Goodbye old and reliable bus hub: Remembering Toronto’s current Union Station Bus Terminal as GO riders prepare to move into new digs

Lines of customers on the platforms can sometimes be a bit difficult to navigate around, but many great journeys began and ended at the existing Union Station Bus Terminal, located in the heart of Toronto. Now, the workhorse station is about to get a rest from constant activity, as a new GO Transit bus hub opens just next door. How many times have you stood in line on the Union Station Bus Terminal platform, or even to the front of Union Station itself? Here’s looking back.

Good-bye, old bus companion.

The GO Bus terminal transit users have known and relied on for almost two decades – located at 141 Bay St., in downtown Toronto – is closing its doors for good.

As of Dec. 5, GO customers will catch a bus in and out of downtown Toronto from a new, state of the art bus hub located down street on the north-east corner of Bay Street and Lake Shore Boulevard, as part of the larger connected CIBC SQUARE development (81 Bay Street).

Image shows the bus station as the sun rises over Toronto.
The old Union Station Bus Terminal will soon be only a memory for customers using the more modern hub. (Metrolinx photo)

Before the big move, let’s jump aboard and take a trip down memory lane to look back at the history of the terminal that helped move countless customers, and created so many memories over the years.

If you’re a transit commuter in Toronto, you’ve passed by it or at least gone through it. For years, the Union Station Bus Terminal (USBT) has been a bustling platform – one that’s hard to miss.

As much as inside Union Station itself – Toronto’s major commuter train connection, located across Bay St. – the USBT has always had a feel of a commuter’s epicentre.

The terminal first opened in 2003.

Prior to that, buses used to pick up and drop off customers at the Toronto Coach Terminal, at Bay and Dundas Streets, in the ’70s and up until the ’90s, when bus operations moved along Front Street, in front of Union Station. The on-street facility at the time posed quite a few challenges.

“We had to shoo away taxis, passenger vehicles and delivery vehicles nonstop to make room for up to seven buses loading at a time,” explains Todd Wood, a supervisor for GO Transit’s Bus Operations.

Wood, started off as a bus driver in 2001, before being promoted to his current role. He spent two years working along Front Street prior to the opening of the Union Station Bus Terminal.

Making room for buses along Front Street was just one of the many concerns to worry about at the time. According to Wood, staff and passengers had to brave the elements and stand out in all types of weather. In the winter, staff had to shovel a pathway to the buses and the loading area wasn’t ideal on any given day.

“On the sidewalk, we had to not only deal with our passengers and organizing lines and locations for loading, but also try not to impede on regular pedestrian traffic,” he recalls.

Image shows a line of buses.
Prior to the opening of the Union Station Bus Terminal, this was the scene along Front Street, which at the time could accommodate up to seven GO bus that would pull over to the side to drop off or pickup passengers. (Felix Tse Photo)

With a clipboard, a paper departure list, a portable radio and a megaphone, staff would make announcements and organize customers preparing to board the buses during the evening rush hour.

Timing was everything.

“If you get to Front Street for the evening rush and if you didn’t see a bus parked at 6:30 p.m., you knew that you would be in for a busy night adjusting departures… with pen and paper,” Wood says.

The area was over capacity and the current USBT opened when Front Street could no longer accommodate the service increases and the demand for GO buses. The opening of the designated terminal would prove to be a much-needed change to GO Transit’s bus operations.

USBT would also offer a much safer and more convenient way for customers to board and get off the bus. It was a controlled area – only GO buses could enter and they didn’t have to fight with taxis for space.

The covered platforms would protect customers from the elements and a heated indoor waiting area meant customers could stay warmer during the winter. Though it can get chilly lining up outside.

Digital departure boards, a PA system and software to monitor bus locations and manage the trips would all be big improvement to what was once a very old-school way of running the service.

The opening of the Union Station Bus Terminal came as a relief to everyone who was involved with GO’s bus operations at the time.

Image shows GO buses parked at the station.
A bird’s-eye view of the Union Station Bus Terminal in 2005, two years after the station had just opened. (Metrolinx Photo)

“It was very exciting to have a new terminal indoor waiting area and allocated platforms for all departures,” Wood remembers.

“Passengers were very impressed with the new terminal and how it was organized on opening day with staff to help passengers find their way.”

Since its opening in 2003, the Union Station Bus Terminal has become a memorable place for many riders. Like that time a couple who found love on the GO and decided to have their Wedding Day photos taken at the terminal.

Or that time the terminal was closed for about an hour-and-a-half by accident for the filming of Suicide Squad, which stared Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Jared Leto. The road closure was only supposed to only affect Harbour Street, but somehow the film crew ended up shutting down roads it wasn’t supposed to.

The terminal has also witnessed some historic moments.

From the 2013 flooding to most recently the Raptors championship parade, the terminal has been on an interesting journey. But nothing compares to the widespread power-outage experienced in 2003, the same year the terminal opened.

“I remember we parked vehicles on the platform and used the headlights to light up the place,” says Wood.

“I spent hours on Yonge Street, stopping traffic every 10 minutes or so to let out six to seven buses at a time.”

Those are memories that will stick with Wood as GO buses prepare move into their new home – a terminal he has been instrumental in helping set up.

For the last 24 months, he has been the lead for the Bus Operations of the new USBT. Wood, along with other bus operations supervisors have been tasked to develop a standard operating procedures and safety system for the new transit hub. Everything he’s learned and seen over the last 20 years has now been put on paper.

“To be involved with the opening of another USBT in my time at GO Transit and Metrolinx…. I’m very proud to be a part of it,” Wood says.

The new, state of the art terminal will have two levels with a total of 14 bus bays – twice as many as the current station. The new bus hub is indoors, and the weather-protected space will connect to the city’s PATH network, allowing GO and UP Express customers to quickly and seamlessly move between bus and rail, as well as around parts of downtown Toronto.

And it will create its own history from the day it opens – just as the old USBT did.

Story by Nitish Bissonauth, Metrolinx bilingual spokesperson – Media Relations