10 ways to blend into the Toronto Transit System

By Jim Bamboulis

I’ve been taking transit in Toronto my whole life. I know the system in and out. But when it comes to transit, not everyone knows how to navigate it. Often times, the biggest complaint I hear from visitors and even locals who don’t use it much is that the Toronto transit system (the TTC) is confusing. I’m always baffled by that considering Toronto only has two and half subway lines of effortless, uneventful, more-often-than-not a conversation starter about how inefficient the whole thing is. Personally, I like the transit system; overall, it’s very well-connected and getting better each year. But, yes, the streetcars, subways and busses do get delayed, shut down and altogether re-routed making the commute….tricky, frustrating with plenty of hair-pulling agony.

The Toronto subway system in all its glory!
We locals who depend on it daily know what to expect – everything and nothing. But if you’re one of the nearly 44 million people who will visit Toronto this year, it’s important to know a few things about the TTC because odds are, you’ll probably take it while you’re here. That said, here are 10 things that will make you stand out less, blend in more and make you look like a local, Toronto transit taker.

Try not to smile as much

You’d think bus delays, an occasional system shutdown and sometimes having very little personal space would make people happy. Nope! Not in the least. Turns out, smiles on transit aren’t common which means smiling is a dead giveaway that you’re not from around these parts. If you do smile, you may attract otherwise unwanted attention from people in general. And the last thing you want to do is start something, especially a conversation. Ain’t nobody got time for that. By not smiling you not only send a message that you’re dissatisfied with the fact that you’re on transit and at the same time, deflect any risk of conversation with others. Win win.

Try looking a bit angry, too

Add some spice to your no-smile with a pinch of angry face. This unique and popular transit combination will more than likely prevent someone from even sitting next to you. By adding an angry face, it also sends a message that you relate to the plight of a Toronto commuter.

Avoid eye contact altogether

Not because it’s dangerous to look. But because it’s just not common to do so here. If you find yourself sitting on the bus, subway or streetcar, take out your phone and stare at it. Can’t reach your phone and having a hard time figuring out where to fix your gaze? Look out the window. If no window is available, look down and at a bit of an angle. This might sound weird but it works fine. Practice it – look down and slightly to the left or right. It avoids a potentially uncomfortable situation involving human interaction and again, it allows you to blend right in.


I’ll put it this way – when I was in school, studying for a big exam, I found that the TTC was, by far, quieter than any library. Even during rush hour. No kidding. Most days of the week, it’s so quiet on Toronto’s transit system that if someone even sneezes, people turn to look at who it was. In fact, the only time most have the motivation to talk on transit is on weekends and/or after a few drinks. Just a heads up, if you’re with someone and decide to talk – and nobody else is talking – expect to be briefly stared at and have your conversation eavesdropped. To blend in, keep the convo to a minimum and at a quiet volume level. Otherwise chat as much as you want on weekends when it’s more expected to hear elevated levels of conversation.

If frustrated, sigh

Seeing people clipping their toe nails on the subway is more common than people think. Many others have taken their shoes off and made themselves right at home looking as if they’re expecting an attendant to come down the aisle and offer them cookies and coffee. Granted, those instances aren’t as common as subway shutdowns, bus re-routes and streetcar delays but it still happens. Transit riders don’t say much when they experience these acts but they do make noise. Most just sigh. By sighing, you instantly connect with like-minded transit riders and simultaneously create a mutual understanding of the predicament at hand. Sighing is sufficient. Conversations about it, largely unnecessary.

Say sorry, not excuse me

Subways, buses and streetcars are often very, very crowded. Feeling like a stuffed sardine is common, especially during rush hour. After you finish sighing and feel the need to maneuver past people and create some space for yourself, try not to say ‘excuse me’. The word ‘sorry’ rules the land in Toronto so if you need to navigate in tight spaces, say ‘sorry’ – even if you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. Saying ‘excuse me’ is a dead giveaway that you’re not from around here. Nothing will happen, you’ll just get stared at funny.

Stand near the exits

Toronto transit riders love standing near the exits. Even if you’re not getting off at the next stop, standing near the exits is common. Sure, you may be blocking the flow of people coming in and going out but remember, it’ll be fun having people bump into you and sighing at fact that they have to move around you to even get on and off.

Say thanks to the bus and streetcar driver

If you’ve managed to stay quiet, look a bit pissed, not smile and made absolutely no eye contact with anyone else, great job, you’re almost there. Getting off the bus or streetcar, it’s become customary to, at the very least, acknowledge the person who drove you to your destination. Saying thank you to the bus or streetcar driver as you get off is actually a lovely Toronto habit. But don’t overdo it. If you want to take part in this tradition, a simple thanks and glance over is sufficient. Note – don’t say thanks to the subway driver – it’s almost impossible to do so and it’s never done anyway.

Escalator etiquette 

You want to take your time going up the escalator? Just want to stand and let the magical machine do all the work? Cool. But keep in mind, escalators work exactly like freeways. Slower moving traffic, aka standing, should be done on the right side of the escalator. Faster moving traffic, aka walking up the escalator is done on the left side, aka the passing lane. Please don’t stand on the left side of the escalator. You risk having someone sighing very deeply behind you, maybe saying sorry and definitely looking un-smiley and very pissed.

Know the fare prices ahead of time

Toronto transit riders are, for the most part, patient. You’d have to be if you want to keep your sanity while dealing with the unpredictability (and predictability) of the transit system. And although riders will line up to pay their fare, it’s frustrating when you have to stand behind a group of people who’ve just realized that they have to pay to begin with. Much less, standing behind a group of well-intentioned people who have no idea what the fare rate is. A single ride is $3.25 for adults, $2.10 for seniors and kids under 12 ride free. Please refer to this link for more fare info. Please have it ready. Otherwise, we’ll sigh. Really loud.

That’s it. Do these 10 things and ride Toronto’s transit system like a pro. Sorry it took me so long to give you the link.

Did I miss one? Leave your suggestions in the comment section below.

About me

IMG-20161106-WA0017.jpgHey y’all. I’m Jim. Cute pic, no? That kid went on to spend 16 years in the broadcast media world before starting up Travel Mammal, a site dedicated to travel, food and cultural experiences.

Travel Mammal isn’t about the selfie or checking things off a list. It’s about experiencing both the journey and the destination. To breathe, learn and really absorb what’s around you, in the moment and experiencing in a way that is both memorable and meaningful.

Happy travels, y’all.


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