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Will TTC subways ever run really late into the night?

Posted by Sarah Ratchford / May 6, 2014

TTC Late Night subway servicePoliticians and journalists do much squabbling over whether Toronto is a so called world class city. Whether we are or we aren't, it's tough to argue that our subway service doesn't measure up to what's offered by cities that indisputably carry that title.

New York City, for example, keeps its subway lines open all night. And in London, five lines will remain open overnight on Friday and Saturday nights, beginning in 2015.

Could something similar ever work in Toronto?

TTC spokesperson Brad Ross doesn't offer a whole lot of hope.

"The reason we don't stay open later is quite simple: it's maintenance," he says. I ask him why is then that whole chunks of some lines are routinely shut down over on weekends. He says those closures aren't for routine maintenance; they're for major upgrades. Daily maintenance takes place from the time the subway closes, at 1:30 a.m., and opens again at 6 a.m.

For a city that ranks consistently at the top of the list of priciest transit cities in North America, a subway closure time that falls half an hour before last call makes me feel a little irate. But Ross says our comparatively early closure time is a function of our system's infrastructure.

Subways in New York and London, of course, require maintenance as well, but they have alternate capacity available to them. Lines in London, for instance, run "both fairly close to one another and parallel," Ross says, allowing some lines to close for maintenance while proximate ones remain open for service. And similarly, in New York, there are parallel express tracks, allowing one track to close while the other one continues to run.

As New York's MTA late night service map shows, the subway operates 24 hours per day, though not all lines operate at all times. All stations are served during late night service, though, which runs from midnight until 6 a.m.

Closer to home, Ross says the daily maintenance required is crucial. Workers have to look at whether the tracks are in good condition, ensure switches are working and signals maintained, and make sure that the tracks are free of ice and debris.

"We only have three hours, but we get a lot done in those three hours," he explains. Though more maintenance time is required right now to do signal upgrades, he says a later closure isn't completely off the table for the future.

TTC overnight service"It's absolutely possible, in the future, once we're in a state of good repair, to be open until 4 a.m. on a Friday or Saturday night," he says. Once the system is "operating at a high degree of reliability" and in the event that platform-edge doors are installed, the TTC will have that discussion.

Platform-edge doors are those which you might see in airport monorails, which slide open and closed from the platform itself, rather than having the platform open to the tracks. They keep people from falling onto the tracks, and they also keep the tracks cleaner, preventing newspapers and other garbage from flying on to them. Cleaner tracks mean less maintenance time required, which means the subway could easily stay open later.

Ross says the doors are identified in the TTC's budget as a future priority, but as yet, they're not at the top of the list, and they remain unfunded. Development of a Downtown Relief Line (yeah, that magical thing to dream about) could also make a later closure feasible.

As for all-night service?

"24 hour or later service is just not something that we can consider at this time," Ross admits. "I don't think we'll ever see 24 hour service. It's not warranted." Those of us who like to party, he says, and those who work shift work or odd hours, can always make use of the Blue Night bus, which generally runs along the subway lines and other key transit arteries.

A total of 183,780 Torontonians worked in accommodation or food and beverage in 2013, and I'm sure they would say later service is deeply warranted. As would the thousands of students in the city. Still, this is Toronto -- and this luxury talk. Ross tells me that though internal discussions are had from time to time about staying open later on weekends, no serious talks on the topic have been had recently, and major improvements need to be made to our existing system before we can extend its hours even just until last call.

Photos by Daniel Gueorguiev and tapesonthefloor.



Joey / May 6, 2014 at 02:14 am
As much as I love the idea of 24 hour subways ("subways, subways, subways!"), where would we ever find the money to pay for it? Longer hours of operation mean increased costs for labour, maintenance, electricity, hydro, etc.
Aaron / May 6, 2014 at 02:18 am
If only there were more parallel tracks The city is huge! The population keeps growing every year.
KevinN / May 6, 2014 at 08:17 am
We can't have all night subway systems because the current track design/layout only accommodates one line. NY has several lines that allow closures of certain stations with the ability to bypass.
Nick / May 6, 2014 at 08:29 am
We really need to stop comparing ourselves to New York. As someone who's lived in both cities, we aren't even close to the calibre of city New York is.
xRTGx / May 6, 2014 at 08:35 am
Suck it up and take the bus.
BA / May 6, 2014 at 08:39 am
Plenty of cities operate 24-hours on the weekend with their double-track configurations (berlin, barcelona, London from 2015), don't know why Toronto thinks this is a limitation that only we have.

In reality, the costs are what doom this plan.
Ralph / May 6, 2014 at 09:03 am
As much as I hate the TTC, they seem to be open pretty late in comparison to some other cities.

"World class" cities like Tokyo, Seoul, Rome finish their subway service at 12....
DL replying to a comment from BA / May 6, 2014 at 09:07 am
Driverless trains. It's something that should've been implemented 20 years ago, it's still something that should be implemented.
WN / May 6, 2014 at 09:08 am
Whenever I see a Blue Night bus, it's never even close to being full. What's the cost/benefit rationale behind asking for larger capacity (subways)? Especially since it's relatively easy to add a few more buses when required. Just so when you barf, you'll be sitting down?
iSkyscraper / May 6, 2014 at 09:14 am
OK, let's clear up a few misconceptions.

First of all, yes, New York does have a few four-track lines but most are not - this is a red herring when it comes to late-night operation, don't fall for it! And even on the express routes it is the local tracks that run 24 hrs without a break. So how do they do maintenance? By:

a) accepting a dirtier system overall:

b) having special equipment like vaccuum trains:

and c) doing major maintenance in bursts:

But let's set that aside, because the MTA is a huge regional system with a ton of dedicated funding and operates in a city where for many there is no other option. Toronto is not in the same class as New York when it comes to transit, so for immediate lessons it is probably not the best case study.

There is, however, a second, smaller subway system in New York that might suggest to Toronto how to operate 24 hrs if that was really the goal. The PATH train has a single, two-track line that manages to stay open 24 hrs. How do they do it? During the day, trains run as often as 6 to 8 minutes. But late at night, they close one of the tracks for maintenance and run the trains on a single track. This requires long headways because you have to wait until you can get to a layover point, so the trains only run every hour. But they still run. If the TTC really wanted to, they could try this, but would you rather wait an hour for a train or just get on the Vomit Comet? Right.

So let's look at Toronto's more relevant peer cities, in terms of transit coverage:

Chicago - 4 am to 1 am, but extended until 2 am on Fri and Sat. Two lines run 24 hrs, as one might expect for a city with many more subway lines.

Boston - 5:30 am to 12:30 am, but extended until 2 am on Fri and Sat

Philly - 5 am to 12 am

Atlanta - 4:45 am to 1 am

SF - 5 am to 1 am (Muni), 4 am to midnight (BART)

LA - 5 am to 12 am, but extended until 2 am on Fri and Sat

Based on the above, TTC hours are pretty much what you would expect, but pressing for late nights on Fri and Sat is definitely a goal within reach. If Boston and LA could pull this off within the last year, so can the TTC, no excuses:

EL / May 6, 2014 at 09:26 am
Why is there no service north of Eglinton after 12 except for Saturday?

jerry / May 6, 2014 at 09:32 am
Blue Line bus routes are just as good. late night traffic is much less, so the buses aren't even that much slower.

The only reason people was 24hr subways, is so they can say that we have 24hr subways. there is nothing wrong with Blue Line 24hr bus routes, they make perfect sense. If anything, they could up the frequency a bit but that's it.
Kelly / May 6, 2014 at 09:35 am
If you have to say you're world class, you're not. Stop it Toronto! *Vancouver* is the self-conscious city that can't stop saying how world class they are. And they're not -- they're just pretty. And can't stop talking about how pretty they are.

Toronto, just relax and be yourself.
Tam / May 6, 2014 at 09:47 am
Lets save the electricity and environment from running the trains 24/7. Its not needed, let's focus on fixing and correcting the service during the hours its already running.

24/7 trains means 24 hour high paid TTC staff which usually results in an increase in fairs. Would you be willing to pay $3.50-$4.00 per ride all day everyday to support the over night service?
Shayna / May 6, 2014 at 09:47 am
The subway is fine. It'd be nice if it opened earlier on Sundays but that's all. The late night buses are great! I take the Bathurst late night bus all the time. Also, who wants the subway to be filled with drunk people puking? At least bus drivers can deny people entry. On the subway, you can't do that the same way.
Kadeesha replying to a comment from Charlottte P / May 6, 2014 at 09:53 am
Yeah but no one really considers Montreal, "world class".
Jaxwell replying to a comment from Kelly / May 6, 2014 at 10:01 am
Spot on. I'm from Vancouver and you couldn't be anymore correct with that statement.
Roger / May 6, 2014 at 10:08 am
It would be nice a blue line service on Sheppard Ave west and Steele Ave west. It would allow me, and I'm assuming many others, to be able to work later hours or stay out later with friends.
Bay St. Guy replying to a comment from Charlottte P / May 6, 2014 at 10:16 am
But no one would argue that Montreal is a "World Class" city so that point is moot. I'd be hard-pressed to believe that anyone outside of Canada or the American northeast would mention Montreal if you asked them to name 15 international cities.

I get that the infrastructure doesn't support 24 hour lines but it would be huge if Toronto kept the subway open until 3 or 4 on the weekend. It would likely reduce drunk driving a little bit and be some much needed relief from our awful cab system for anyone who lives downtown.
tommy replying to a comment from EL / May 6, 2014 at 10:23 am
As Brad Ross said: maintenance. The subway tunnel walls between Eglinton and Sheppard are crumbling after only 40 years, and so the TTC needs to shut down the line early to get more work done on repairing/replacing the tunnel liners.

So much for the "100-year" subway touted by Rob Ford. Subways need just as much maintenance (maybe more) than other forms of transit.
Billy / May 6, 2014 at 10:42 am
Actually I don't find the weekend closure timing all that bad. I moved here from SF where BART was needed for my commute home, and closing at midnight is way, way more of a pain. The night system here is also pretty developed with good Blue Line routes and a number of 24 hour streetcars. An earlier Sunday start would be more really does start quite late.

There's a lot of things I hate about the TTC, but that's not one. Now if you want to talk about those silly tokens...
ellietown / May 6, 2014 at 10:54 am
TTC subway is so decrepit that it can't even function for regular work hours 7 days a week! Given that the sunday morning buses are wall-to-wall pressed ham from about 6am onwards, maybe that should be a priority? The only thing worse than working a Saturday night shift in the ER is trying to get home on Sunday morning.....
ellietown replying to a comment from WN / May 6, 2014 at 10:58 am
Have you seen one between 6am and 9am on Sundays though? They are sardine-packed. Like, TTC hires a second guy to stand at the front and yell at people to squish more or wait for the next bus packed (seriously how does that help, hire that guy to drive another fucking bus morons). Lets start with basic functioning 7 day/week service for regular day time hours, the late night vomit comets work pretty decently. Sunday mornings? Grade A shitshow.
Toronto Personal Trainer / May 6, 2014 at 11:28 am
Ya this is crazy, subways will stop running trains at 130am even though bars close at 2am, leading to obviously more drunk drivers. TTC needs to figure it out.
W. K. Lis / May 6, 2014 at 11:41 am
New York subway has a headway of 20 minutes for late-night (12 am - 6:30 am) service. See
Kelly replying to a comment from Jaxwell / May 6, 2014 at 12:05 pm
Jaxwell: Me too. Moved here after 22 years in Vancouver and I couldn't be happier. *high five*
Dan Forth replying to a comment from Kelly / May 6, 2014 at 12:09 pm
I agree 100% with Kelly. Toronto has such an identity complex. We are always comparing ourselves to other cities that are in other leagues or trying to be like other cities, instead of developing our own identity unique to Toronto and doing things our way. Comparisons to real "world class" cities like New York are tiring. New York doesn't try to be anything other than itself and Toronto should do the same. I live in Toronto and love Toronto, but we are far from "world class".
Ambrose replying to a comment from WN / May 6, 2014 at 12:23 pm
The problem is that more buses are never added when more capacity is needed. If you have ever tried getting on those Blue Night buses during a major event like Nuit Blanche then good luck. I once waited like 3 hours for the CORRECT bus (tons of buses that go only half the way—I wonder why).
LaryOly / May 6, 2014 at 12:31 pm
It would be nearly impossible to add extra tracks to the Toronto subway, because there's no room for them. Our subway was created from scratch by a single company, instead of being an amalgamation of multiple companies' systems.

New York and London have multiple tracks because their subway systems began as multiple companies, each running their own tracks and trains independently, often through the same areas.

However, transit systems are so costly that there has never been one that could survive without major government funding. Eventually, city governments realized it would be far more efficient to amalgamate the individual transit companies into a single City-run company. This amalgamation gave them a massive back-up system of extra tracks.

Where there used to be 3 sets of tracks, for 3 different companies, now only 1 set was needed for regular use. That left 2 more sets for re-routing trains in emergencies, and (in NYC) for running Express trains.

If the Toronto subway had been built with extra tracks in each direction, it would have allowed the TTC to run more efficiently. However, it would have doubled or tripled the cost of building and maintaining it.

Sunny replying to a comment from W. K. Lis / May 6, 2014 at 12:38 pm
Yes, and considering the 320 Yonge bus runs every 3-7 minutes overnight, 300 Bloor-Danforth bus every 5-10 minutes, it is not bad at all compared to trains every 20 minutes.
Walter / May 6, 2014 at 12:43 pm
If parallel system help with 24 hour operation, then it makes sense to build Eglinton, which is parallel to B-D, as a full grade-separated Metro. Same thing that the DRL, parallel to Yonge, should be built as far north as possible (Eglinton and eventually Finch).
iSkyscraper replying to a comment from LaryOly / May 6, 2014 at 12:47 pm
LaryOly, totally wrong on all counts. This is not the correct history of express tracks in New York (nor Philly, nor Chicago for that matter, the only other North American cities with express tracks, and only a small bit of trackage at that). London does not even have express/local tracks except on the Metropolitan, which used to be a suburban surface railway.

In any case, express tracks have nothing to do with late-night operation. It's all about cost.
Jon / May 6, 2014 at 12:55 pm
I love how they make the excuse we can't have it 24/7 because of maintenance. No one wants it 24/7 all day everyday. We just want it later on can't be that hard to do. good ol ttc.
j-rock / May 6, 2014 at 12:59 pm
I would gladly pay money if it meant that I never had to hear the phrase "World Class" spoken again in relation to Toronto.

As previously mentioned, if you keep obsessing over whether you are, then you're not. I've spent a lot of time in several of the cities generally considered to be "WC", and they're great. But so is Toronto. I just wish that people would drop the inferiority complex and appreciate it on its own terms. It's embarrassing.
jd83 / May 6, 2014 at 01:05 pm
The immediate goal should be.

Friday & Saturday nights the subway is open to 3am with the RT til 3:30am.
ourkid17 / May 6, 2014 at 01:15 pm
What does world class even mean? I've been to lost of big cities and there are good and bad everywhere. We're lucky that in Toronto the good far outweighs the bad.
ohl / May 6, 2014 at 01:20 pm
"It's tough to argue that our subway service doesn't measure up", means the opposite of what you are trying to say.
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from Charlottte P / May 6, 2014 at 01:21 pm
And at 12 midnight as well. Toronto closes at 1:50 AM, at least.

A 24 hour system might be possible if the whole system was automated, but that would be only subways; buses aren't driverless yet. The idea of a driverless surface route might work if everything was light rail and streetcar, but no experimentation's been done on that possibility.
Sunny replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / May 6, 2014 at 01:56 pm
Express tracks have lots to do with 24-hour operations. Don't forget that New Yorkers have to navigate through a slew of planned service changes every night and weekend ( where some express trains run on the local tracks due to construction, or vice-versa. NYC subway also has the advantage of being able to reroute trains to different lines in one direction for the night/weekend, which Toronto also doesn't have. The two-tracked isolated lines such as the Canarsie Line or Crosstown Line have to resort to either shuttle buses or be single-tracked and have trains running every 20 minutes. People are already outraged when the Yonge line is replaced by shuttle buses during some weekends between Bloor and Union, can you imagine if that happens almost every weekend?
MER1978 replying to a comment from DL / May 6, 2014 at 02:40 pm
We're in the progress of spending millions to upgrade to a signal system which would allow for automated trains... not sure anyone will hand us hundreds of millions to put in those automated doors + modify station ventilation systems anytime soon.
Audio Blood / May 6, 2014 at 02:43 pm
Would be so helpful in getting home after late shows! Especially for festivals (a la CMW) and such.
iSkyscraper / May 6, 2014 at 03:20 pm
You're 100% right that New York does maintenance through constant re-routing of stuff, I should have included that in my list as item #4. Seeing as how I've lived here for 14 years I suppose I've just gotten used to it as background noise.

And yes, some of those service changes take advantage of switching between express and local when not forcing people onto shuttle buses. I concede the point.

I just tire of hearing the lack of express tracks as a crutch for having service till 2 am on a Friday or start at 6 am on a Sunday. It is an extremely rare condition among transit systems and while it might be needed for 24/7 it is absolutely not required for simple late night operation a couple days a week.
Holy Thundering Jesus / May 6, 2014 at 10:14 pm
yeah your talking about a system that doesn't open until 9 am on a Sunday morning, never gonna happen, just like that so called relief line, never gonna happen.
imissadam replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / May 6, 2014 at 10:47 pm
I don't think we should need to push for this genius (only operating one track overnight) it should be mandatory especially Friday & Saturday nights even if it only curtails 1 drunk from getting behind the wheel of a car a night.

"During the day, trains run as often as 6 to 8 minutes. But late at night, they close one of the tracks for maintenance and run the trains on a single track. This requires long headways because you have to wait until you can get to a layover point, so the trains only run every hour."
James Scantlebury / May 7, 2014 at 11:37 am
The only lines in London that will be running 24 hours a day are the ones that have been upgraded at a cost of billions - Automatic Train Operation, 30+ trains an hour, new trains etc.
We've been calling for longer running hours for years. Saying that, we successfully held an Olympic Games in 2012, with a record 4.5 million people on the Tube in one day, all without needing 24h running...

Maybe when someone (anyone?) stumps up the cash for the TTC to upgrade their lines, you'll see improved service hours.
matty / May 7, 2014 at 04:46 pm
I don't ever imagine we'll have 24 hour service, and I'm skeptical we will ever have subways stay open past last call (which would be nice!). But can we please have subways on Sunday start running at the same time as every other day of the week? What... people don't have places to go before 9 AM Sundays?
Anony mouse / May 8, 2014 at 06:15 am
What's really a joke is the SRT closes before the subway.
If you're headed East, you get utterly STRANDED at Kennedy after 1:30.

Another joke:
From Eglinton-Finch, there is NO subway service after 12! This was supposed to finish in 2010! But it's mid-2014, and they're STILL DOING IT!!

The TTC couldn't run a popsicle stand properly..
NativeTorontonianAl / May 10, 2014 at 12:10 pm
24 hours is just unrealistic, even for the world's tier-II cities is it a rare thing. Toronto is not in this group or level. Besides that factor, what Toronto simply needs to do is constantly build and extend more subway lines (and catch up), and start earlier on Sunday mornings rather than the current small-town 9:00am start time. At least 7 or 8 on Sundays! Finally, updating the payment system and options and its accessibility. These are realistic but it's up to the different levels of govt, who have been proven to be suppressing it.
NativeTorontonianAl / May 10, 2014 at 12:11 pm
^Sorry, I meant "...even for the world's TIER-I cities is it a rare thing."
SonofKhan / May 12, 2014 at 05:57 pm
Will never happen. Part of the reason why NYC runs all night is because most subway lines have more than two tracks. They invested in track capacity not artsy fartsy garbage like the TTC. Lets rebuild Pape and Dufferin a few more times. Lets spend a billion or so to move a platform 6 feet over at Union.
asa replying to a comment from SonofKhan / September 18, 2014 at 01:18 am
dufferin has one of the busiest bus route in the city and needed elevators and another exit . dont compared it on the ghost station/route that is pape
Roger / September 18, 2014 at 03:42 am
Why is it that a well-established, wealthy city like Toronto can't afford to even renovate a station? Big cities in Asia are building huge subway systems that have the most modern systems and trains. They always seem to get theirs built quickly and on budget? Maybe we should get them to build our subways too.
KH88 / September 18, 2014 at 07:40 am
I agree with the pro night bus supporters but for me it's a 20 minute walk to the closest stop serviced by one, and at 2AM that isn't appealing. If they added routes to service some of the blank areas on that night map I think there would be fewer complaints.
WM / September 18, 2014 at 10:14 am
24 Hour service seems like such a waste of money. It would make more sense to have the subway open until 2:30AM on weekends, and earlier on Sunday mornings. But all we really need is more frequent shuttle busses on the Blue Night routes, and maybe a couple added 24H bus/streetcar lines (i.e. Steeles, King, Eglinton, etc.).
paul replying to a comment from jerry / September 18, 2014 at 12:50 pm
have you ever ride the 5:30 am Yonge overcrowded nightbus?
Rosio B. Underdue / September 19, 2014 at 04:20 pm
Great article.
Bettie / September 20, 2014 at 09:42 am
It's the 9 a.m. start on Sunday that gets up my nose.
Bertie I. Abrial / September 23, 2014 at 07:57 pm
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however this piece of writing offers pleasant understanding even.
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Zuba / February 2, 2016 at 11:16 am
After reading some of these comments, I am very disappointed in our citizens. This mentality is still the reason why Toronto is still not a "world class" city. People in Toronto are small-minded and afraid of change. If running the Subway for a few extra hours at night would take hundreds of cars off the street, I am all for that. They have been doing track repairs from Finch to Eglinton for nearly 8 YEARS. That's almost a decade. What they probably upgraded at the start of the renovations probably needs to be fixed again. It's unacceptable.

And the blue night buses are also unacceptable. During The week, they are fine. However, during Fridays and the Weekend, they do NOT come every 5-7 minutes. More like every half an hour, filled to the brim with pushy, loud drunks. I once witnessed a woman be harassed and accosted by a group of young men, and the bus driver had to stop the bus and intervene. You think that's acceptable?

No, we have to strive for improvement. The layout of the TTC is already way too centralized, focusing too much on the downtown core. Certain parts of town that are not paid attention to take forever to get around. We have to change that. Enough is enough.
Other Cities: Montreal