The Toronto public transit that we see today is nothing like it was when it first started 172 years ago. And that’s probably for the best.
When we’re surrounded by rapid transit lines and electric buses, it can be hard to remember that it all started with just a few horse-drawn carts that cost a couple of cents to ride.
The City of Toronto recently published a web exhibit detailing Toronto’s transit through the years. Below are some of the highlights of how the city’s public transit came to be what it is today.
1849: Way before the TTC, the first form of Toronto public transit started in 1849 with a singular horse-drawn omnibus built by cabinet maker H.B. Williams. Its only route went from St. Lawrence market up to Yorkville. By 1850 he expanded to eight omnibuses.
1862: A competitor, the Toronto Street Railway (TSR) Company, whose horse-cars could drive along iron rails in the road, giving a smoother ride, took over in popularity and bought out William’s company. The TSR got a contract with the City of Toronto and by 1884 there were 30 miles of track in the city. Fares cost just five cents back then.
1891: After TSR’s contract came up, a new City contract was given to the Toronto Railway Company (TRC), stipulating that the transit system needed to be electrified and horses phased out. And by 1894, it was. This is also when free transfers between lines were introduced.
1892: Businessman Lol Solman founded the Toronto Ferry Company, transporting people and freight between the mainland and the Toronto Islands. In 1927, the City purchased the Toronto Ferry Company, which the TTC agreed to operate.
1911: As Toronto grew and people wanted more transportation options, the city built a new 22-mile-long street railway called the Toronto Civic Railway, with routes on the outer areas of Danforth, Gerrard, St. Clair West, Lansdowne, and Bloor West. Fares on this streetcar were just two cents.
1920: People in Toronto were getting fed up with the disjointed handful of transit options, so they voted to create the TTC, which acquired all of the various companies to be operated solely under the city. The TTC purchased hundreds of the latest streetcar models, and riders could buy four tickets for 25 cents.
1921: After the TTC realized it could reach more areas with buses, and that it didn’t require laying down expensive tracks, Toronto got its first-ever bus route, running between Dundas Street and Runnymede Road via Humberside Avenue.
1926: The TTC was getting worried about private companies providing motorcoach services into Toronto from other cities, so they bought out and incorporated a business called Gray Coach Lines, Ltd. They operated all over southern Ontario and even out to Buffalo. Grey Coach would later be contracted to operate some of the first-ever GO buses.
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1938: The TTC was losing ridership to cars, so they rolled out a sparkly new streetcar called the President’s Conference Committee to try to entice riders back. The new cars were faster and more comfortable and quickly became a hit. This model of car was used until 1995.
1953: The Toronto ferry got an upgrade to newly-built diesel-powered motor ships. This is the last big change the TTC made before handing ferry operations over to the Metropolitan Toronto Parks and Culture Department in 1962.
1954: Toronto had been looking into building a subway since 1910, but the first line didn’t open until 1954 with the Yonge Street Subway. Construction started on the University line a few years later and opened in 1963.
1965: The first stretch of the Bloor-Danforth subway line opened. The extensions to Warden Station in the east and Islington Station in the west opened in 1968, and the final extensions to Kipling and Kennedy opened in 1980.
1973: GO Dial-a-Bus launched, allowing residents in areas with less service to request a mini-van (which could hold up to 11 passengers) to pick them up and take them to places like malls or subway stations. But demand was low and the cost was high, so the service ended in 1975.
1973: Wheel-Trans launched as a pilot project, providing door-to-door transportation services for people who were unable to use conventional public transportation.
1985: The Scarborough RT officially opened. It was re-named Line 3 in 2014, but the names Scarborough RT and SRT have still stuck around.
2002: The Sheppard Subway line opened with four new stations out to Don Mills.
2009: Toronto gets new low-floor streetcars — the first wheelchair-accessible streetcars in the city. These are the models that are still used today.
2011: The TTC starts using Toronto Rocket subway cars with fully open interiors, which allowed for more accessible seats and can accommodate more passengers.
2019: The TTC puts its first all-electric bus on the road. It now has several, and just green-lit a plan to buy 300 more.