Toronto’s new Union Station Bus Terminal gets ready to open – Here’s what you need to know to get on the bus

Canada’s largest transit city will soon see a new state-of-the-art GO bus hub open right next to Union Station. The sophisticated terminal, set to begin operating early next month, will shelter customers from the elements, offer them easy access to and from the downtown core and work much like a modern airport. Get ready to step aboard.

You have to wonder what Burt Williams would think if he could see inside Toronto’s new Union Station Bus Terminal (USBT), which will officially open on Dec. 5.

Williams was a bit of a visionary in Canada, back in the mid-1800s, when the city had a population of about 21,000. A furniture maker and local undertaker, he started what is considered Toronto’s first transit services – stagecoaches, running along King and Yonge streets, which he called ‘omnibuses’.

What Williams, and other transit pioneers, started in Canada, has grown to something they would likely marvel at – including the new USBT facility, which will feel and function much like an airport.

The hub – opening as Metrolinx celebrates the 50th anniversary of the GO Transit’s bus service – is a bit of a marvel, in looks and function.

shot of the interior of the new bus terminal showing benches, escalators, departure gates and sceens
The Union Station bus new terminal at 81 Bay Street has bus platforms and customer waiting areas that occupy two floors of the building, a change from the existing single-level terminal.(Jason Sandford photo)

Though no matter what bells and whistles are introduced, it all comes down to serving customers, as the GO bus service has become rather iconic among many riders. For evidence of that deep connection, look here for the story of one man’s fascination with old GO bus coin machines or here, for just one example of how a couple found love on the GO.

The new USBT will create a new generation of making those strong connections with customers.

The History

Construction started back in June, 2017, and the new terminal is located on the north-east corner of Bay St. and Lake Shore Blvd., in the CIBC SQUARE development – just south of the busy rail corridor.

The new Union Station Bus Terminal was built in partnership between Metrolinx, Ivanhoé Cambridge and Hines – it is part of the larger connected CIBC SQUARE development that includes two office towers at 81 and 141 Bay Street.

photo of the doors open at the new bus terminal with the Union Station bus terminal sign
The new Union Station bus terminal is set to open its doors to GO customers on December 5th, 2020. (Roy Mak photo).

Customer access to the new terminal includes outdoor access through the main entrance on Lake Shore Blvd., just east of Bay St., the entrance on Bay St. across from Scotiabank Arena, and a new enclosed pedestrian bridge over Bay St. that connects to Scotiabank Arena’s galleria and the PATH. While the Bay East Teamway will still be under construction on Dec. 5, customers can still access the terminal from the Bay St. entrance.

Photo of the inside of the Bay Street pedestrian bridge
One of the best ways to access the new bus terminal is using the pedestrian bridge that goes over Bay Street and connects to the Scotiabank Arena. (Jason Sandford photo)

Those GO customers used to using the old bus terminal – including freezing on chilly winter days – will need to create some new, positive habits. For example, the old Union Station bus terminal will be shut down at the end of the service day on Dec. 4.

Change is Here

The new USBT customers will use on Dec. 5, and beyond, will act a bit like an airport. That includes a sophisticated way of keeping track of bus traffic and movement, while keeping riders informed of any changes.

The existing terminal customers are used to, uses a fixed platform model, meaning the same bus routes always depart from the same platforms. But the new terminal will dynamically assign buses to an available platform to prevent backlogs and minimize delays. This means buses will not always depart from the same platform, which will be a change for customers.

photo of the departure bays where the buses will be parked when loading and unloading
The new bus terminal uses an airport style departure system that will help minimize delays and maximize safety. (Roy Mak photo)

The new terminal has bus platforms and customer waiting areas that occupy two floors of the building, changing from the existing single-level terminal.

The new system also uses a two-stage departure process – zones, and gates within those zones – with customers directed to the relevant zone first before the gate information is shown on digital screens approximately 10 minutes before boarding and subsequently announced on the PA system.

Dynamic digital signage in the customer waiting areas will direct customers to the appropriate zone and gate before boarding – just like an airport.

Inside, customers will wait in climate-controlled waiting areas, where they’ll be able to connect to Wi-Fi.

photo of the new signs and elevators
One of the best features of the new terminal is that it allows customers to wait for their bus indoors especially during winter. (Jason Sandford photo)

The new USBT is actually part of a broader revitalization of Union Station, to help people move in and out of the city with greater ease.

Safety First and Always

A lot of effort has been spent on including many safety features, including adhering to Metrolinx’s ‘Safety Never Stops’ motto by protecting customers and staff from COVID-19, as well as other risks.

At the new terminal, glass gate doors will physically separate the customer waiting area from the platform area for enhanced safety and prevent unauthorized access. The gates will only be opened and closed to allow customers to board and de-board buses.

photo of the departure gates where customers will wait inside for their bus
The new bus terminal will feature all of the same robust safety features that Metrolinx has implemented during COVID-19 pandemic. (Roy Mak photo)

GO Transit has implemented more than 40 safety measures across the transit system to enhance customers’ safety and comfort while they travel – and many will be reflected within the new USBT.

They include:

  • Installing seat dividers on buses and trains help shield customers from the spread of germs.
    • Hand-sanitizer on all buses and stations.
    • Buses and ticket booths have gone cashless. 
    • Driver shields between customers and driver
    • Added PPE waste disposal onboard busses.
    • Mandatory face coverings for customers on both GO and UP Express as well as for all staff.
    • Increased thorough cleaning in stations and on buses, as well as trains.

It’s impossible to know what those who created the nation’s first transit systems would think of the modern versions of their original visions. But it’s perhaps not a stretch to believe they would take some pride in inspiring GO Transit, a new and modern Union Station Bus Terminal, and all the journeys that will take place far beyond the opening day, that’s now just around the corner.

Story by: Scott Money, Metrolinx media relations senior advisor