How Toronto’s public transit has changed over the past 170 years (PHOTOS)

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The Toronto public transit we see today is nothing like it was when it started 172 years ago. And that’s probably for the best.

When we’re surrounded by fast transit lines and electric buses, it can be hard to remember that it all started with a few horse-drawn carts that cost pennies to drive.

The City of Toronto recently released a web exhibit detailing Toronto’s public transit over the years. Below are some of the highlights of how the city’s public transit became what it is today.

City of Toronto

1849: Long before the TTC, Toronto’s first form of public transportation began in 1849 with a singular horse-drawn omnibus built by cabinet maker HB Williams. His only route was from St. Lawrence Market to Yorkville. In 1850 it expanded to eight highways.

City of Toronto

1862: A competitor, the Toronto Street Railway (TSR) Company, whose horse-drawn carriages could run on iron rails on the road, providing a smoother ride, gained popularity and bought out William’s business. TSR got a contract with the city of Toronto, and by 1884 there were 30 miles of track in the city. The fares were only five cents back then.

City of Toronto

1891: After the TSR contract arrived, a new City contract was awarded to the Toronto Railway Company (TRC), stipulating that the transit system was to be electrified and horses were to be phased out. And in 1894, it was. It was also around this time that free transfers between lines were introduced.

toronto public transport

City of Toronto

1892: Businessman Lol Solman founded the Toronto Ferry Company, which transports people and goods between the mainland and the Toronto Islands. In 1927, the city purchased the Toronto Ferry Company, which the TTC agreed to operate.

City of Toronto

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 over the outer areas of Danforth, Gerrard, St. Clair West, Lansdowne and Bloor West. The fares for this tram were only two cents.

City of Toronto

1920: The people of Toronto were fed up with the handful of rambling transit options, so they voted to create the TTC, which acquired all of the various companies that will operate solely under the city. The TTC bought hundreds of the latest models of streetcars, and riders could buy four tickets for 25 cents.

toronto public transport

City of Toronto

1921: After the TTC realized it could reach more areas with buses and didn’t require expensive lanes, Toronto got its very first bus route, between Dundas Street and Runnymede Road via Humberside Avenue.

toronto public transport

City of Toronto

1926: The TTC was beginning to worry about private companies providing coach services to Toronto from other cities. So she bought and incorporated a company called Gray Coach Lines, Ltd. It operated throughout southern Ontario and even as far as Buffalo. Gray Coach would later be hired to operate some of the very first GO buses.

toronto public transport

City of Toronto

1938: The TTC was losing traffic to cars, so they rolled out a sparkling new streetcar called the President’s Conference Committee to try and attract passengers. The new cars were faster and more comfortable and quickly became a hit. This car model was used until 1995.

City of Toronto

1953: The Toronto ferry received an upgrade from the newly built diesel powered vessels. This was the last major change made by the TTC before handing over ferry operations to Metro Toronto’s Parks and Culture Department in 1962.

City of Toronto

1954: Toronto had been planning to build a subway since 1910, but the first line didn’t open until 1954 with the Yonge Street subway. Construction began on the University line a few years later and opened in 1963.

City of Toronto

1965: The first section of the Bloor-Danforth metro line has been inaugurated. The Warden Station extensions to the east and Islington Station to the west opened in 1968, and the final Kipling and Kennedy extensions opened in 1980.

toronto public transport

City of Toronto

1973: GO Dial-a-Bus was launched, allowing residents of less-served areas to request a minivan (which can hold up to 11 passengers) to pick them up and take them to places like shopping malls or metro stations . But the demand was low and the cost high, so the service ended in 1975.

City of Toronto

1973: Wheel-Trans was started as a pilot project, providing door-to-door transport services to people unable to use conventional public transport.

toronto public transport

City of Toronto

1985: The Scarborough RT has officially opened. It was renamed Line 3 in 2014, but the names Scarborough RT and SRT have always stuck.

toronto public transport

City of Toronto

2002: The Sheppard subway line opened with four new stations towards Don Mills.

City of Toronto

2009: Toronto gets new low-floor streetcars – the city’s first wheelchair-accessible streetcars. These are the models that are still used today.

toronto public transport

City of Toronto

2011: The TTC begins to use Toronto Rocket subway cars with fully open interiors, which allows for more accessible seating and can accommodate more passengers.

new all-inclusive vehicles

@ TTCStuart / Twitter

2019: The TTC is putting its first all-electric bus into circulation. He now has several and has just given the green light to a plan to buy 300 more.



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