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GO Transit's Dial-a-Bus Experiment (1973-1976)

Compiled by Pete Coulman
With commentary by James Bow
Maps taken from Alan Gryfe's website.

See Also

go-dial-a-bus-01.jpgOctober 29, 1973

Service launched on a "new concept in transportation", as the province of Ontario established an experimental on-demand public transit service in a test neighbourhood in North York. Operated by the TTC under GO colours, the province leased "Club Car" type minibuses to provide door-to-door service to residents northeast of York Mills station.

The idea was to provide public transit service that was comparable to the private automobile in terms of speed, and less costly, so as to better serve the low density suburbs where fixed route systems were uneconomical. Passengers would call a number to be picked up, and drivers would alter their route on the fly to show up at the passengers' front door.

The first phase of this service was provided in "Area C", an area of North York with a boundary running from Yonge and York Mills via north on Yonge, east on Highway 401, south on Leslie, west on Lawrence, northwest through the Bridal Path neighbourhood and west on York Mills to Yonge Street. Area C was further subdivided into area zones (1, 2 and 3) within the superblocks divided by York Mills Road and Bayview Avenue (see map above right).

During rush hours, two minibuses are assigned to each zone (six buses in total), on call to ferry passengers from their home to York Mills subway station, and back again. Outside of peak hours, including Saturdays, one bus is assigned to each zone, providing service either to and from York Mills station and major shopping centres in the area. At York Mills station, buses board at the southern station entrance, on Old York Mills Road.

Buses operate from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, and from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Saturdays. No service on Sundays and holidays. During rush hours, fares are 40 cents for adults and children, with no transfers offered or accepted between the three zones. Outside of rush hours, adults pay 40 cents and children 20 cents, with free transfers between the zones. Dial-a-bus transfers are not accepted on other TTC services.

December 15, 1973

The experiment is expanded to include the Armour Heights area. A new "Area B" is set up, with the boundary running from the Dufferin-Finch intersection via east on Finch, southeast along the west branch of the Don River, southwest along the 401, west along Wilson Avenue, north along the Allen Expressway and Wilson Heights Boulevard and north on Dufferin Street to Finch. Area B is also divided into three zones numbered 1, 2 and 3. (see map below)

During rush hours, two minibuses (for a total of six) are assigned to each zone, bringing passengers to and from their homes and York Mills subway station. During off-peak hours, one bus provides service from each zone to the Yorkdale shopping centre, with an additional shuttle bus operating between Yorkdale and York Mills station. Buses are scheduled to operate every twenty minutes, on routes calculated on-the-fly between 6:20 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. and between 4:20 p.m. and 6:40 p.m. Outside of rush hour, buses operate every thirty minutes, including the shuttle, between 7:30 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Saturdays. No Sunday or holiday service is offered.

The fare structure is the same as seen in Area "C". No free transfers are offered or accepted between Area B and Area C buses, or with other TTC services.

Note that the map below makes reference to a third service area that was supposed to start service at this time, but our records indicate that service on this third area did not start at this time. Note that additional service is shown for northeast North York (north and east of the Highway 401 and Bayview), but this never materialized.


go-dial-a-bus-03.jpgMarch 18, 1974

The third and final stage of the experiment opens, with service expanded to the Downsview area. Initial maps promoting this service suggested service was supposed to start back in December 1973 with Area B, but was delayed until this time.

"Area A" is established (suggesting that this experiment was implemented backwards, or reversed at some point after the areas were named) in an area whose boundary starts at Highway 400 and Steeles and runs east along Steeles, south along Murray Ross Parkway, south along Keele (including areas east of Keele between Finch and Sheppard), east along the southern boundary Downsview Air Force Base, south along Dufferin Street, west along the 401 and north along Highway 400 to Steeles. Area A is divided into nine zones.

During rush hours, five buses are assigned, based in zones 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 (no rush hour service is provided for zones 1, 7, 8 and 9). Outside of rush hours, six buses were assigned, with one serving zones 1 and 2, another serving zones 3 and four, a third serving zones 5 and 6, and the remainder serving zones 7, 8 and 9.

Service in Area A does not connect with any subway station. During rush hours, buses link to major transfer points on nearby local TTC bus routes as well as local shopping plazas. Outside of rush hours, the buses are linked primarily with local shopping plazas

Unlike the first stage, these services will NOT make any connections with the subway or any shuttle systems operating to the subway. In rush hours they will provide service to regular TTC routes while Shopping Plazas will be serviced in both the peak and off-peak periods. Buses operate on-call from people's homes to the following destinations:


Rush Hour Destination

Off Peak Destination


No rush hour service

Downsview Plaza (Keele & Wilson)


Downsview Plaza (Keele & Wilson)


Crang Plaza (Jane & Wilson)

Crang Plaza (Jane & Wilson)


Crang Plaza (Jane & Wilson)


DeHavilland Plaza (Keele & Sheppard)

DeHavilland Plaza (Keele & Sheppard) &
Jane-Sheppard Mall


Jane-Sheppard Mall


No rush hour service

Jane-Finch Mall


No rush hour service

Jane-Finch Mall


No rush hour service

Jane Finch Mall

June 22, 1974

Service is cut due to costs. All service in Downsview Area A is cancelled. Saturday service in York Mills Area C is cancelled.

July 20, 1974

Further cuts eliminate all service in Armour Heights Area B, including the shuttle service between York Mills station and Yorkdale.

October 15, 1974

In a bid to increase ridership, service in the remaining area (York Mills Area C) is revised. During rush hours, service in all zones is improved from every twenty minutes to every fifteen minutes. Outside of rush hours, service operates every half hour. in zones 1 and 2, all buses operate to the Bayview shopping centre at Bayview and Sheppard, before continuing on to York Mills subway station. In zone 3, all buses operate to Don Mills shopping centre, before continuing to York Mills. Service operates until 10:00 p.m. in the evenings, Mondays to Fridays, with no weekend or holiday service.

In addition, stops are allowed en-route, to accommodate transfers with other TTC bus services. Zone 1 and 2 passengers can board or disembark at the corner of Bayview and Sheppard, while Zone 3 passengers can board or disembark at a stop on Lawrence Avenue, just west of Donway West. Passengers can transfer from Dial-a-Buses onto regular TTC services at these points, and TTC passengers can board Dial-a-Buses at these points, with a transfer and an additional fare.

Concurrent with these changes, the fare system is revised. Adults pay fifty cents, or two TTC adult tickets. Children pay twenty cents, or two TTC child tickets (6 for $0.50). Students pay thirty cents, or 2 TTC scholars tickets (7 for $1), while senior citizens pay fifty cents, or two TTC seniors tickets. All fares are to be exact cash or tickets. Passengers boarding with TTC transfers pay half the cash fare, or a single ticket. Free transfers are accepted between dial-a-bus zones, at all times. All Dial-a-bus transfers presented to collectors at York Mills station or on connecting TTC routes are to be retained if needed for further transfers along the trip.

October 31, 1974

A new green-coloured transfer similar to the regular TTC design (with a "NIGHT" portion to be detached prior to 5 p.m.) is introduced on this date.

November 25-30, 1974

To further promote the service, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Communications mailed two free "promotion tickets" to each household within the Dial-a-Bus area, valid for use from November 25 until November 30, 1974. Tickets are only good during off-peak hours as full payment of fare with transfer privileges.

March 29, 1975

Cash fares are increased. Without a TTC transfer, adults pay $0.75, children pay $0.30, students pay $0.45, and senir citizens pay $0.75. With a TTC transfer, adults pay $0.40, children pay $0.15, students pay $0.25 and senior citizens pay $0.40.

June 23, 1975

Service in zones 1 and 2 are changed during the off-peak to operate to the newly opened Fairview Mall at Sheppard and Don Mills, discontinuing service to the Bayview Shopping Centre. During middays and evenings, three buses operate between Fairview Mall and York Mills station as a shuttle service, with on-request stops made at North York General Hospital

February 23, 1976

Cash fares are increased. Without TTC transfers, adults pay $1. With a TTC transfer, adults pay $0.50, or a single new adult ticket (5 for $2)

March 15, 1976

Cash fares are increased for children. Without TTC transfers, children pay $0.30. With a TTC transfer, children pay $0.15 or a single TTC children's ticket.

June 25, 1976

Service is abruptly discontinued, with the arrival of the last buses at York Mills station late that evening.


The GO Dial-a-Bus experiment was an attempt by the Province of Ontario to address a growing problem in urban transportation of the day. As cities sprawled out into the countryside, building low-density suburbs along winding streets and cul-de-sacs, it created an environment where the private automobile was the only effective means of transportation. For those who didn't have access to a car -- people too poor or too old or too young, or even spouses in houses with only one car -- this made access within these neighbourhoods difficult. It also made providing public transportation to these areas costly, as buses had to travel further to serve fewer people, increasing costs and decreasing revenues.

The effect of this urban form was apparent in the TTC's financial picture. Until the 1950s, the TTC was able to pay for the system's capital and operating expenses straight from the farebox. As Toronto sprawled, that ability diminished. In 1972, when the suburbs succeeded in convincing the TTC to drop its zone-fare structure, the TTC made its last operating profit. It would require a subsidy to balance its books every year since.

The province of Ontario was interested in solving this problem because Toronto's sprawl was quickly becoming their problem. In 1954, they answered the problem of sprawl by creating the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, a federated city that combined city and suburbs and gave these groups equal say in how the region was to be managed. In the 1960s, however, Toronto's urban sprawl spilled outside of Metro's boundaries, affecting the areas that would become Mississauga, Brampton, Vaughan and Markham. Unwilling to expand Metro's boundaries further, the province realized that they would be on the hook for the region's transportation problems. Already the provincial highways leading into Toronto (the 401 and the QEW) were seeing increased use. To try and reduce the cost of that use, the province set up GO transit to provide a regional public transportation alternative, connecting the far-flung suburbs with the downtown core.

With Dial-a-Bus, the Province of Ontario tried to solve the question of local transit in a low-density structure. Turning to computers to calculate routes on the fly, it was hoped this system would do away with fixed routes, providing bus service where it was wanted, when it was wanted. In theory, that should make public transportation comparable to the private automobile in terms of convenience. Unfortunately, the GO Dial-a-Bus was basically a government-run taxi-service, with costs not far removed from the sort a taxicab would experience. The minibuses were never able to carry enough people to split costs enough to make the system remotely profitable given the fares charged, and the province found that they couldn't operate the service frequently enough for it to be convenient enough for most passengers to use.

A few years after the GO minibuses departed North York, the TTC improved transit service by adding new local routes. In the York Mills area, the 78 ST. ANDREWS and 115 SILVER HILLS bus routes began operation on April 20, 1981, connecting these neighbourhoods with York Mills station. These services have seen modest ridership, but enough to maintain them in the years that followed.

Similar Dial-a-Bus experiments have been tried elsewhere in North America, with mixed results, but the question of how to handle the low-density suburbs gradually shifted towards rebuilding the suburbs to make them more transit and pedestrian friendly. Metrolinx, GO's successor, speaks of transit-oriented development at transit nodes sprinkled throughout the Greater Toronto Area. It remains to be seen if this approach will be more successful than the last one.

Dial-a-Bus Image Archive

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