as good as London, New York, Barcelona or Tokyo, but visitors will have no problem getting around the city. Use the TTC trip planner if you need specific directions or just ask someone.

Toronto Public Transportation: How to ride the TTC

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