Commuting in Toronto - what's it like?
September 1, 2011 12:33 PM   Subscribe

Moving to Toronto: Please help with our TTC questions

Hello, apologies in advance for the length of question. We currently live in London, UK and will soon be moving to Toronto. We have a few specific questions related to where to live and have already read previous posts describing the different neighbourhoods etc, so have a reasonable idea of the areas in general. Our questions are a bit more specific, but will help narrow down areas to focus on.

We intend to walk / travel primarily by TTC so would be interested to know:
1) How do TTC monthly passes work? Would you be able to travel on the subway, streetcar, bus and GO network on the same pass?

2) How traumatic is it to change from the Bloor / Danforth to the Yonge / University / Spadina line and how long does this take? Assuming we come in from the west, is it easier to change at Spadina or St George?

3) How reliable is the streetcar network, in particular in winter? What about the bus network?

4) How accessible is the subway / streetcar / bus network for strollers / prams?

5) If you had to choose between using the subway / streetcar / bus / GO train for your daily commute, which would you choose and why?

6) Any other issues we should consider re: commuting? BTW we don't cycle so while that may be a good option, that's not really applicable.

Thanks very much for all your help. Cheers.
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation around Toronto, ON (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
All I can help with is the first one, currently, with a TTC monthly pass you can only use TTC services (bus / subway / streetcar) and not the GO system. There is a lot of talk to get the TTC on the Presto Card system, but nothing solid yet.
posted by smitt at 12:39 PM on September 1, 2011

Avoid buses as much as you can.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:41 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

1) Go transit is not included, neither are surbarban transit companies like Mississauga, but TTC pass will cover all TTC buses, streetcars, trains, etc.

2) transferring lines is super easy, you just have to wait for another train. It is better to transfer at St George than Spadina as the different platforms are directly above/below the others. At Spadina it's more like two separate stations with a long underground walkway between them.

3) Streetcars are generally fine in winter. Sometimes busses have trouble, and may need to reroute to avoid particularly steep hills.

The rest I can't really speak to.
posted by yellowbinder at 12:42 PM on September 1, 2011

1) It's $121, unlimited travel and transfers. GO network is separate. There are also apparently some express buses which require an additional fare but I've literally never come across one.

2. I transfer every day, it doesn't take long. Taking four stops east and six stops south takes me about 15 minutes, sometimes closer to 25 if things get gummy.

3. The streetcars are pretty reliable for the most part, with the exception of (IMO) the College streetcar, they tend to bunch up and then there's none for 20 minutes. There's always interminable construction heading east from the West end down the King/Queen side, it seems like.

4. I see strollers all the time. It's not so bad, really. But I don't have kids, so I dunno how fair an assessment that is.

5. I like the subway, living directly on a line is great, a straight shot commute is even better. Streetcars come in second for me, even though they tend to be more crowded and buses have better climate control.

6. Use the TTC trip planner to figure out potential commutes.
posted by SassHat at 12:42 PM on September 1, 2011

1) How do TTC monthly passes work? Would you be able to travel on the subway, streetcar, bus and GO network on the same pass?

All except the GO network, which is a separate system that requires its own tickets/passes. There is a new "Presto" card system being implemented which is supposed to work on all those systems, but as of right now is mostly only useable on the GO trains.

2) How traumatic is it to change from the Bloor / Danforth to the Yonge / University / Spadina line and how long does this take? Assuming we come in from the west, is it easier to change at Spadina or St George?

I wouldn't call it traumatic but it can be very busy and crowded during the rush hour. People bump into each other and push a bit. I'd say St George is easier because the two lines are stacked on top of each other there, so you just go up/down a flight of stairs. Changing at Spadina involves walking through quite a long tunnel to get between platforms for the two lines.

3) How reliable is the streetcar network, in particular in winter? What about the bus network?

Both are quite good even in winter. A really bad storm seems to affect the streetcars more, but the TTC just throws buses on the line when that happens.

4) How accessible is the subway / streetcar / bus network for strollers / prams?

A few subway stations have elevators, most do not, so you'll likely be negotiating stairs a lot of the time. The buses are better, most have low floor (at least at the front) and many have kneeling features. No streetcars have low floors so you would have to tackle steep stairs with those. GO Transit trains are fully accessible (one car has a roll-on/roll-off ramp and stations all have elevators I think).

5) If you had to choose between using the subway / streetcar / bus / GO train for your daily commute, which would you choose and why?

GO train, because I live quite far outside the city limits and the TTC doesn't go much beyond the city limits. The two are entirely separate systems with some connections at a few stations. The TTC has an extensive network within the city itself (including the nearby suburbs), whereas GO transit exists mainly to serve the suburbs near and outside of the city limits.
posted by FishBike at 12:44 PM on September 1, 2011

I prefer to live on the subway line. Much more reliable and no waiting in the cold slushy outside except for a few stops.
posted by captaincrouton at 12:52 PM on September 1, 2011

1) Monthly passes work on all TTC vehicles (with the exception of some extra-fare buses that are mostly north-south express lines). GO vehicles are not covered. There has been some talk of updating the fare payment system to allow for integration with outside systems but don't hold your breath.

2) Transfer between lines is pretty straightforward. It can be a little hairy at 8:30am or 5pm, but it's just crowding. A delayed train or passenger assistance alarm can screw things up, but the worst I've seen it is having to wait for four or five trains for a backlog to clear. Even then, remembering that the train can be boarded from anywhere on the platform will avoid most congestion. St George is the easiest place to make the change that you're talking about - it's a short walk up a flight of stairs, as opposed to Spadina which involves a significant walk. At St George the lines actually run parallel for the length of the station, it's the easiest transfer in the system - again, as long as the stations aren't overcrowded because of a delay.

3) I don't take the street car much so I'll leave this for others.

4) The TTC has been trying for decades but still isn't totally wheelchair or pram friendly. Some stations - mostly older midline suburban ones - lack elevators entirely, and elevators are often out of service for months. New buses are low-platform, but I don't know how much trouble it is to wrestle a pram on to one. The newest subway cars have huge-ass wide doors, the older the vehicle the tougher it will be.

5) Straight-shot subway, no question. Streetcars are a second choice. TTC buses can be a pain and get caught in traffic. GO is a completely different system built for a different purpose - the GO schedule is much less flexible.

6) With a recent office move, I'm lucky enough to be able to walk to work. It's better than all the other options (I'm a non-cyclist too). I prefer my 30 minute walk over the ten-minute subway ride for so many reasons.

(On preview, basically what everyone else said.)
posted by flipper at 12:54 PM on September 1, 2011

I'm from London, now live in Toronto, and echo what everyone else says.

You'll find it much more reliable than the Tube, overall, particularly in the snow. But the subway doesn't go everywhere within the city -- large parts of town are reliant on buses. Routes vary from tolerable to constant nightmare.

Another difference is (with one exception, sometimes -- the Queen streetcar) there are no tickets on the TTC, and therefore, no ticket inspections. When you board you are assumed to have already paid your fare.
posted by randomination at 1:02 PM on September 1, 2011

After you board, sorry. Just to be clear.
posted by randomination at 1:03 PM on September 1, 2011

Any other issues we should consider re: commuting?

Commuting is the thing that people most underestimate how much they will hate.

To amplify this: my brother-in-law is an economist who specializes in studying human happiness. He writes books about it. He's the first person I heard the bit that got in the news briefly about a commute being one of the three biggest factors in affecting peoples' day-to-day enjoyment of life in the Western world.
posted by rodgerd at 1:23 PM on September 1, 2011

1. In addition to what others have said, more than one person can use your TTC pass. E.g. You buy a pass, and then you can lend it to someone else to use. However, there are no passbacks. You can't show your pass to the operator and then hand it to the person behind you for them to use.

2. Depends on what you mean by traumatic. The Yonge/Bloor interchange is way more crowded than St. George or Spadina during rush hour. In terms of getting to the trains, you just walk up or down the stairs (or take the elevator). At Spadina, it is a bit of walk between the Y-U-S trains and the Bloor/Danforth trains. But Spadina is definitely less crowded than St. George. Keep in mind that there isn't an elevator for Spadina on the Y-U-S line.

3. Ah, it's not too bad. If you have an iphone, you can get TTC updates. You can follow the director of corporate communications on twitter: @bradTTC. Some stops have a text message number that you can text and it'll tell you when the next available vehicles are coming.

4. I think most buses are accessible. Streetcars are not accessible - they have stairs, but you can lift your stroller up or down (you can ask others to help you). More and more subway stations have elevators, but not all. You can check the TTC site to see which routes are accessible and which stations have elevators:

5. I've never had to use the GO train for commuting (it's regional transit and I've never lived in the 'burbs). But the subway or streetcar is way more pleasant than the bus. Streetcars are also nice because you're aboveground.

6. I commute everyday between St. George and Wilson on the University/Spadina line and I always hear announcements about delays (mechanical issues, ill passengers, etc.) on the Yonge line. In comparison, there are rarely delays on the U-S line.

As a TTC commuter, TTC discussions will always come up at social gatherings, so you are in good company.

If you are really geeky (like me) and want to know where the station exits line up with the subway doors, check out the TTC rider efficiency guide here:

Congrats on your move to the big smoke!
posted by foxjacket at 1:25 PM on September 1, 2011

What kind of stroller do you have? If it's a smallish one, you'll be fine. I've been on all manner of TTC vehicles with no issues, and people really are very helpful.

Subways are great, as are streetcars. Buses generally suck unless it's a short route on a not-so-busy street. Streetcars tend to be faster on the east side of the city than the west. Actually, transit is generally faster on the east side--even the subway stops are closer together on the Bloor-Danforth line east of Bloor. I've heard tell that certain transit routes in the west of the city can be pretty nightmarish (i.e. King west).

If you're choosing a neighbourhood based on transit accessibility, it's nice to have options. Being close to the subway is probably most convenient, but keep in mind that the subway isn't 24 hours, and some streetcars (Queen, College-Gerrard) are. I'd choose a neighbourhood that gave me a choice between streetcar and subway (so I guess I'm saying live south of Bloor-Danforth if you can). My current location is pretty ideal for transit--5 minute reliable bus ride north to the subway (or 15 minute walk), 5 minute walk to one streetcar line, 10 to another.

It's also not worth buying a Metropass unless you're taking transit at least three times a day. If it's just twice a day during the week, you're better off buying tokens 10 at a time.

Whatever you decide, best of luck!
posted by Go Banana at 1:26 PM on September 1, 2011

One thing I heard recently about the GO trains might be of interest. At some stations out at the end of the lines, it can take ages just to get out of the parking lots at teh end of the day. So 45 minutes on the train, then you're stuck in a 20 or 30 minute traffic jam getting out of the parking lot, then add on however many minutes to get to your actual house. That had never occurred to me, but once I heard it I thought "Well, of course!" A massive parking lot and hundreds of people arriving all at once would equal a huge traffic jam.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:43 PM on September 1, 2011

The GO is separate; though once the new Presto card is rolled out, it will be included, too.

No, it won't. If you want to use both GO and the TTC, you have to buy two separate passes or pay two separate fares, and there's no sign that this will change after the Presto card is rolled out.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 2:08 PM on September 1, 2011

5) Subway, or streetcar if the distance isn't too far. I mostly cycle though.
Not GO, ever. Why? Because I don't want to live in the places where the GO train goes. If you don't have a compelling reason to live in the Suburbs (cheaper to buy a house, closer to family etc...) then it's worth staying somewhere where the city is accessible by Subway. Otherwise, you are limiting your ability to enjoy the best that this city has to offer, in my opinion.

Though perhaps you're moving here for a job and would rather live in a quieter community. Especially if you work near Union Station, it might be best to get the GO right downtown.
posted by beau jackson at 3:26 PM on September 1, 2011

Are you sure about that, one more?

Nobody in charge has mentioned anything about unifying GO and TTC fare zones. The Presto card will let you combine your GO and TTC passes into the same physical item, but GO isn't going to be included with a TTC fare or Metropass anytime soon.

Before that happens, you'd see an announcement that Metrolinx is taking over all of the regional transit agencies in the GTA. And that doesn't seem likely.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:16 PM on September 1, 2011

Guys - Thank you very much for all the feedback. As with London, it seems that living within walking distance of a subway line is key.
posted by apcmwh at 11:07 PM on September 1, 2011

1) No, they don't use the same passes. Their are presto cards coming, but i'm not sure how that would work.

2) Change at St. George. It's not traumatic. Changing at Spadina is less busy, but it's a very long walk to get to the North/South line from the East/West line. (There used to be a moving side walk but it's long gone now.)

3) Streetcars suck. The busses suck. Well, mostly. If you can avoid them you will be happier. I take what is arguably the best streetcar line int he city (Spadina) and it's a piece of shit.

4) Not very. It's better than Montreal or NYC, but not by much. Streetcars are a giant suck to get on and off with a pram. The busses are much better because most are low-floor now. The subways themselves are accessible, but the stations are pretty hit-or-miss. I live between Lansdowne and Dundas St. West. One station has an elevator, the other does not.

5) If you had to choose between using the subway / streetcar / bus / GO train for your daily commute, which would you choose and why?

6) If possible try and move next to a subway stop. The subways are great, assuming you aren't on the Yonge line which is a giant suck during rush hour.

I both love and hate the TTC.
posted by chunking express at 11:48 AM on September 9, 2011

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