On Land, On Sea and In The Air!

David Crawford wrote a while ago …

You may want to put [this] somewhere, or on your pile of “interesting but irrelevant ideas”!

I read the TTC Mandate from the City www site today. Makes one wonder why the Toronto Island Ferry is not part of the TTC – I think it maybe used to be? The island ferry service is doubtless something the TTC does not want to take over but water transportation (ie an expanded ferry service) is something which could help move people if it were properly integrated into the public transit network.


The Commission is responsible for the consolidation, co-ordination and planning of all forms of local passenger transportation within the urban area of Toronto, except for railways incorporated under federal and provincial statutes, and taxis.

The Commission’s functions are to construct, maintain and operate a local passenger transportation system, and to establish new passenger transportation services where required. The Commission may also operate parking lots in connection with the transit system, and may enter into an agreement with municipalities or persons situated within 40 kilometers of Toronto, to operate a local transportation service.

Ah yes, the TTC used to have a marine division called the “Ferry Department”.  It was merged into the new Metropolitan Toronto Parks Department in 1954.

Of course, there would be some challenges if this were still a TTC operation. 

  • If the Sam McBride is half way across to Centre Island, and is short turned, do the passengers have to get off?
  • Would crews exchange vessels in the middle of the harbour to get back on time?
  • Would the TTC operate an express ferry to The Beach in competition with the Queen Car, and would it replace the express bus?

Finally, will Swan Boats ply the waters of the Don, and will the TTC go into competition with Porter Air?

8 thoughts on “On Land, On Sea and In The Air!

  1. In the name of humanity, keep the Island ferries out of the TTC’s hands!!

    Wasn’t there a proposal in the 60s to tunnel under the lake for some kind of rapid transit to the Island?


  2. Steve, we all know that ferries are outdated, inefficient, and the surest mark of a backwater hick town. Not only do they make us look bad, but the ferries are always holding up other traffic on the water.

    The only acceptable solution would be a nice modern underwater ferry. It should only cost a few billion dollars to build a canal in a tunnel under the lake from the foot of Bay Street to the Island. If only Ottawa and Queen’s Park would step up to the plate with their share of the funding, all of our ferry woes could be solved.

    Of course, the ferry tunnel would be cheaper if it followed the much shorter route from Cherry Beach to Ward’s Island, so we’ll put it there instead.

    And we definitely can’t afford to dig it all the way out to Centre Island or Hanlan’s Point, so we’ll realign the surface ferries to run from the Ward’s Island station to those destinations.

    Naturally, this will be much more convenient for everyone involved. And most importantly, it’ll make us world-class!


  3. There was indeed. The idea was a streetcar and car tunnel under the western gap, where the cars would be restricted to the the airport and the Bathurst streetcar would travel under the airport and across the island to a loop near the eastern gap, thus eliminating the requirement for the ferry.
    The idea was quashed because too many people did not trust the planners to limit cars to just the airport.


  4. Actually, there is a tunnel to the island for power. Once a year, some brave souls from Toronto Hydro check it out, according to an article in the Star. You need a flashight.


  5. Perhaps the only thing worse than the TTC taking over the ferry service would be GO Transit.

    Potential outcomes would include:

    Giant parking lots at the ferry docks in lieu of real service improvements.

    Instead of responding to demand by offering more ferry trips, instead running larger ferries at the same frequencies, and building larger ferry piers and loading areas to handle the increased traffic levels.

    Expensive mid-harbour grade separations, that despite low frequencies, are required so that ferries do not have to mix with recreational or freight traffic. I would imagine this would involve building lift locks like the one in Peterborough, or perhaps a marine railway like Big Chute.

    An express ferry line to the airport via a much widened Etobicoke Creek, complete with by-passed trip generators. An extension could go to Downtown Brampton one day.

    Service reliability and trip cancellations (please take the next ferry that departs in one hour) that would make the TTC’s bid for running the ferry service look good (imagine GO running an airline!)

    Ferry lines to Hamilton and Oshawa, that despite their usefulness, only run in one direction at peak periods.


  6. Competition with Porter Air. Wasn’t dabbling into short-haul flights what eventually killed off Gray Coach for the TTC?

    Steve: Ah yes, another one of those little mysteries of TTC history that’s been swept conveniently under the carpet. Glad to see someone else remembers.

    GCL sold off a lot of its property, and Bay Street terminal has never paid its way (it is the only remainder of GCL that is still owned by TTC). Indeed, there is an accumulated deficit on the terminal operation that shows up as an account receivable on the TTC’s books. Their only hope of ever getting paid will be if the site is sold for redevelopment.


  7. At the risk of taking this too seriously: Copenhagen has two “Harbour Bus” routes, which other than zig-zagging across the water are exactly like land bus routes. (They look a lot like buses inside, and have the same fares, and transfer rules, even route numbers. They’re also fully enclosed, given Copenhagen’s winters are similar to ours.)

    Once the Portlands are redeveloped, a harbour bus route running from the Turning Basin to the ferry terminal with a couple of intermediate stops could be useful, if it didn’t come at the expense of streetcar service.

    Steve: The fundamental difference with our harbour and the lands to be developed is that people don’t live, for the most part, on the water, or need to cross it as part of their journey. Similarly, the destinations (taking Bay and King or at least Union Station as a connection to other parts of the network) are not directly served by waterborne traffic. Therefore, any trip by the proposed ferry shuttle would necessarily take people a long way out of their way and not be competitive with land-based routes.

    Now if only we had a few office towers at Centre Island, it would be a different story!


  8. The TTC operated the island ferries until 1961. The June 1961 TTC route map still has the island ferry fares listed on the back.

    Starting 1927 the TTC acted as the city’s trustee in operating the island ferry service. Losses were always passed on to the city until at least 1939. After the size of the TTC reserves became public knowledge, operating losses then absorbed into the TTC’s budget sometime in the 40s. The TTC annual reports of the early 50s are full of complaints on the financial drain on the system and conditions on the islands.

    Additional tug service was operated in the winter by the City of Toronto (originally only for city employees). The island ferry fleet was not licensed for winter operation.

    There have been five island ferry operators over the years:

    Toronto Ferry Company 1890-1927
    Toronto Transportation Commission 1927-1954
    Toronto Transit Commission 1954-1961
    Metro Parks Department 1962-2001
    Toronto Parks Department 2001-present


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