Why Do Toronto Buses Have Blue Lights?

You may have seen those small blue lights on Toronto’s buses and wondered, “Now, what purpose could those serve?” After all, the lights are up at the top and don’t provide any extra illumination for the bus driver. Obviously, though, they wouldn’t be there without a good reason! While it may seem like they’re useless, they definitely serve a unique and important purpose.

Toronto Buses Have blue lights to indicate the bus is handicap accessible. When a person with a handicap sees a bus approaching, they can easily see if the bus can accommodate them or not. That way, they can be ready to board when the bus actually arrives at the stop.

While the simple answer is that the lights provide vital information, the longer answer is a bit more complicated–and interesting! These lights, also known as “bull’s eyes” or advance lights, have a long history in Toronto, going as far back as the 1900s. Throughout the history of these advanced lights, they had several different uses. Read on to learn more!

Blue Light Special

Why Are Toronto Blue Lights Used?

Blue lights are just a simple way to make buses with accessible routes easy to spot. Since not every bus stop is accessible for those with disabilities, these indicators make public transportation just a bit easier for those who need accommodates such as wheelchair ramps. These lights aren’t the only indication that the bus is accessible–each bus also has a wheelchair sticker on the front of the bus. This sticker is located just above the right bumper, so it’s easy to spot as the bus approaches a stop. However, it can be difficult to see at night, particularly with headlights, which is why the bus system also uses blue advance lights.

Where Can I See the Blue Lights?

These lights are located at the top of the bus at the front, just on either side of the sign displaying the route. The lights are smaller in diameter than the headlights, which are located just above the bumper. The lights are a pale blue, almost a neon color, and show up most brightly at night. However, you can still spot them in the day.

All buses in the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) use these blue lights. All buses in the TTC system are accessible, but not all bus stops are. That means that the lights will only be on if the bus is on an accessible route. You can find accessible routes by locating the wheelchair symbol on the sign at the bus stop, though even on accessible routes, not all stops will be accessible. You can also find accessible routes and stops online on the TTC website. Other forms of transportation in the system also use similar blue lights, though they may vary a bit in style or placement. For instance, some of the streetcars and light rail transport also have small blue lights on the front at the top.

The History of Advance Lights in Toronto

Electrifying Streetcars

In the early days of electric streetcars, which were first introduced in Toronto in the 1890s, passengers needed to identify what streetcar was coming when it was dark out. Lit signs weren’t possible at the time, but colorful lights were. To identify streetcars on different routes, each route had designated colors for their advance lights. Unlike the current lights, these lights were on the roof of the cars, but riders could see them from the front as the streetcar approached. Thus, riders could easily see them from a distance. For instance, one route might be designated by a red and green light, while another might use a yellow light.

However, by about the mid-1910s, back-lit route signs were installed on the streetcars, making the colored bulbs obsolete. This advancement was actually a blessing for riders because routes were becoming more complicated and often changed, making it difficult to keep up with which route a certain color or colors represented. While that marked the end of colored bulbs for a time, they didn’t disappear forever. They were used off and on as advance lights, though with all routes displaying the same color. The purpose of the blue-green bulbs on streetcars was to make it easy to see that one was coming through all the headlights at night. Of course, they also live on today with both Toronto buses and streetcars with the purpose of showing that these vehicles are accessible to those with disabilities.

Bus Accessibility in Toronto

Know What Accommodations Are Available.

For easier access, TTC buses have both low floors and ramps. If you need a ramp, the bus driver will extend it from the front door. Then you can board the bus and pay per normal. Once on the bus, find the priority seating designated for those with disabilities, You’ll find these seats right by the front door on the bus, and they have a sign above them marked “Priority Seating.” To use these seats with a wheelchair, push the seats up into the folded position and use the 4-point system to secure your wheelchair. You can also use these seats and keep a walker in front of you.

To show the bus driver you need accommodations, make sure you are visible at the bus stop as the driver pulls up so they can see your mobility assistance device. The same goes if you use a white cane. Place the cane out in front of you so the bus driver can see it. Bus drivers are trained to look for these items at a bus stop and will know what to do to assist you as needed. When on the bus, announcements fo stops are both visual and audible, making it easier for those with disabilities.

Plan Trips ahead of Time.

While the blue lights help you identify accessible buses, you may not know the accessible routes to take if you don’t plan ahead. An easy way to plan ahead is to use TTC’s trip planning system. You’ll also find maps on the TTC website, ttc.ca, that identify accessible routes. If you’re not good with a computer, you can also call TTC at 416-393-4636, and an employee will help you plan ahead. To plan a trip, you will need the starting address, the ending address, and the time of day you need to travel as the bus routes change based on time of day.

While TTC’s buses are accessible, they may not get you the whole way to your destination, which is why TTC also has a program called Wheels Trans. This program is for people with disabilities who can’t use public transportation all the time or can’t use it at all and requires an application to determine eligibility. However, the plus is the service offers door-to-door transportation. They can also transport from your door to public transportation if you can’t make it to the route.

Another unique service TTC offers is the Community Bus. These buses are fully accessible and have small neighborhood routes. The idea is they stop at important places, such as care residences, grocery stores, entertainment venues (like shopping malls and movie theaters), and medical centers. They may also stop at parks and other areas, depending on the route. While these routes don’t cover as much ground as other bus routes, they offer a unique experience since they stop right in front of the needed building.

Use Travel Training to Learn How to Travel with a Disability.

One service that TTC provides is travel training. Traveling with a disability can be difficult and a bit daunting, particularly if you’ve never done it before or never done it alone. With this service, you’ll be paired with a trained employee from TTC who will go over scheduling, asking for accommodations, planning trips, and figuring out routes. It can help relieve the anxiety of traveling as you learn how to use accessible routes for public transportation. This service is provided free-of-charge.

In fact, much of the training is 1-on-1, and you’ll even have a chance to ride with the employee so they can help you feel comfortable with traveling. You can have up to four sessions to learn how to navigate the bus system. The employee will also assist with learning the PRESTO card system as needed and help teach you how to make changes to your route if something unexpected happens. All you need to do to set up an appointment.


Toronto has a long history of using advance lights. From the early days of streetcars, when advance lights designated specific routs, and the mid-century when the lights showed a streetcar was coming, to today, these lights have long served a purpose within the Toronto public transportation system. While all buses and streetcars in the Toronto system are accessible, these lights now help riders identify accessible routes and stops, making it easier to travel for those who need accommodations. Now that you know why they exist, you may find you appreciate those little blue lights on the top of the bus just a little bit more. The next time you see them, take a moment to reflect on the advancements of technology and the ways we can use it to make the lives of people around us a bit easier.

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