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How to Read a TTC Transfer

Posted by Chris Orbz / October 5, 2007

TTC Bus/Streetcar Transfers
Ever stare at your bus or streetcar transfer while rocketing across town and wish you could decode it?

Well, maybe you should bring a book with you next time if you're that desperate for something to do, but here's what I've been able to figure out.

The design is really pretty simple, and it has to be for drivers to be able to tell at a glance whether to wave you by or stop you for a "Just a minute! Alright, buddy, there's three things wrong with this transfer..." lecture.

The tear-off transfers differ from the subway station machine-printed transfers, which start off as heat-sensitive paper (hence the lighter trick, where you quickly heat the back without burning it to blacken the front) which have the time and station information burned into them when you request one.

In the case of the bus/streetcar transfers, the driver has no way to change what is actually printed on the transfers when you ask for one, and so these portions of the transfer aren't involved in coding the time.

They're very straightforward, and from top to bottom are the route number, date, day number, transfer number, route details and a second printing of the date.

The template colour, of course, varies randomly from day to day but is consistent across the system on each day.

The only details of the transfer that can be modified on the fly are the various tears made into the paper, and so it's these that make up the coded "clock" specifying direction and time of travel.

The first detail is the "NIGHT" strip along the top of the transfer which specifies whether the transfer is from the daytime (if removed) or nighttime (if left attached).

The next part to look at is the very bottom of the transfer, which is shortened so that the last digit displayed in the left-hand column of numbers (the coloured ink, not the black) matches the hour digit for the time of issue.

That specifies the hour, and so the next place to read is which of the two right-hand notches indicates a number in the right-hand column. This is the minutes portion of the time of issue.

The second notch, which can be either above or below the minutes notch, indicates "U" or "D" for "up" or "down." Up refers to either north or west, while down represents south or east, and this notch is used to specify which direction the vehicle was heading along the printed route.

So, with the example given here, since the "NIGHT" strip is missing, the transfer is torn at 11 and notched at 00 and D, this transfer was issued by a southbound (York U -> Downsview) bus at 11:00 a.m.

I don't take St Clair enough to know, but I believe the 512's two-hour-expiry transfer system test is still running? Either way, you can click through to see a diagram on how to read those transfers - quite similar to the standard, the most important difference being that normal transfers specify the time of issue, while those specify the expiry time.

Fiending for more transfer info? Always wishing you could really make the most of your little paper friends? You might want to memorize the list of walking transfer stops (PDF) - perhaps something to do in transit now that you've conquered the transfer codes.

The walking transfer stops are non-intersecting stops which are on routes close enough to one another that riders are permitted to walk from one to the other and still board with a transfer.

This list is available online, but for the most part riders are just expected to do things properly without it, and the information is probably only well-known by employees.

And lastly, speaking of things for employees... if you're so into transit that you need to feel like you drive the trains yourself, you might want to check out Coupler, the TTC employee newsletter, with issues online dating from April 1998 to the current month.

Now all I wanna know is... what's "299 Bloor, 299 Bloor, 299 Bloor" mean? They're always being asked to "call control" over the PA and no one will explain the code to me.



Gloria / October 5, 2007 at 03:51 pm
I've been wondering that too. Great entry! I love learning the nerdy, intricate mysteries of the TTC.
Jerrold / October 5, 2007 at 06:06 pm
This is a gem of a blog post. Thanks for this!
Dave / October 5, 2007 at 10:43 pm
I didn't grow up here, but I've been living in the GTA two decades. I still haven't figured out the bizarre rules of how transfers work, when they work, when they are and aren't needed. I'd hate to be a visitor to this city. For example, why I can't pick up a transfer at the subway station I am exiting? No wonder people are in their cars - maybe there should be a user's guide to the TTC.
Jerrold / October 5, 2007 at 11:28 pm
You can't pick up a transfer on your way out of a station because there's nothing to stop you from taking two or three or more and giving them to people outside the station that haven't paid.
barold / October 6, 2007 at 11:01 am
I wonder how much effort (and expense) goes into maintaining this whole system. Transit debit cards would eliminate not only pinting and distributing transfers (not to mention the paper waste) but also alleviate the drivers from having to make these 'calls'.
Brian / October 6, 2007 at 11:21 am
Chris, FYI 299 Bloor is calling for a supervisor at the bloor station.
Jerrold / October 6, 2007 at 11:25 am
Hmmm. That link in the first comment suggests that 299 is a call for a line mechanic.
Brian / October 6, 2007 at 12:38 pm
99 is the code for a mechanic.

Think of how many times during the day is there mechanical failure at Bloor station in a given day in comparison to how many times you hear "299 Bloor"?
Chris Orbz / October 6, 2007 at 01:47 pm
Dave, it's only partway to being a users' guide, but there's the TTC Rider Efficiency Guide & misc TTC tips site at
Christopher / October 6, 2007 at 04:32 pm
According to an article published in "Toronto Life" (July 1st 2004), code 99 is not the code for suicide jumper, otherwise Bloor/Yonge would be out of operation for just about forever.
It's a routine call for the line mechanic to show up at a given station.
Michael / October 6, 2007 at 05:23 pm
I've worked Subway Track Maintenance for 10 years @ the TTC now..."299" is the Line Mechanic call. There are "Line Mechanic's" posted at Kipling, Keele, St.George, Bloor, Chester, Kennedy, Eglinton, St.Clair West & Sheppard.

And just for your knowledge, the Line Mechanic's work four, ten hour days, with three days off.

I also know the "299 Bloor" pretty well, since we've been friends for about 8 years.

Glad to enlighten you all!
Sean / April 9, 2008 at 08:29 pm
Let's see. Another thing I do when in the city which is effective is get a transfer at a subway station NEAR where I'll be getting off so I have plenty of time to log so that after I'm finished doing whatever there's usually plenty of time to take the nearest streetcar (for me I make it Dundas or Spadina) so I connect back into the subway without having to deal with showing a transfer again. Foolproof? No, but it helps. Despite being a peacemonger, from what I hear in the media, it sounds like collectors and drivers would rather avoid a fight because of the senseless violence some have faced, unless a transfer is so obviously invalid. My best attempt was here in Barrie though - I used to live in Oakville and I offered up an old Oakville Transit transfer I had - almost got away with it. Never did that again.
Random man5000 / March 2, 2009 at 04:54 pm
what about the "zone 1", "zone 3", "spc" parts?
San / February 4, 2010 at 08:31 am
Thank you for this post! I've always wondered on how to read those ttc transfer papers. I still have a question:

What if I want to make a stop on the same line and then use my transfer? Like say for example I want to take the 41 Keele bus to Lawrence West. It's a main intersection of course. So if I stop there to shop around for a bit, can I use the transfer to get back on the 41 Keele and continue to Finch? Like, I always wondered if you could use your transfer again for the same line: if you stop somewhere on 41 Keele bus's route, then you get back on the 41 Keele to continue.
Mike / March 15, 2010 at 10:53 am
@San: No you can't. A transfer is for a one-way continuous trip, not a stop-over (so you can grab a coffee). To the bus driver, it will be apparent to him that your transfer was taken from that bus route. So he probably won't let you use it.
San replying to a comment from Mike / March 17, 2010 at 11:20 pm
Thanks loads! :)
...Although this info came very late LOL But thanks, it's definitely useful info that I've been trying to find out for a loooong while.
Rusty / March 17, 2011 at 08:11 pm
Random man5000: I don't know about the Zone parts, but I've seen Spc used when they run out of transfers on a given route. You will notice a lot of TTC collectors and drivers have a holster on their belts which holds a punch similar to a single hole punch. I've seen them use this to mark off "Spc" and somewhere else on transfers from a different route, and Voila! Magic transfer.

I've seen this done fairly regularly on night bus routes.
Basil replying to a comment from Jerrold / April 26, 2012 at 08:27 pm
And what stops you from picking up two or three transfers from your point of origin and giving it to people upon arrival, if that's your intention?
Quark replying to a comment from barold / April 26, 2012 at 09:16 pm
Transit debit cards are just a boondoggle, the costs of which will most likely end up being foist upon the TTC, who will then be expected to pay for it all and then be blamed for any failures that happen. The TTC needs to build new LRT lines to relieve overcapacity on the subway, streetcar and bus lines NOW, not get some flashy electronic thing that makes a cool 'beep' sound. When all of that's taken care of, THEN we can concentrate on getting and implementing the fancy electronic cards.
the lemur replying to a comment from Quark / April 26, 2012 at 11:10 pm
We need to have a better fare system in place (even just a reloadable paper card with a magnetic strip, like New York's Metrocard) when those new lines start feeding more people into the current system, especially if we want to make use of all-door loading.

One thing I occasionally do - not intentionally - is if I forget to get a transfer at the start of a subway trip, I'll get one from the stop before the one where I actually need the transfer for a bus or streetcar. Not really how it's meant to be used, but at least it avoids the possibility of arguing about 'stale' transfers.
Anonymous / August 23, 2012 at 07:58 pm
Wait a minute........... Did it just mention that those machine-issued transfers are heated up just so to display information rather than being naturally printed? Oh no! Transit companies should go green, but why are they promoting global warming? Arctic ice is quickly melting and more people are dying from heat exposure. They should consider doing the tear-off method, or else more innocent people would experience as a result of heat exposure:

Heavy sweating
Feeling weak
Heart attack
Dark-colored urine, which indicates dehydration
Sarah replying to a comment from Mike / October 26, 2012 at 07:18 pm
Thank you for this site.
I was totally peeved that the driver made me pay again instead of accepting my not-expired transfer.
I got off, ran into the pharmacy, then got back on the same bus number. (took me only 15 min to pickup a prescription then board second bus)
Yes, he was super rude, like I was ripping him off personally.
But I didn't realize the rules are crazy complicated.
Next time I won't even bother try.
Alina / July 24, 2013 at 01:06 pm
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Leila / June 3, 2015 at 07:33 pm
Greatttt! It has been a long time since I was looking for this information about transfers. Great job!
Elena / September 11, 2015 at 09:30 am
Thank you so much!!
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