Newcomers sometimes get overwhelmed by the complexity and information overload of different transportation modes and the high costs. It takes a little while to discover the most efficient transport option. You can reduce your travel costs substantially if you know where to look. It is better you understand the dynamics of transportation even before you rent a long term place to stay as it becomes difficult to move later on.
Toronto needs to be understood as the City of Toronto and then there is Greater Toronto Area commonly called GTA. Please refer the GTA map below. GTA comprises of adjacent neighbourhoods like Brampton, Missisauga, Markham, Oakville and so forth apart from City of Toronto. Travel within the City of Toronto is primarily provided by the Toronto Transit Commission called TTC. Travel within GTA is provided by respective neighbourhood be it Brampton Transit or Missisauga's Miway.
How to pay for public transit: Each transportation authority charges a separate fare of their own. For example TTC will charge you $3.25 for a single trip where as Brampton shall charge you $4 for a single fare. Thus if you decide to live in Brampton but travel frequently to Toronto, you will incur substantial additional costs for paying to two regional transits.
There is a Presto Card System in Toronto which is a single card that can be used to travel to almost all areas within GTA including the City of Toronto. The fare charged on the card is slightly lower as the Authorities are incentivising the presto card payment travel. Please click this here to find out where you can buy a Presto Card. Please click TTC Fares to find the latest fares.
How to find out your best route: Use Google maps public transit option to see your options for moving from Point A to Point B. Once you select a route go to "Agency info" link at the bottom to figure out what Regional transits are involved in your transit route. Your cost of travel will increase depending upon the number of different regional transits used as every authority will charge you their own fare.
How to board a bus: The card just needs to be tapped onto a machine, in case you are boarding a bus and the fare is automatically deducted. TTC offers you a two hour transfer once you tap your card the first time. Means that you can get down from the Bus and hop onto another one after tapping your Presto Card and TTC will not charge you anything if the second tap is within 2 hours of the first tap.
TTC Subway system: Toronto has a subway system that has different color marked lines in different directions. Subway is certainly the fastest mode of travel, especially in congested areas. Please look at the Subway map below.
Transportation instructions are commonly marked in terms of direction. For example from the Union station (Yellow line) you can travel Northbound to either Finch or Vaughn Metropolitan Centre. Thus it is a good idea to figure the direction location of your destination and start your travel as it becomes relatively easy to understand the transit instructions. This is especially true in downtown, where due to reflection of the signal from tall buildings, the GPS does not work accurately and you can sometimes feel lost. Transfer between each of these lines is smooth and hassle free. You can enter TTC subway by simply tapping your Presto Card at the entrance to subway.
Streetcars: Some part of Toronto also have a streetcar service. For boarding and travelling inside a streetcar, travel like you would travel in any bus.
Monthly Pass System: Most transit regions have a monthly/weekly pass system whereby by paying once you can travel unlimited times within that particular transit region. Currently the TTC pass costs $151.15 for Adults. Depending upon the number of times you travel, you can do a quick calculation to see if you are better off with a card or not. Sharing from my past experiences, I stayed in TTC and took a monthly pass every month. When you are new inside the city you want to travel around to shop a lot of small items/furniture hunting for a deal and the extra amount incurred is easily recovered if you can travel around freely. Further, being able to travel freely to different places keeps one positive and happy especially when one faces substantial challenges of settling in a new place and finding employment.
GO Train/Bus Transit: In case your need is to travel to far off places and that too faster, there is a Train/Bus service by private operators by the name of GO Transit. GO charges you by the distance travelled where you have to first tap when you board and then tap again when you exit the Bus or Station. It is certainly more costly but it is faster and more comfortable.
Private Transportation Options
Private Car: Owning a car is certainly expensive as insurance rates are really high. Car insurance shall be covered in a different post but you can easily expect to pay $250 or more every month. Read more about the costs of living in Toronto. Then there will be additional parking related costs (easily $100 or more in Toronto) and then Car owning and driving costs. You need to have a G2 or G licence in order to drive without an experienced driver sitting with you. You may like to read about how to get your driving license.
Car Rentals: If your travel or car needs are not so frequent, Car Rental is a very good option. You can find really good deals on rentals and it is a good way to get some experience of driving without the prohibitive costs of owning a car. Shall cover this exciting topic in a separate post. A peer-to-peer car rental service called Turo provides some exciting deals if you are lucky.
Taxis: Uber and Lyft are commonly used taxi services but are certainly expensive as compared to the other travel options. If travelling in a group, it is certainly a good option.