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Toronto, Canada

312 Adelaide Street West, Suite 301
Toronto, Ontario - M5V 1R2
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The Newbie’s Guide To Public Transit

Written by Halah Butt

A few weeks into my first semester, I ran out of people willing to give me a ride. For the rest of my time at university, I became a semi-pro commuter. My preferred modes of transportation? Buses and trains.

I learned the public transit system through trial & error, including my fair share of embarrassing moments (like forgetting my fare and emptying out all my pockets only to find nothing). If you’re commuting for the first time, whether it’s to college/university or work and you’re feeling nervous/unsure, don’t worry. Riding the bus, train, or other transportation isn’t as daunting as it might seem. And with this guide on how to ride public transit effectively, you’ll have nothing to worry about.

Here are a few things to help get you started:

The Transit App

Start with downloading the Transit App. This app includes every bus, train, and subway schedule (as well as their stops and detours) for 175+ cities. There is also a feature that allows you to plan a trip. You don’t need WiFi to use it, and I’ve found it to be more efficient and accurate than Google Maps.

Time Management

Check the time. The worst thing that can happen to a commuter is missing their ride because of poor time management. Make sure you know your closest bus stop and its stop schedule. If you’re transferring, make note of the timings for your second bus/train and coordinate the best route for you. I’d suggest choosing the route with the least amount of waiting time. There’s nothing worse than standing in the rain for fifteen minutes, only to realize that you still have twenty more minutes to go.

All Aboard

Once you’ve found your stop and memorized the schedule for the day, it’s time to board the bus/train. Most public transit these days use Presto cards, an efficient, easy way to pay your fare. Simply tap on when you enter—make sure to say hello to the driver—and take a seat. If you’re travelling east in the morning and you want to avoid squinting against the sun, claim a seat on the left side. It’s ok to keep your backpack or purse on the seat next to you. However, once the bus/train begins to fill up, if you’re a decent human being, you’ll keep your belongings on your lap to avoid inconveniencing anyone (or coming off as plain rude).

Use The Time

Don’t forget to bring your earphones or a book to pass the time. Rummaging through your bag and realizing you didn’t bring your earbuds is a very disappointing experience. If you’re listening to music, make sure you keep the volume at a reasonable level so that other commuters don’t have to listen to Drake’s repetitive beats for an hour and a half. If music fails to distract you, try listening to podcasts. They’re free and available on most smartphones. If you do forget your headphones, even after you’ve been warned, pass the time with a good book. If reading makes you motion sick, then just look out the window and stare in jealousy at people who drive to school.


Arriving at your destination can be anxiety inducing. Anxiety begins to creep in as you wonder if you should signal the bus to stop, or wait till someone else does it (never wait for someone else). To avoid missing your stop, make sure you’re alert at the half-way point before you reach it. If you’re on a bus, pull on one of the wires lining the bus windows, or press on the red buttons on one of the poles. When the transport of your choice is about to come to a halt, gather up your belongings, take a quick glance to see if you’ve dropped anything, then make your way to the doors. If on a bus, always, and I stress, always, say thank you to the bus driver. If you’re leaving from the back doors, it’s permissible to not say thank you, because you’d have to shout. However, if exiting from the front doors, then please thank the bus driver. Even if they don’t hear you.

Commuting is simple. In the beginning it may seem daunting. But after a few runs, it becomes one of those really boring, mundane things that blend into your daily life.


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*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.