Thinking about taking transit but not sure where to start? You’ve come to the right place!
Taking transit allows you to save money, enhance your personal opportunities and avoid the stress of driving through traffic congestion. Follow the guiding steps below on everything you need to know about transit:
Step 1: Plan Ahead
If it’s your first time taking transit, plan ahead and find your transit route and schedule. My personal preference is Triplinx, an online trip planner that covers all local transit across the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA) and is easy to use.
To use Triplinx, simply head over to their website or mobile app and enter your start/end destinations. For regular travel routines (e.g. going to work) my advice is to plan your trip around the time that you want to arrive by to avoid being late.
Step 2: Transit Fares
Transit fares differ between local transit agencies, so it’s best to find out prior to your trip as bus drivers only accept exact change if you’re paying by cash. While local transit such as YRT and TTC have fixed fares, GO Transit is different where the fare is based on distance.
Instead of paying by cash, I highly recommend using a PRESTO card as you can transfer seamlessly between most transit agencies and you’ll also get a transit fare discount! Think of PRESTO as a credit card option accepted across all local transit across the GTHA and Ottawa. Simply tap your card at the PRESTO machine when boarding a bus/train and you’re good to go!
You can purchase a PRESTO card online or through authorized vendors such as Shoppers Drug Mart (click here for a full list of vendors). Please remember to register your card online to protect your funds in the event that your card is lost or stolen. You can order a replacement card for a $6 service fee and transfer the remaining funds from your lost card.
Step 3: Waiting for the Bus
Ideally, I recommend arriving at your bus stop 10 minutes before the bus leaves to ensure you won’t miss it. Some bus shelters will have digital signage informing you of the next available buses. If you’re not sure when the bus is coming, try a mobile app (YRT and TTC have real time apps) or if you’re old school like me, just call the number at the bus stop. It’s an automated line where you enter the four-digit bus stop number for the next departure times.
When your bus is approaching the stop, stand to the right of the curb at the bus stop to inform the bus driver that you’re getting on the bus. Otherwise, simply stand further away from the curb as a sign for the bus driver to pass by you.
Pro Tip: If your bus has arrived and you’re stuck across the street waiting for the light to change, wave your arms around to flag down the bus driver and they’ll very likely wait for you before leaving. Please do not jaywalk to catch the bus!
Step 4: Getting on Transit
When boarding the bus/train, there’s different procedures for paying for transit using PRESTO (see below for possible scenarios):
For local buses, simply tap your card at the PRESTO machine located next to the driver once (no need to tap getting off).
For subway trains, tap your card at the PRESTO machine gates once (no need to tap again when exiting the gates).
Viva buses do not have a PRESTO machine inside the bus. You’ll have to tap your card at the transit hub machine once (no need to tap getting off).
For GO Transit, you’ll have to tap your card twice (once when you’re boarding the bus/train and again when you’re getting off)
Tip: Boarding a Viva bus or GO Train without paying is illegal (see list of fines for YRT or GO Transit). Fare inspectors regularly check PRESTO cards and tickets, and if you will be fined if you’re caught. If the PRESTO machine at your initial boarding stop is not working, let the driver know and you’ll be asked to pay for your fare at the next available stop.
Step 5: Getting off Transit
Buses have digital signage near the front of the bus showing the next immediate stop location which is announced through an automated PA system. You’ll still have to manually signal for a stop through the following methods based on bus model/type:
Pressing the stop button located next to the handle bars on the aisle seats
Pressing the yellow tape strips located beside passenger seat windows
Pulling the yellow string located along the passenger seat windows
Tip: When you’re getting close to your stop, signal for a stop ahead of time to avoid the bus driver passing by it. I’ve experienced this before and after a long tiring day, it wasn’t fun walking a couple of blocks from where I was planning to get off.
As a common courtesy, let passengers exiting the bus/train get off first before you get on for a smooth boarding experience. If possible, please use the rear doors to exit the bus to allow new passengers to board the bus unhindered.
Priority seating for the elderly, expectant mothers and people with disabilities are clearly marked with signage and different seating colour. Please offer your seat to those in need.
Keep personal volumes (e.g. phone, music, etc.) to a minimum. No one likes to overhear long personal conversations or loud music.
Thank the bus driver when getting off to end the day with good manners. When I was a teenager, I never really understood why people thanked the driver but as I got older it was for a variety of reasons. Thank you for driving me home late at night, thank you for driving safe, or simply thank you for giving me a great transit experience. In the off chance that the driver is rude, at least thank them for opening the door for you to get out.
If you’re worried about random passengers bothering you during the ride, just close your eyes and pretend to sleep or slip on some earphones (even if you’re not playing any music) as a sign that you don’t want to be disturbed.
Hold onto your belongings (e.g. bag, purse, etc.) in front of you and zipped up, especially if you’re sitting near the door to avoid easy theft. Also check for your belongings before getting off the bus. Visit the following pages for lost and found info that applies to you: YRT, TTC or GO Transit.
If for some reason you don’t feel comfortable getting on a bus/train, just don’t. Trust your instincts and wait for the next one.
If it’s late at night and you’re feeling vulnerable getting off at your stop (e.g. lack of lighting), try asking the bus driver a couple of stops ahead of time to see if they can drop you off at a safer alternative location.
Local Transit Contact Info
For any general transit inquiries, compliments, complaints or suggestions please visit:
I hope these tips help you take the first step forward to try transit. It’s really easy once you get used to it and you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the ride instead of worrying about driving behind the wheel.
We would like to thank Calvin Cheung for contributing as a guest blogger!
Calvin is the Program Specialist at Smart Commute Markham, Richmond Hill (SCMRH). For over three years at SCMRH, Calvin has led transit and telework pilots and carpool incentives programs to help workplace employees in Markham and Richmond Hill get started on a new commute option. With increasing traffic congestion, there’s smarter commute options out there and Calvin is here to help you explore your options!