Given the relatively high price of gas, Toronto's notoriously terrible traffic, and the ease of its public transportation system, car travel is recommended only for those who wish to drive to sites and attractions outside the city, such as the Niagara Wine Region, Niagara Falls, and live theater at Stratford or Niagara-on-the-Lake. The city of Toronto has an excellent transit system that’s inexpensive, clean, and safe, and cabs are plentiful.
In Canada your own driver's license is acceptable for a stay of up to three months. In Ontario, you must be 21 to drive a rental car. There may be a surcharge of C$10–C$30 per day if you are between 21 and 25. Agreements may require that the car not be taken out of Canada, including the U.S. side of Niagara Falls; check when booking.
Rates in Toronto begin at C$30 a day and C$150 a week for an economy car with unlimited mileage. This does not include tax, which is 13%. If you prefer a manual-transmission car, check whether the rental agency of your choice offers it; some companies don't in Canada. All the major chains listed have branches both downtown and at Pearson International Airport.
Alamo (888/233–8749. www.alamo.com.)
Avis (800/331–1084. www.avis.com.)
Budget (800/472–3325. www.budget.com.)
Discount Car and Truck Rental (800/263–2355 outside Ontario or in U.S.; 416/249–5800 in Toronto; 888/820–7378 in Ontario. www.discountcar.com.)
Enterprise (416/798–1465 or 800/261–7331. www.enterprise.com.)
Hertz (800/654–3001. www.hertz.com.)
National Car Rental (800/227–7368. www.nationalcar.com.)
Distances are always shown in kilometers, and gasoline is always sold in liters. (A gallon has 3.8 liters.)
Gas prices in Canada are higher than in the United States and have been on the rise. At this writing, the per-liter price is between C$1.25 and C$1.35 (US$4.73–$5.10 per gallon). Gas stations are plentiful; many are self-service and part of small convenience stores. Large stations are open 24 hours; smaller ones close after the dinner rush. For up-to-date prices and where to find the cheapest gas in the city (updated daily), go to www.torontogasprices.com.
Toronto has green parking-meter boxes everywhere. Parking tickets net the city C$50 million annually, so they are frequently given out. Boxes are computerized; regular rates between C$1 and C$2.50 per half hour are payable with coins—the dollar coin, the two-dollar coin, and nickels, dimes, and quarters are accepted—or a credit card (AE, MC, or V). Parking lots are found under office buildings or on side streets near main thoroughfares.
Rush hours in Toronto (6:30 to 9:30 am and 3:30 to 6:30 pm) are bumper-to-bumper, especially on the 401 and Gardiner Expressway. Avoid them like the plague, particularly when coming into or leaving the city.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) has 24-hour road service in Canada, provided via a partnership with the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA).
Canadian Automobile Association (416/221–4300 or 800/268–3750. www.caa.ca.)
Rules of the Road
By law, you’re required to wear seat belts and to use infant seats in Ontario. Fines can be steep. Drivers are prohibited from using handheld cellular phones. Right turns are permitted on red signals unless otherwise posted. You must come to a complete stop before making a right turn on red. Pedestrian crosswalks are sprinkled throughout the city, marked clearly by overhead signs and very large painted yellow Xs. Pedestrians have the right of way in these crosswalks; however, Toronto pedestrians rarely heed crosswalk signals, so use caution in driving along downtown streets. The speed limit in most areas of the city is 50 kph (30 mph) and usually within the 90–110 kph (50–68 mph) range outside the city.
Watch out for streetcars stopped at intersections. Look to your right for a streetcar stop sign (red, white, and blue signs on electrical poles). It's illegal to pass or pull up alongside a streetcar stopped at an intersection—even if its doors aren't open—as it might be about to pick up or drop off passengers. Stop behind the streetcar and wait for it to proceed.
Ontario is a no-fault province, and minimum liability insurance is C$200,000. If you're driving across the Ontario border, bring the policy or the vehicle-registration forms and a free Canadian Non-Resident Insurance Card from your insurance agent. If you're driving a borrowed car, also bring a letter of permission signed by the owner.
Driving motorized vehicles while impaired by alcohol is taken seriously in Ontario and results in heavy fines, imprisonment, or both. It's illegal to refuse to take a Breathalyzer test. The possession of radar-detection devices in a car, even if they are not in operation, is illegal in Ontario. Studded tires and window coatings that do not allow a clear view of the vehicle interior are forbidden.
From the United States
Expect a wait at major border crossings. The wait at peak visiting times can be 60 minutes. If you can, avoid crossing on weekends and holidays at Detroit–Windsor, Buffalo–Fort Erie, and Niagara Falls, New York–Niagara Falls, Ontario, when the wait can be even longer.
Highway 401, which can stretch to 16 lanes in metropolitan Toronto, is the major link between Windsor, Ontario (and Detroit), and Montréal, Québec. There are no tolls anywhere along it, but you should be warned: between 6:30 and 9:30 each weekday morning and from 3:30 to 6:30 each afternoon, the 401 can become very crowded, even stop-and-go; plan your trip to avoid rush hours. A toll highway, the 407, offers quicker travel; there are no tollbooths, but cameras photograph license plates and the system bills you, if it has your address. It has access to plates registered in Georgia, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Ontario, Québec, and Wisconsin. If you aren’t identified then you don't have to pay. The 407 runs roughly parallel to the 401 for a 65-km (40-mile) stretch immediately north of Toronto.
If you're driving from Niagara Falls (U.S. or Canada) or Buffalo, New York, take the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW), which curves along the western shore of Lake Ontario and eventually turns into the Gardiner Expressway, which flows right into downtown.
Insurance Bureau of Canada (416/362–2031. www.ibc.ca.)