Why Do We Need Another Bus Terminal?

From time to time, discussions here about Union Station turn to the question of a bus terminal.  A bigger terminal.  A better terminal.  A terminal with seamless connections to the trains.


GO/Metrolinx has major service expansion plans for its rail network including all-day service to cities now with, at best, peak hour, peak direction trains.  As service frequencies increase and good, all-day service is the norm on GO rail corridors, what do we need the bus routes (and their terminal) for?

A review of the list of all GO scheduled services shows us the future, such as it is, of GO bus operations downtown.

Timetables 01, 09, and 12 are all Lakeshore rail services whose bus components connect with rail terminals at all hours.

Timetable 16 is the Hamiton QEW bus service.  When GO reaches the point of having all day, 30 minute rail service to Hamilton, why run a parallel bus service?

Timetables 21 and 31 are the Milton and Georgetown services, both of which will receive frequent rail service that, like the Lakeshore routes, should be fed by buses at the outer, all-day terminals.

Timetable 32 is the Brampton to Union via Thornhill bus service.  Although this route connects today with the Yonge Subway at Finch and Sheppard Stations, it will eventually connect with the Richmond Hill subway extension.  The  buses do not need to come into downtown.  Updated August 29, 2008.

Timetable 61 is the Richmond Hill service.  Like the other rail corridors, this is scheduled to receive frequent all-day service, as well as a subway extension.

Timetables 65 and 71 are the Barrie and Stouffville services.  All-day train service over part of these lines is included in the 15-year Regional Plan.  Off-peak buses services beyond would feed the trains as on other all-day corridors.  In the same timeframe, the subway will be extended to Vaughan.  Even without all-day train service to Bradford, Vaughan Centre (or York U) is a much more appropriate connection for the bus service than bringing trips all the way into downtown.

Timetables 19, 20, 22, 27, 29, 32, 34, 37, 38, 40, 46, 50, 52, 60, 62, 64, 66, 69, 81, 88, 93, 94, 95 and 96 are all bus services that do not come into downtown.  They either connect with the subway at suburban stations, or they are between points in the GO network outside of Toronto.

Planned expansion of rail service in the Niagara peninsula and northwest from Georgetown will compete with and may replace private bus operations to these areas.

Land near Union Station for bus operations is difficult to find, and the last thing we need is an oversized bus terminal that will have no buses operating from it in less than 20 years.

Metrolinx is studying possibilities for such a terminal, but they need to step back and ask whether such a terminal is even required.  The rail networks of both GO and TTC are expanding at very substantial cost well into the GTAH.  Why spend all this money only to perpetuate limited capacity bus operations running all the way to Union?

Overall, operation of intercity bus routes into downtown Toronto will decline substantially over the next decade and beyond. If we are to have a new bus terminal, it should be planned for the services that will exist, that will survive into the future, not for today’s routes that are soon to be replaced with rail.

22 thoughts on “Why Do We Need Another Bus Terminal?

  1. I think the bigger picture here is the question of a large transportation node which encompasses the TTC, GO Transit, and coach bus services operated by entities such as Greyhound, Trentway-Wagar, etc. One of the beefs I hear is that the current coach bus terminal is too far away or too inconvenient for those connecting from either TTC or GO. While I agree that such a new terminal may not be entirely necessary, a terminal which houses both GO Transit bus and Coach services may be a helpful part of the network. The current Union Station bus terminal is much too small to handle coach services.


  2. Steve: You raise some good points and maybe “they’ need to look at a better rationalisation of which buses use which (downtown) terminal – Union Station and Bay/Dundas? I also think that a better way needs to be found to link BOTH the existing bus stations – if both are to exist – with the nearest subway station. The link from Union bus to Union subway is not easy, the one from Dundas subway station to the Bay/Dundas bus station is poorly marked and also not good for people carrying luggage.


  3. Would it not make sense to bring all GO and Greyhound/Coach Canada buses to the same place?

    Steve: We have to stop trying to create the equivalent of Pearson Airport for buses. We have a large and growing rail network in the GTA, and bus services have to feed into and from it. Major interchanges should be well out of downtown, not perpetuated in a congested area.


  4. The new bus terminal is not for GO, it is for private bus companies, to replace the existing Toronto Coach Terminal at Bay/Dundas which is old, undersized, inconveniently located relative to the Gardiner Expressway and a prime location for redevelopment. It will primarily be an intercity terminal, which will mostly be used for longer-distance bus services run by Greyhound and Coach Canada (among others). I agree that most (but not all) of the GO bus services will be replaced by rail in the foreseeable future, although it will still make sense to provide a small amount of GO bus service to downtown to provide more convenient express services which the trains cannot provide. However, the private bus services (except for a few which will compete directly with GO) are not going away anytime soon. They are much cheaper than VIA on routes which VIA serves, and they serve many destinations which are not served by VIA. There certainly isn’t enough room at the existing Union Station GO bus terminal to accommodate all those private operators even once GO no longer needs it for their Train-Bus service.


  5. An excellent point, Steve; I would illustrate the need for some interconnection with a personal example.

    I often travel from Kitchener to Peterborough. This is currently seamless via Greyhound, connecting in the Bay terminal. The problem here is, GO is soon coming to Kitchener, but they do not connect to Peterborough.

    I then have the option of either sticking with Greyhound on both legs of the trip (and who knows what Kitchener-Toronto frequency will be like once GO starts up) or taking GO for the first leg and facing a slog (or TTC ride) up Bay to my Greyhound connection.

    I’m not sure how this will shake out, and I’m aware this is just one example, but a simple option would be preferable.

    Steve: As I have said (or will say depending on the order you see my replies to a backlog of comments), I believe that whatever vestigial bus operations there are that must still come into downtown will fit at the existing GO terminal at Union once most of the GO services are replaced by all-day rail operations.

    By the way, GO is already doing planning work for service to Peterborough. Bus service between Peterborough and Oshawa GO station begins in September. Your route may look something like GO from KW to Union to Oshawa followed by a bus, assuming that the timing does not work out to connect with a GO Peterborough train.

    My whole point here is that we must think of what the network will be in the future, not what it is today, when determining what facilities like a new bus terminal are actually needed.


  6. Bravo, Steve. I have to say I’ve long been flummoxed by the priority that this bus terminal thing occupies with a lot of my fellow Metrolinx-watchers. This post badly needed to be made.

    You are quite correct to point out that GO’s bus presence downtown isn’t likely to increase substantially in coming years, and if anything could decrease as 30 and 15 minute headways on the rail lines come into effect. In any event, the existing Bus Terminal facility will be more than sufficient.

    The idea of a new bus terminal seems to mostly be built around the idea that somehow moving carriers like Greyhound and co. from Dundas & Bay to somewhere next to Union offers all manner of intermodal improvement. I’m not at all convinced. In fact, if the Bay/Dundas terminal were to vanish overnight, I’d make the case for it to be replaced not by a facility at Union, but one up at York Mills. Why?

    1) Every intercity bus route currently leaving the Bay/Dundas terminal (except those bound for Niagara/Buffalo/New York) heads at least as for north as the 401 at the beginning of its journey. That means chugging with traffic along either the DVP or Gardiner/427, with perhaps the occasional trip up Avenue or Yonge. For an increasingly-large portion of the day, there’d be a clear speed advantage from taking the subway up as far north as the 401 before switching to bus. GO recognizes this by terminating as much of their bus service to “inland” destinations as they can at York Mills and Yorkdale.

    2) The majority of Greyhound travellers are neither originating nor terminating their journeys in the downtown core, nor are they originating or terminating their journeys in the outer GTA.
    – Business travellers are not arriving at downtown hotels via Greyhound.
    – Commuter traffic from locations like Niagara and K/W is about to be supplanted by GO anyway.
    – Outer GTA locations like Oakville or Oshawa offer their own potential pick-up/drop-off locations for Greyhound, so making it easy to add connections via an intermediary trip on the GO Train is largely irrelevant.
    – Most Torontonians taking the bus to Montreal or London ON are not downtown, and taking the subway to York Mills would in many cases be shorter than a trip to Union or Dundas.

    In other words, the primary connecting benefits offered by a Union location (to GO Trains, or on foot to the financial district) are largely irrelevant to typical traveler embarking or disembarking from a Greyhound bus.

    Steve: Thank you for making these excellent points. I was expecting to have to say something along those lines sooner or later, and you have packaged it nicely in one comment. The only change I would make would be to use Yorkdale, not York Mills as the former is a much better facility. York Mills Station is a dump, and certainly not the place I would want to be waiting for a bus.


  7. I think buses will always be part of the mix. Not everyone who uses transit can have the luxury of living in a town that has a rail line. I know rail service is being expanded, which I am grateful for, I just think that commuter buses make more sense in a lot of circumstances. You can’t run a large 12 car diesel train to serve an area that can get away with using a commuter bus that could service all the smaller communities. During off peak hours as well- it makes sense running a bus. Even a large community like Hamilton only has rush hour service to the downtown station in one direction- the direction that rush hour is flowing. The other direction buses serve the commuters well who are commuting against the grain. Commuter buses are used extensively in New York City that has a very large commuter rail network used by many different carriers. The first time I went to New York it was by commuter bus in the ’80’s when I was a teen.

    I would really like to see the Coach Canada Terminal at the new Union Station. Union station would then have as well as the GO commuter buses it now has it would also have Greyhound and Coach Canada commuter buses, more GO trains, the subway a few city buses, streetcars and future LRT. Union Station has so much potential of serving much more then just Toronto and the GTAH, with a large number of other commuter buses besides GO it could service all of Ontario from one dynamic transportation hub.

    Steve: In my post, I talked about how Hamilton and many other parts of the GO network will have frequent all day service. I am not talking about the network as it is today, but as it will be in 15 years at the outside. Any remaining bus services can connect with the GO/TTC rail networks outside of downtown, and if they must come downtown, there will be lots of room in the existing GO terminal. We do not need another one. That’s the whole point of my post.


  8. I thought the point raised by most previous discussions would be permitting GO travellers by either bus or train to connect to intercity buses and also allow the TTC to divest itself of the current Coach Terminal? You don’t mention non-GO services at all.

    Steve: Actually, I do by observing that GO is gradually taking over their territory. I have absolutely no desire to see a big bus terminal downtown when the intercity operations can just as easily come into a suburban location like Yorkdale.

    Many GO services already make their connections outside of downtown.

    Any residual services after all of the GO rail expansion can be relocated to the existing GO terminal.

    By the way, the TTC won’t make much divesting itself of Bay Street. The property has lost a lot of money in past years, and selling the land will mainly go to pay off the debt the Coach Terminal owes to the TTC. They have been subsidising it for years.


  9. I think you make a very good point — infrastructure should accurately reflect future needs.

    This may be somewhat tangential, but the Toronto Coach Terminal can be nearly unbearable: you have to stand in line (sometimes for quite a while) to get on a bus, but worse yet you are doing so in a mostly enclosed space filled with idling diesel buses. It’s no way to treat riders (though a great way to encourage driving). I don’t know the extent to which this is inherent to the design of the terminal.


  10. I think that there will always be a market for bus services going to DOWNTOWN Toronto, not York Mills or Yorkdale or some other GO or TTC station out in the suburbs somewhere. I don’t think it makes sense to force travellers on intercity buses to transfer to TTC/GO train to get downtown, as this reduces convenience. Many cities much larger than Toronto have intercity terminals right downtown despite having extensive commuter rail service. Examples include New York City, which has the Port Authority Bus Terminal (the largest in the world), and Tokyo which has several at major downtown stations (I think Shinjuku is the biggest).

    Steve: I didn’t say that there is no market for buses into downtown, but that this market will shrink as major corridors gain all-day frequent rail service. The issue here is to avoid building a new bus terminal out of scale to actual needs.


  11. So what you are saying is Steve why tear down the Eaton Centre to build an oversized bus terminal when all you need to do is build a small terminal in the outskirts? I agree with that statement. I have been to cities overseas that have the bus terminals outside the downtown in the far corners of the city.

    Take Budapest for example: the Stadionok and Nepliget bus stations are all outside the downtown. The Stadionok bus station is enclosed and yes there is lines but its a more modern station with ventilation taken into consideration having been rebuilt a few years ago. Nepliget is a terminal like the Bay street GO bus terminal and it works fine.

    Both bus stations are on the subway lines and the locals do not complain about traveling to and from them to get to their house or wherever they are going. It works perfectly actually because for the most part the buses are kept out of downtown and it really adds to the atmosphere of the city not having to see all those big buses everywhere.

    Steve: In all the talk about “intermodal terminals”, the debate misses the basic statistical analysis of where bus passengers come from. Forcing everything (and everyone) to a central location to change between services will benefit those making a through trip, but it may take others miles out of their way.

    Maybe we should move Pearson Airport to the Island and centralize everything. Of course we won’t, and many who call for an air-rail link (regardless of who operates it) talk about the need to connect the airport with Union Station and Via services. We’re not moving the airport, only the connecting passengers.


  12. There’s an opportunity for Metrolinx here to take a leadership role by integrating the private intercity operators into their growth centers plans via an invitation to a business model that intagrates them into some of the busway proposals out there, some of which are even already in detailed design.

    A string of UGC terminals could actually provide better service coverage and connections to users of these intercity bus services. As people have already pointed out, not everybody is bound for downtown.

    It could look like this:
    Burlington (GO Stn w/Exp.Rail non-stop to Union, BT)
    Mississauga City Centre Transit Terminal (MT, GO)
    -Mississauga Transitway-
    Pearson Airport (everything)
    -Busway proposal through Finch Hydro Corridor-
    Emery (Bolton GO, Finch LRT)
    Steeles West Station (Spadina Subway, Jane LRT, YRT/TTC bus terminals)
    -407 Transitway-
    Richmond Hill Centre (GO Exp.Rail non-stop to Union, YRT)
    -407 Transitway-
    Markham Centre (Unionville GO, YRT)
    -407-Markham Rd-401-
    Scarborough Centre
    Pickering (GO Exp.Rail non-stop to Union, DRT)

    What’s worth noting is the number of connections that exist with non-stop rail services to Union Station. Those that are bound for downtown will be far better served by an electric non-stop train than by bus, especially for routes that would rely on the DVP to get downtown, particularly if the Gardiner is taken down.

    Buses from the west will continue, however, to have very convenient access to Union Station and may still have a competitive one-seat market. A GO express train from Burlington would still be faster.

    This will help Metrolonx get more growth in the areas they want growth to happen since it will make these centres better-connected to areas beyond the GTHA region. A potentially critical asset if we find out in 2020 that peak oil hit around 2013 (what makes peak oil dangerous is that we won’t know of until 5 years or so after the fact)


  13. Not intended to be an “encompass all” solution, but:

    If the goal is
    ~> To connect GO bus services from out of town (particularly the North & West), and;
    ~> To provide connection to the Toronto network at a subway station (for the best available service into Toronto)

    Wouldn’t some method 400/401 towards Downsview Station make a good choice?

    Downsview Station has several bus routes connecting to it:
    ~> 84 Sheppard West (will likely remain)
    ~> 101 Parc Downsview Park (could move to “Chesswood”)
    ~> 105 Dufferin North (only comes in on Wednesday at noon)
    ~> 106 York U Rocket (eliminated with extension)
    ~> 107 Keele North (would undoubtedly run from “Finch West” Stn)
    ~> 108 Downsview, may remain at this location; may go to “Chesswood”
    ~> 117 Alness (likely to remain)
    ~> 196 York University Rocket (eliminated with extension)

    With only #84 (frequent), #105 (non-existant), #117 (semi-frequent) and maybe #101 (seasonal) & #108 (frequent) this station will soon appear “over-built”

    If the TTC services can be successfully moved to the northern border of the terminal, the GO/Regional/Viva (if it isn’t relocated to York U Stn) services could be moved to the south end.


  14. The issue that happened at Wilson with excessive capacity for bus connections after the subway was extended to a new terminal will inevitably also happen at Downsview. While masked by the presence of MT, the same actually applies to Islington, too. Similar happened at Eglinton as well — people forget that the old land for the bus terminal is still sitting there. Warden is an exception, in part due to a combination of alignment and geography in this part of the network.

    This is a fundamental problem with subway terminals. Finch will be particularly dramatic. If LRT on Finch spans from Malvern to Rexdale and the subway is extended to Steeles or further north, Finch won’t need a terminal at all as only the LRT would connect with the subway there (yet Finch would still be able to score high on the busiest stations list).


  15. Karl Junkin said:
    “If LRT on Finch spans from Malvern to Rexdale and the subway is extended to Steeles or further north, Finch won’t need a terminal at all as only the LRT would connect with the subway there…”

    Some activity might occur at Finch terminal nevertheless:

    1) Detailed plans for Finch LRT’s Yonge station are not known yet. As I remember, one suggestion was to use the existing terminal space for LRT.

    2) Plans for Finch East bus are not known either. In case the “Finch East LRT bypass” is built, will the buses coming from the east terminate at Finch / Don Mills, run to Sheppard / Don Mills subway station, or keep running to Yonge?

    3) Subway station at Yonge / Cummer is not guaranteed. If it is skipped, then Cummer and Drewry buses will keep running to Finch station.


  16. I grew up in London, ON and still go back frequently, and I’d love to have more Greyhound buses leaving out of Yorkdale. Currently there is one trip per day from London to Yorkdale that leaves around 10:30am, there is no Yorkdale-London return trip.

    It’s not well publicized so the buses are usually fairly empty, but the route is very reliable due to its proximity to the 401. It doesn’t have to fight traffic, especially with that York Bay & Yonge ramp on the Gardiner.

    Regarding Drew’s comment about the routes being eliminated at Dowsnview, will this mean the end of the 196B between Downsview and Sheppard? Its the fastest way to zip between the Yonge and Spadina lines at the north end of the system, I’d hate to see it go. Many non-students use this route as well.


  17. With Eglinton, the terminal is and was very well-used, because ridership on Eglinton is extraordinarily high, and geographical restrictions cause various other routes to end up there. Finch East is probably not getting an LRT for a long, long time, and in a sense it is much more suited to BRT, given that it already has four different express branches with a combined frequency better than most local bus routes Finch West LRT will likely use that terminal anyway, no? Downsview might actually see its terminal having some land value, though, given the number of medium-density developments surrounding it, as well as the large patch of vacant land to the east of the station roadway.


  18. Rainforest said: Some activity might occur at Finch terminal nevertheless:

    1) Detailed plans for Finch LRT’s Yonge station are not known yet. As I remember, one suggestion was to use the existing terminal space for LRT.

    It is fair to assume, at this stage, that the Finch LRT terminal will be underground along Finch at mezzanine level of the existing Yonge Line station in order to through-operate on Finch East as per the Metrolinx extension to Don Mills, which has been funded.

    Rainforest said: 2) Plans for Finch East bus are not known either. In case the “Finch East LRT bypass” is built, will the buses coming from the east terminate at Finch / Don Mills, run to Sheppard / Don Mills subway station, or keep running to Yonge?

    Part of the problem here is that no EA has started, no designs put forward. That said, Finch East has some challenging geography, which will make designs interesting when they come forward. However, it is unlikely that the Finch Hydro Corridor will be used west of the 404 due to the existing alignment of Finch West and its high likelihood of being in an underground station at Yonge along Finch. As such, service along the 39 would be replaced if the LRT extended to Malvern, although 139 service may continue depending on what the TTC does with on-street vs. hydro corridor alignments east of the 404. 139 runs to Don Mills Station though, not Finch Station.

    Also, with the Don Mills LRT, and to a lesser extend the Sheppard East LRT, a surplus of bus bays will become available at Don Mills Station, which already has development on top of it. Finch terminal is a stand alone terminal that can be redeveloped into something far more valuable, including walk-in-ridership generation.

    Rainforest said: 3) Subway station at Yonge / Cummer is not guaranteed. If it is skipped, then Cummer and Drewry buses will keep running to Finch station.

    If the subway is extended, that station is guaranteed. The “optional” station was Royal Orchard in the Metrolinx BCA, not Drewry. The TTC wants to through-route a new 42/125 consolidated-branch service where some buses coming westbound from the east short-turn just west of Yonge, while the other branch goes towards Bathurst. There will be no 42 and 125 service to Finch if the subway is extended, that is confirmed.

    Jonathon Markowski said: Finch East is probably not getting an LRT for a long, long time, and in a sense it is much more suited to BRT, given that it already has four different express branches with a combined frequency better than most local bus routes Finch West LRT will likely use that terminal anyway, no?

    Finch East is already getting LRT up to Don Mills (Queen’s Park has blessed it with funding). This throws a number of questions about Finch East service into the air. It’s a bit of a mess right now, and the EA could be interesting. However, as explained earlier, Finch West LRT is very unlikely to use the existing Finch bus terminal, as it is more likely to be underground. Transit City LRT lines don’t need a loop, they can just use cross-overs.

    I wouldn’t put much faith in Finch East as a BRT. BRT will not be able to provide adequate capacity in the long-term given how popular this route is (consistently considered among the top 5 busiest routes, most are amazed it wasn’t part of Transit City in the first place, with almost everyone blaming Sheppard East for that outcome). It’s also worth noting that the express buses are implemented as a capacity management strategy, not a rider convenience strategy (same applies for GO Lakeshore).


  19. There are a couple of issues to deal with, first is that I expect that GO will becomes similar to the TTC in that buses will connect to local points on the rail network. Just like TTC buses connect to the subway.

    The Peterborough GO service is an example of this, it connects to the Oshawa GO train. This may also affect some of the coach services, for example Greyhound operates a bus service from Peterborough, it stops at Scarborough Town Centre before heading downtown. I expect that Greyhound will either drop the route or terminate somewhere else like Scarborough or maybe stay North and go into Yorkdale, since people going downtown will take GO.

    Perhaps a new bus terminal, on a subway line, rather then downtown. Yorkdale would probably be a good spot for one, in that there are some buses there now, and it’s right off the 401, across from Downsview Station on the corner of Downsview Park would be another possible location. A coach company (Grey Coach) built the current downtown terminal, perhaps the coach companies should get together to build a new one. What they could get for the downtown land the old one sits on, would certainly pay to build a new one in the north end of the city.


  20. Just a nitpick – GO’s route 32 does not go to Union Station, or anywhere close to it. It terminates/originates at Yonge & Sheppard. The references to Union Station you see on that schedule are the trains that some trips are timed to meet at Bramalea GO Station.

    Steve: Oops! I have mended the main post to correct this.


  21. Hi Steve:

    A great blog and a great debate on the downtown bus situation. I take both the GO bus and rail from Union to Hamilton on a daily basis. I get where you are coming from regarding the reduction of downtown bus usage if it is being supplemented by increased rail service.

    I think from the frequent user’s perspective, the real litmus test is all about time. With the proposed plan, most riders will be relying on the spine (GO Rail) working in tandem with the fingers (feeder bus routes). It will be critical moving forward that these two systems coordinate to ensure passengers are not wasting time (or wasiting any more additonal time than they already do) on stop overs. Can this be achieved?

    If rail reliability continues to be in the B+ to A- range, I expect passengers from the Hamilton to Union route to experience a slight increase in time travel overall. Sure, it will be more efficient from GO’s perspective and passengers will have more leg room than the bus but, travel time will increase either due to track congestion, switching problems or simple stop over wait times.

    At present the door-to-door time difference between the 4:30pm bus from Union to Hamilton and the 4:30pm semi-express train from Union to Hamilton is 5 minutes (in the bus’ favour). Very thin margins GO is playing with here.

    Steve: It will be interesting to see what happens once GO adds in the new trains through Hamilton (James Street) to Niagara Falls.


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