The exact times of Blue Night service vary according to individual scheduling situations on each route. Most regular service bus and streetcar routes shut down at 1:30 a.m. or earlier; if there is a Blue Night route on the same street, its first trip will then follow at a suitable interval after the last regular run.
On the Toronto subway and RT, the last trains on each line make a complete trip; the last trains running east, west, and north from Bloor-Yonge and St. George stations each leave at 1:50 a.m. or just after. Each station then closes as the last train passes it.
In the morning, regular service buses and streetcars mostly take over from the corresponding Blue Night routes around 5:30 a.m. First trains on the subway start from various positions along the routes, allowing all stations to open more or less simultaneously just before 6:00 a.m. (on Sundays, 9:00 a.m.); the Blue Night routes that parallel the subway lines keep running until that time, and their last buses then turn into a subway station to terminate.
Normal TTC fares apply on the Blue Night Network. At the transition to or from Blue Night service, passengers can transfer to or from regular-service routes as usual. For TTC passholders, all passes expire at 5:30 a.m. rather than midnight, so a pass valid for the preceding traffic day can be used to board Blue Night routes up to that time.
All Blue Night routes are numbered in the 300 series. Some routes that correspond closely to a regular service route have corresponding numbers, such as 29 and 329 Dufferin or 501 and 301 Queen; others are numbered more or less alphabetically, or arbitrarily.
Most Blue Night routes are operated by buses, allowing them to reach places where streetcar tracks do not run. The two remaining exceptions are the 301 Queen and 306 Carlton routes, which use ALRV and CLRV streetcars respectively.
Most routes operate every 30 minutes, and the grid layout allows for timed connections at various points with intersecting routes. On the 300 Bloor-Danforth and 320 Yonge buses, which replace the most important sections of the subway, service is every 15 minutes or better all night.
Toronto has had overnight streetcar service since the days of the Toronto Railway Company in the 1890s, and the TTC continued it when they took over in 1921. The routes selected for 24-hour service were those serving 24-hour employers such as factories, stockyards, and railway yards.
Over the years various streetcar routes were replaced by other modes, and where new subway lines replaced streetcars during regular hours, buses were put on overnight. But the overnight routings remained largely unchanged for decades, even after the TTC's service area expanded in 1954 from the Toronto city limits as they then were, to include the whole of Metropolitan Toronto ("Metro", which in 1998 became the present amalgamated city of Toronto). Only one overnight route (the Queen streetcar, later 501 Queen, to Long Branch loop) extended a significant distance into the suburbs.
In 1974, after the subway had been extended beyond the Toronto city limits in three directions, the same was done for overnight bus service. But large areas of Metro still remained without 24-hour transit as late as 1986, when the TTC's planning department issued a report on Metro All-Night Transit Service calling for major changes.
The report pointed out that the importance of the original "demand generators" for overnight public transit had declined. Nightly demand was now twice as heavy on weekends as on weekdays, showing that not many people were using transit to get to night work. And as Metro had grown, only 45% of its population still lived within a 15-minute walk of the existing 24-hour transit routes. In fact, hardly any of the 14 overnight routes then in existence were strictly justified by demand any more, particularly on weekdays. But since "one of the TTC's primary goals is to maximize mobility and accessibility to transit service", the report's recommendation was to redesign the system, not eliminate it.
Most of Toronto has a squarish grid of main streets that originated as township roads and are spaced at 1¼-mile intervals (about 2 km). By running overnight buses along every second road in the grid, all parts of Metro would be reached and 86% of the population would be within a 15-minute walk (taken as 1.25 km or ¾ mile). To avoid excessively long trips, some grid streets such as Eglinton Avenue would require two bus routes meeting end-to-end, but still just 15 routes would be needed to form the grid. The 506 Carlton route had sufficient traffic to be retained in addition, for a total of 16 routes.
This is what the report proposed. In changing from the old network of 14 routes to the new set of 16, only 2 routes would be entirely unchanged. There would be 11 entirely new overnight routes (all bus-operated), with 7 existing ones eliminated (3 streetcar, 3 trolleybus, and only 1 bus route, as the night network would be shifted away from the streetcar tracks and trolleybus wires).
Despite the route eliminations and probable increased riding, the changes could not be expected to finance themselves. The report recommended reducing service frequencies after 10 p.m. on certain routes in order to offset the increased costs.
The Commission agreed to the expanded service, but could not stomach the elimination of so many routes. Instead, they chose to retain all existing routes despite the cost, creating a 23-route night system.
Until this time, with the exception of buses that replaced subway lines, it had been understood that overnight transit was provided by regular routes that happened to have 24-hour service. Night services retained the same route names and numbers as their daytime counterparts, perhaps with a suffixed letter if there was a variation in the exact routing. But now a marketing decision was made to treat the overnight service as a new, distinct set of routes, even in those cases where the day route was identical.
The name Blue Night Network was adopted, and with it the 300-series route numbers described above, and a new color-coding for bus and streetcar stops. The existing standard TTC-stop sign had a red square or stripe at the top and bottom; now, for all stops with 24-hour service, this was changed to red and blue, with the legend "24 hr" added . Those stops used only for the Blue Night Network, mostly for night routes paralleling the subway, received the standard sign with red changed to blue (and a notice of the limited hours).
The Blue Night Network debuted in February 1987.
In the 1990s, the TTC suffered major funding cuts and service on many low-traffic routes was reduced; the Blue Night Network lost three routes in February 1992, selected from those proposed for elimination in 1986. But other routes have been extended or added over the years, including one case (312 St. Clair in 2000) that required a mode conversion from streetcar to bus. In February 2003, two Blue Night routes were extended to reach Toronto Pearson International Airport.
Then in 2005, several routes were added so that east-west service would run on every grid street instead of alternate ones in much of the city. This has brought the Blue Night Network up to a total of 24 routes, serving 97% of the city's population within a 15-minute walk.
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