Toronto Public Transit Gradebook: Needs Improvement

Toronto public transit needs improvement
Toronto streetcars

You’d think that a city the size of Toronto would have a good subway system, but think again. I recently visited as part of a large group convention there. The convention had several tables set up to answer questions about public transportation. I had what I thought was a simple question, which I posed at the transportation tables several times, and I never could get a straight answer: How do I buy a senior fare ticket? Finally, I got the answer at the tourist information center in the main train station, Union Station. “It’s complicated,” the tourist specialist explained. And, indeed, it is.

Toronto has multiple systems of public transport. The Go system takes people by trains and buses to suburbs and beyond. The Union-Pearson (UP) train only goes to the Pearson International Airport. Then there is a system of subways, buses and trolleys, all under the label TTC (Toronto Transit Commission). You can transfer between TTC modes of transit but not onto the Go or UP.

I was staying near a trolley stop on the edge of the city. To get to the city, I’d have to change to the subway. The answer to my question was multi-faceted. First, you have to have exact change, as no change is given. So I asked what the exact fare is for seniors. I was given several different figures. Turns out the fare is $2.10. The newer trolleys have machines that do not function well. None of the ones I tried worked. And to get a transfer is a separate transaction from buying the ticket, also done at the machines that mostly don’t work.

You can buy tickets for a day pass or week pass. These, however, cannot be purchased onboard. Only certain stations sell these, and there is no central list of which ones. At the main station, due to extensive construction, the ticket booth was moved and hidden in a place that was impossible to find.

Unless your closest station sells these day and week passes, you have to pay a fare to get to a subway station that does, effectively increasing the cost of a pass by one ride. Now suppose I wanted to wake up and take the trolley into the city. If I bought a day pass the previous day, it would not work for the new day when I woke up. So, the day pass system is flawed unless you happen to be located at a station that sells them.

With a system so obviously not user-friendly and complicated, it’s no wonder that no one at the transportation desks at the convention was able to help me.

If you are planning on traveling in Toronto using public transportation, I suggest you consider a week pass if you will be in town a while to avoid these problems. Toronto, if you are listening, in this one respect, you can do better. This needs improvement.

Parenthetically, many downtown neighborhoods of Toronto are west and north of the subway lines, meaning that you use trolley lines to access them on public transit.

Visit Kensington Market, Little Italy, Koreatown, Little Portugal and Chinatown to see what I mean. These are old, historical neighborhoods with beautiful row houses on connecting streets between the main streets of Queen, Dundas and College, starting a few blocks West of Yonge, the principal downtown shopping street, where Toronto’s biggest shopping center, Eaton Centre, is located, said to attract a half million visitors a year, more than Disney World and Disneyland combined.

While we’re talking about markets, the best market to see, by far, is St. Lawrence Market, voted by National Geographic twice as the nicest in the world, with good reason. Don’t miss the downstairs part and the adjoining market under a tent. Each part of this market has its own distinct character, and all are great. Hint: visit hungry.

1 Comment

  1. Interesting. It has been 45+ years since we were in Toronto. Then, their public transportation and subway system was the marvel of the western world. Everything was clean & well lit with easy to follow signage everywhere. As I recall, it was economical (leastwise compared to everything else in the city then).

    A lot can happen in 45 years (or not).

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