If you’re a Canadian, two major cities on everyone’s lips are Toronto and Montreal. The two most populated cities in Canada boast extensive train systems, and yours truly had to navigate both on a daily basis. So, how do the two stack up?


Toronto: While in Toronto, I stayed in two fairly densely populated areas, Yonge and Spadina. Both subway stations were a bit of a walk, at least 15 minutes. The stations in general are laid out decently, but seem to cover a concentrated area. The Yonge-Unversity-Spadina line is a U-shape, while the Bloor Danforth runs east and west, leaving out some grey areas in between.

Toronto platform

Montreal: No matter where I was in the city, or what time of day a Metro station was always near. Whether hanging in Verdun, The Plateau, or NDG, I never felt stressed about finding a station to return to my hovel. Montreal’s lines are organized by color and destination name, which renders it simple to understand, even if you’re a lowly Anglophone. The orange line is a U-shape, but two separate lines (blue and green) intersect at different zones in the city east and west. That’s a lot of coverage.

Metro turnstiles

The winner? Montreal. Excellent access all around!

Layout of Stations

Toronto: Their system is a veteran, first built in 1954 with 12 stations, but since then has expanded to 69 stations. Accessing the platforms is either by turnstile or heavy, awkward revolving doors, difficult to push myself and a backpack through.

TTC revolving door

When you need to change trains at a major hub, the signage is overhead, easily readable with arrows to know which platform to switch to. The one downside, sometimes signs that direct you to streetcars or buses are poorly spaced and could be missed in a snap. Platforms are either up or down, with a set of escalators or stairs. Some stations are finally implementing elevators for the handicapped, a smart initiative.

Montreal: Slightly younger than the Toronto system, it was inagurated in 1966, inspired by the Paris Metro. All signs are color-coded to each line (orange, blue, yellow, green), an inviting visual to figure out where to transfer trains. If you’re color blind, guess you’re screwed, but don’t fret, because each sign has destination names embossed in big, bold letters. Phew. Pretty much the same set up as Toronto, escalators or stairs access platforms or exits, and signage is plentiful.

Metro sign

Where Montreal loses is lack of handicap access. Only seven stations have elevators. Since I’m always injured or complaining of sciatica, oh Metro you suck.

The winner? Toronto.  While Montreal’s stations are superbly laid out, Toronto wins for improving their service for ALL users.


Toronto: Ugly, ugly. Colors are dull, grey, and uninspiring. These old stations could use an upgrade from corpse to lively. Another strange item, I was forever discovering random pools of water in an obviously dry subway tunnel in the middle of July. I will say the Museum Station is the shining gem out of all of them. Carved, intricate totems serve as pillars.

Museum Station

Montreal: A fair number of the stations are large and airy, decked out in colorful tiling. Because the Metro is over 20 years old, some stations are in disrepair, but each station is unique, even upscaled with televisions! The Place de Arts station caught my attention mainly because of eye-catching art as you exit the station.

Place de Arts Station

Television at Lionel-Giroux

The winner? Montreal. European touches among the modern add flourish.


Toronto: The TTC still uses tokens (see picture), which constantly got mixed in with my change, it was the only sensible place to store them. They are über tiny, a target for a hole in your pocket. At $3.00 a pop, losing a token is not an option. Day passes are $10.00 (good for single, family or group). A weekly pass is $36.00, a bit steep. A full-on Metro pass is useful for yearly users, so the dregs of tourists are left with single trip or daily/weekly passes.

Token for single fare

You have to pay an attendant or insert coins or dollars into a machine, which incidentally, ate my change. Going forward, I referred to them as transit vending machines, the ones you kick to get the damn chocolate bar you paid for. If memory serves, a measly $10.50 spat out 4 tokens. My take? Expensive transit.

Montreal: A single trips is only $2.75, already cheaper than Toronto. Purchase a one day pass for $7.00 or a three day pass for $14.00. Even buy according to the number of trips. I fell amore for the Opus Card. It’s like a Starbucks card that you fill up with Metro trips at an automated machine that accepts cash, debit or credit card. Simply place the card chip side on a slot on the machine, and purchase how many trips you want. Once the transaction is done, remove the card and you’re ready to ride!

Automated machine – Metro

Opus Card recharging

The turnstiles and self-serve machines are the picture of efficienct automation. So French, so elegant. All passes are implanted with a chip/barcode system. Just place your pass over the scanner and the turnstile allows instant access.

The winner? La Montreal. Catch up Toronto. Tokens are so 1800’s.


Toronto: Trains have large interiors, plenty of leg room or available seats. The biggest perk? Air conditioning in the sticky height of summer.

Interior Toronto subway

Montreal: No air conditioning, smaller cars, very tight leg room. Pressing heat from the outdoors is the same level indoors. I wilted many o’ time. Date night turned into, “Take a shower and invest in face powder.”

The winner? Toronto. Air-con is not overrated.


Toronto: Once you embark on your first subway ride, ask the attendant for a free TTC map. It’s small enough to tote around in a daypack. Subway cars also have maps posted, but if I got on at the wrong end, the map was out of sight. Time where you get on in case you need to refer to a map.

Montreal: Maps galore are EVERYWHERE. Before you walk down to a platform, once you’re on a platform, at either end of a Metro car. You seriously can’t get lost, only if directionally challenged (moi, for instance).

The winner? A tie. Although Metro maps are easy to identify, Toronto is just as accessible, it’s a matter of being aware. An important trait in travel.

TTC Transfer (Toronto)


Both transit systems will get you where you need to go. But for overall usability and ease, Montreal’s Metro is more superior. Toronto has a fussy system with the tokens, even how their transfers work. You can only utilize a transfer at the destination station when getting on a bus. I was verbally slapped by a bus driver for trying to use a transfer that should have been used a few blocks back. I’ve never been scolded for walking before! I will say, their transfers are free without time limits, so that is a plus. The TTC website isn’t overly straightforward. Trying to do a basic map search proved annoying. When googling the STM (Metro) website, you can get a map and fare info lighting quick. And they’ve integrated technology so well that even your grandmother can work the Opus Card.

TTC (Toronto): www3.ttc.ca.

STM (Montreal): www.stm.info.

Photo: abdallah