Remembering January, 1978 – The day smoking stopped on GO vehicles

As we’ve been digging into old boxes and archives for forgotten pictures of Metrolinx’s transit past – all part of a continuing series we’ve dubbed HistoricGO – some 43-year-old pamphlets and a couple grainy photos caught our eye. Take a deep breath, as we journey back to a time when smoking rules were a lot different than they are today – and how the air suddenly cleared for customers.

It was a golden era for turtlenecks, overalls and disco balls.

Grease topped the box office and the Fonz was – “aaaaay” – winning hearts on television sets around the world.

The year 1978 is remembered for a lot of big things, including breathing freely while on the GO.

Because 42 years ago this month, lighting up cigarettes, cigars and pipes on GO Transit vehicles was banned.

On Jan. 1, 1978, the transit agency entered its ‘clean air era’.  In the months leading up to the ban, GO Transit communicated changes to customers through ‘GO News’ pamphlets like the ones pictures in this feature.

A photo of a pamphlet from 1977 that shows a cartoon commuter with a cigarette

GO News pamphlets from 1977 help spread the word about the upcoming smoking ban

At the time, GO bus service was in its infancy having been born in 1970 and the Georgetown line – now known as the Kitchener line – was just a few years old.

It was a big change for GO customers, having been allowed to smoke since GO trains first started running in 1967.

It’s no wonder it was big news.

A photo of GO passengers in the 1960s, one with a cigarette

GO passengers in the 1960s exercising their right to smoke on the train

At that time, people still openly smoked in restaurants, bowling alleys and malls. It wasn’t until 11 years later, in 1989, that smoking was banned on all domestic flights in Canada. Believe it or not, you could light up a cigarette in a New Brunswick bar until 2004.

And it’s only been in more recent years that ashtrays have been largely taken out of modern vehicles, with Chrysler starting the trend in 1994 and Hyundai only eliminating the in-car cigarette lighter in 2013.

Now that we’re standing around and sharing some old-school smoking stories, it seems a good time for a reminder that just because smoking isn’t allowed on GO trains or buses, doesn’t mean it’s okay to have a cigarette or vape on GO platforms either.

In fact, this is one of the things we hope to permanently butt out through our #EtiquetteFail campaign.

A 2017 poster from the GO Transit Etiquette Fail campaign which aims to discourage certain bad commuter behaviours, this one has a man smoking on a GO platform

A lot has changed in the decades since passengers lit up on the GO.  Cash is no longer king with the rise of GO e-tickets and PRESTO cards. Leashed dogs are now allowed on transit vehicles. And other than in winter, hats aren’t the norm among passengers.

And while some recall 1978 as a big year for the movie Smokey and the Bandit – we remember it as the time when dreams of continuing to puff away in a transit vehicle full of other passengers went, um, Up in Smoke.

Story by: Scott Money, Metrolinx media relations adviser