Toronto is a massive city, so finding the most efficient way to get around will be a priority for new arrivals. Luckily, the city has an extensive public transport network and it is possible to get around Toronto without a car, especially for expats who live and work close to the city centre.
However, those living in the suburbs or planning to travel around Canada will find that having a car is an asset. That said, expat drivers should be aware that there is a lot of traffic congestion on the highways during rush hour and parking in Toronto’s city centre is expensive.
Public transport in Toronto
Toronto has a large and extensive public transport network which extends well into the suburbs. The system is made up of buses, streetcars and a subway system, which are all operated by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).
While the buses and streetcars do fall victim to Toronto’s notorious rush hour traffic congestion, the city’s subway system is generally very efficient and by far the fastest way to get around Toronto.
TTC has an integrated ticketing system which is based on tokens, and covers all modes of transport. Commuters can save money by opting to buy bundles of prepaid tokens rather than paying for each single journey separately. Prepaid tokens can be bought in bundles at ticket booths or vending machines, which are located at transit stations and newstands throughout the city.
However, for expats who plan on using public transport in Toronto on a regular basis, the most cost-effective option is to invest in a monthly Metropass. These passes allow commuters unlimited travel on all TTC services.
Toronto’s subway system is made up of colour-coded subway lines, which connect the city centre to various neighbourhoods of Toronto, including Scarborough, Etobicoke, Bloor-Yorkville and Rosedale. All subway services generally operate between 6am and 1.30am every day, except Sunday when operating hours are from 8am to 1.30am. Services are very regular and if someone misses a train then chances are that the next one will arrive in just a few minutes.
Bicycles are not allowed to be taken onto the subway during peak times.
The streetcar is a mode of transport that is now largely unique to Toronto as most other North American cities have phased out their streetcar services.
Toronto’s original streetcar network was much larger than the one in existence today. However, there are still a few streetcar routes in operation which serve Toronto’s city centre and populations living in Etobicoke, Cabbagetown, High Park and Deer Park. Most streetcars run continuously, with special routes designated for those streetcars operating at night.
Streetcars in Toronto are generally safe but it is wise to be aware of pickpockets on crowded rush-hour services. It is also best to exercise caution when getting on and off streetcars, by making sure that vehicles that share the road have completely stopped in the lane next to the streetcar. While drivers are legally expected to stop behind open streetcars, many choose to ignore this rule.
Toronto has an extensive bus network, which consists of over 140 bus routes. So wherever one chooses to live, the area is likely to be covered by at least one bus route. The frequency of bus services varies according to the route. During peak hours, services run every few minutes. During off-peak hours, buses can run every 10 to 20 minutes.
Generally, commuters will find that buses in Toronto do arrive on time. However, services operating in the city centre and those that run during rush hour can be delayed as a result of traffic.
Certain suburbs such as Etobicoke, East York, Parkdale and Lawrence Manor have their own community bus services, which assist people in getting around within these areas.
Taxis in Toronto
As is the case in most big cities, driving a car into the centre of town can be stressful, especially for newcomers, so it is useful to be able to hop into a taxi once in a while.
Generally, travelling by taxi is the most expensive way of getting around the city. Taxis in Toronto only become cost-effective if they are shared between a group of people who are travelling to the same destination.
Cycling in Toronto
Cycling is becoming a popular way to get around Toronto and steps are being taken to make it a more bike-friendly city. There is a growing network of dedicated cycle lanes as well as safe bicycle storage facilities being placed all over the city.
Toronto has a public bike-sharing system called Bike Share Toronto, which consists of over 2,700 bikes. These bicycles can be picked up and dropped off at any one of the docking stations, which are scattered all over the city.
Bike Share Toronto offers a number of subscription packages starting from 24-hour access to monthly and annual packages. Cyclists are initially charged a flat rate for the duration of their subscription and then also charged a usage fee depending on how long they use the bicycles for.
Driving in Toronto
Driving a car into Toronto’s centre is not advisable. The city is often congested and it is difficult for drivers to find parking. However, expats planning on travelling around Canada, exploring Ontario, and those with children, may find it useful to invest in a car.
Luckily, most expats moving to Toronto will find the cost of cars reasonable. The price of petrol is also fairly cheap. The only large expense expats need to consider when buying a car in Canada is that of insurance as premiums are notoriously high in Toronto.
Despite traffic congestion, a lack of parking and hidden speed traps, expat drivers in Toronto will find the general condition of roads and infrastructure to be of a very high standard. Signage is also very clear and it is fairly straightforward to navigate one's way around the city.
While expats are initially allowed to drive in Toronto using their national driver's licence, they are required to exchange their licence for an Ontario driver's licence within 60 days of arriving in the province. Depending on one's nationality, this may require a straight swap or may involve retaking a written and road test.