BY PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
The Toronto Transit Commission, or TTC (tel. 416/393-4636 for 24-hr. information, recordings available in 18 languages), operates the subway, bus, and streetcars.
Fares, including transfers to buses or streetcars, are $3.25. Seniors and students ages 13 to 19 with valid ID pay $2.10, or five tickets for $10.25; children 12 and under are free. You can buy a special day pass for $12.50 that’s good for unlimited travel for one adult on weekdays and for up to two adults and four children on weekends.
For surface transportation, you need a Presto Card, a token, a ticket (for seniors or kids), or exact change. You can buy tokens and tickets at subway entrances and at authorized stores that display the sign TTC TICKETS MAY BE PURCHASED HERE. Bus drivers do not sell tickets, nor will they make change. Always obtain a free transfer where you board the train or bus, in case you need it. In the subways, use the push-button machine just inside the entrance. On streetcars and buses, ask the driver for a transfer.
The TTC plans to phase out tokens, replacing them with the Presto Card system. The cards cost $6 to purchase (they’re sold online, or can be purchased from vending machines at subway entrances). Everything from loading the card with money to checking a balance, is done through the Presto website. Using the card has three advantages: first, users automatically get the discount fare rate ($3 for adults, $2.10 for seniors and students); second, users get a 2-hour transfer, an asset for sightseers looking to hop on and off the Rocket; finally, should you lose a registered Presto Card, the card can be blocked and the remaining balance can be transferred over to a new card.
The Subway—Compared with snarled surface traffic, the subway is the best way to get around the city. It's clean and very simple to use. There are two major lines—Bloor-Danforth and Yonge-University-Spadina—and two smaller lines, Sheppard, in the northern part of the city, and Scarborough, in the northeastern part of the city. The Bloor Street east-west line runs from Kipling Avenue in the west to Kennedy Road in the east (where it connects with the Scarborough Line, which runs north-east for five stops to McCowan). The Yonge Street north-south line runs from Finch Avenue in the north to Union Station (Front St.) in the south. From there, it loops north along University Avenue and connects with the Bloor line at the St. George station. A Spadina extension runs north from St. George to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre. The Sheppard line connects only with the Yonge line at Sheppard station and runs east through north Toronto for just 6km (3 and 3/4 miles).
The subway operates Monday to Saturday from 6am to 1:30am and Sunday from 8am to 1:30am. From 1am to 5am, the Blue Night Network operates on basic surface routes, running about every 30 minutes. For help planning a route, use the TTC’s Trip Planer (www.ttc.ca/Trip_planner). Given two addresses and a departure time, it will tell you the best transit options.
Buses & Streetcars—Where the subway leaves off, buses and streetcars take over. They run east-west and north-south along the city’s arteries. When you pay your fare (on bus, streetcar, or subway), always pick up a transfer (unless you are using a Presto Card) so that you won’t have to pay again if you want to transfer to another mode of transportation.
A Streetcar Named the Red Rocket—Most North American cities did away with their streetcars decades ago, and there remains a fraternal bond between light-rail-loving metropolises in this land of the car. San Francisco even painted one of its trams red in honor of T.O.’s Red Rockets—the loving name Torontonians call the bright red streetcars. Since 1892, streetcars have been an everyday part of the Toronto commute. Today the city has 11 streetcar lines on 82km (50 miles) of track. The 501 streetcar is the longest surface transit route in North America. Every so often, you’ll spy a vintage trolley careening down a route, but these old beauts are generally deployed only for special occasions. That doesn’t mean that streetcars aren’t great for visitors. A Presto Card grants you 2 hours of unlimited travel. I suggest getting off at Osgoode and taking the 501 Queen car westward: Hop on and off and explore the vibrant neighborhoods of Queen West, Trinity Bellwoods, West Queen West, and Parkdale, and finish by walking up Roncesvalles, the city's Polish strip, where you’ll find heaps of cute bars, cafes, and locally run shops. Plus, some really, really good pierogi.
Taxis & Ridesharing Services—In many cities, taxis are an expensive mode of transportation, but this is especially true of Toronto. Rates are $3.25 the minute you step in and $0.25 for each additional 0.143km (469 ft.). Fares can quickly mount up.
You can hail a cab on the street, find one in line in front of a big hotel, or call one of the major companies—Beck (tel. 416/751-5555), Diamond (tel. 416/366-6868), or Co-Op Cabs (tel. 416/504-2667). If you experience any problems with cab service, call the Metro Licensing Commission (tel 416/392-3082).
At the time of publication, both Lyft and Uber were legal and operating in Toronto. Check for surge pricing before ordering a lift using these apps. At peak hours hailing a ride using Lyft or Uber can be double (or more!) the normal rates. During these periods, a standard taxi is often the cheaper option.
Ferry Service—Day trips by ferry to the Toronto Islands are popular excursions for outdoor activities and great views of the city. Ferries to Toronto Island Park are operated by the city's Toronto Parks, Forestry, and Recreation Division. Ferries leave from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal, at the foot of Bay Street and Queens Quay. Round-trip fares are $7.90 adults, $5.15 seniors and youths 15–19 (with valid student ID), $3.80 children 2–14, and free for infants under 2. Go to www.toronto.ca or call tel. 416/392-8193 for schedules and information.
Toronto is a rambling city, but that doesn’t mean the best way to get around is by car. There are long traffic jams, especially during morning and afternoon rush hours. A reputation for “two seasons: winter and construction” means the warmer months are especially busy with roadwork. And to make matters worse, there is an escalating turf war between the numerous cyclists and motorists sharing the road.
Parking can be very expensive, too, and the city’s meter maids are notoriously aggressive in issuing pricey parking tickets at any opportunity.
Rental Cars—If you decide to rent a car, try to make arrangements in advance. Companies with outlets at Toronto Pearson International Airport include Thrifty, Budget, Avis, Hertz, National, and Enterprise. The rental fee depends on the type of vehicle, but do keep in mind that the quoted price does not include an added sales tax. It also does not include insurance; if you pay with a particular credit card, you might get automatic coverage (check with your credit-card issuer before you go). Note: If you’re under 25, check with the company—many will rent on a cash-only basis, some only with a credit card, and others will not rent to you at all. Also, keep in mind that you must be 21 or older to rent a car.
Car-rental insurance probably does not cover liability if you cause an accident. Check your own auto insurance policy, the rental company policy, and your credit card coverage for the extent of coverage: Is your destination covered? Are other drivers covered? How much liability is covered if a passenger is injured? (If you rely on your credit card for coverage, you may want to bring a second credit card with you, as damages may be charged to your card and you may find yourself stranded with no money.)
Parking—It can be a hassle to find parking in downtown Toronto, and parking lots have a wide range of fees. Generally speaking, the city-owned lots, marked with a big green “p,” are the most affordable. They charge about $2 per half-hour. After 6pm and on Sunday, there is usually a maximum rate of $12. Observe the parking restrictions—otherwise, the city will tow your car away, and it’ll cost more than $100 to get it back.
Driving Rules—A right turn at a red light is legal after coming to a full stop, unless posted otherwise. Passengers must wear seat belts; if you’re caught not wearing one, the fine is substantial. The speed limit in the city is 50kmph (31 mph). You must stop at pedestrian crosswalks if someone is trying to cross (flashing lights indicate this, but not always—be vigilant and give pedestrians the right of way at all crosswalks). If you are following a streetcar and it stops, you must stop well back from the rear doors so passengers can exit easily and safely. (Where there are concrete safety islands in the middle of the street for streetcar stops, this rule does not apply, but exercise care, nonetheless.) Radar detectors are illegal.
In 2019, Ontario began enforcing a tough new distracted driving law, cracking down on drivers using handheld electronic devices (cellphones, iPods, game devices), with hefty fines and a possible driver's license suspension.
Toronto is fairly flat and not known for its stunning vistas, making it an easy place to explore by bike. Like many cities in North America, however, the tensions between bikes and cars have been exacerbated in recent years as traffic congestion worsens. Still, the city has begun to embracing cycling culture, with separated bike lanes along key arteries such as Bloor, Richmond, and Adelaide Streets. There are even mixed-use trails that can take you across the city, away from the cars, including the Martin Goodman Trail (a 56km/34-mile waterfront trail that traverses the city, hugging the lake) and the soon-to-be-expanded West Toronto Railpath, which straddles the rail lines, connecting the Junction to Little Portugal. For those who want to escape the motor madness completely: Head to the Toronto Islands, where bikes rule and cars are forbidden.
Cycling is the most effective way to see Toronto, so long as you stick, primarily, to the bike paths. Bike lanes, which are clearly marked, include routes along Davenport Road, Bloor, College/Carlton, Harbord, Richmond, Adelaide, St. George/Beverly, and Sherbourne streets. For cycling maps, and more information, visit www.toronto/ca/cycling. Google Maps has an excellent function that will plot out the most bike-friendly routes.
Renting a bike in Toronto is as easy as downloading an app. Toronto's bike-share program, Bike Share Toronto, has over 3,750 bikes, spread across 75 sq. km (29 sq. miles) of the city. Simply download the CycleFinder app, which will tell you where all 360 bike stations are and allow you to pay for, and have access to, Bike Share rentals. A single trip costs $3.25, a day pass $7, and a 3-day pass is the best value at $15.
Three-day and single-day passes permit unlimited trips; however, each trip is limited to 30 minutes, with penalties of $4 per half-hour of overage time. To circumvent the penalty, simply stop at a station en route and swap bikes. Bikes can be returned to any docking station, so there’s no need to plan a return trip; simply grab a bike and go. The CycleFinder app is a key tool for locating docking stations that have space, and has functions to help with route planning.
In Toronto bikes are expected to follow the same rules of the road that cars do, which means follow all street signs, including stop signs (even on small side streets), never bike on the sidewalk, and always stop behind a streetcar when people are dismounting. You could face a hefty fine for blowing past open streetcar doors.
As a cyclist myself, the best advice I can give you on seeing Toronto by bike is: Be wary of the streetcar tracks, which are the perfect size for catching bike tires—a truly traumatic way to be thrown from your steed. Make sure to cross streetcar tracks at a perpendicular angle.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.