Transit in the Toronto region since the 1950s

The City of Toronto was once an international leader in public transit. TTC was one of the first operators to integrate buses, streetcars, and a subway across a metropolitan area. From 1954 to around 1980, strict planning controls encouraged high-density development along the subway, and along major arterial routes with good bus services. Despite widespread car ownership, transit ridership was high, even in the suburbs. Development of GO Transit, beginning in the late 1960s, and cancellation of plans for more radial expressways, was a clear statement that central Toronto would remain a city for transit riders and pedestrians.

However, attempts to extend the transit culture to the newer suburbs began to falter in the 1970s. The flat fare was extended to the Toronto (Metro) boundary, bringing a one-off jump in ridership, and suburban bus services were increased. The subway was extended into the outer boroughs. But attempts to extend subway and light rail lines further into the suburbs have been expensive failures. The Scarborough RT and Sheppard Subway did little to spur more efficient, denser development. Planned extensions to these lines were never built and Toronto did not even take steps to protect surface alignments for future rail lines from development.

While GO has continued to extend and improve rail services, and has an extensive bus network, it is still very much a peak-hour commuter operation. Contra-peak and off-peak services are still limited, mostly only operating hourly, and there is little integration with TTC services.

Surrounding regions operate local bus services, and have begun to develop priority bus lanes and BRT routes such as Zum (in Peel Region) and VIVA (in York Region). But cross-boundary service integration is often poor, and the limited regional fare integration means cross-boundary transit trips are discouraged.

While no new radial expressways into downtown Toronto have been constructed, the regional network has doubled, with the construction of Highways 403, 404, 407, 410, and further widening of the 401. Meanwhile, suburban development has continued and even accelerated, and the regional population has doubled. Predictably, the GTHA is suffering from severe traffic congestion, affecting the quality of life for Toronto residents and damaging the city’s reputation as a good place to live and work.

There seems to be a recognition, as there was in the 1970s, that road construction can never keep pace with traffic demand. The creation of Metrolinx, a regional body to address a regional problem, reflects a renewed consensus to invest in rapid transit.