Since Canada is a geographically vast country, transportation options vary by city, province, and region.
Transport Canada oversees and regulates transportation in Canada, under the direction of the federal Government of Canada’s Minister of Transport.
Roads & Highways
Roads are a dominant means of passenger and freight transport in Canada. In 2006, 80% of Canadians used a car to commute to work.
Canada has more than 1,400,000 km of roads. Almost half a million kilometers of roads are paved, including 17 000 km of expressways (multi-lane highways or motorways).
As of 2009 there were over 20 million registered road vehicles in Canada.
Roads and highways are managed by provincial and municipal authorities, with the exception of the Trans-Canada Highway. The Trans-Canada Highway was completed in 1962, and crosses the country from East to West. It is 7,821 km/4,860 miles long and is under federal jurisdiction.
The safety of Canada’s roads is good compared to international standards.
Canada has road links with the United States at its southern and Alaskan borders.
Travelling by bus is generally the cheapest method of transportation in Canada.
Greyhound, a national bus chain, services all of Canada, including major urban and rural areas. Bus stations are generally located centrally in cities and town. No reservations are necessary to travel by bus; tickets can be purchased from bus stations across the country, online, or by phone. One-way, round-trip, and bus pass tickets are available. Seat reservations are not accepted; therefore it is recommended to show up an hour early to ensure you get a seat on the bus.
Bus trips in Canada can be very long due to the large distances between cities.
Common bus amenities include air conditioning, toilets, onboard entertainment, and reclining seats. Smoking is not permitted. Small pets are usually permitted. On long journeys stops will be made every few hours at service stations, where you may use the washroom and purchase food and drinks.
Bus services are also available from Canada to the United States. There are no other international bus connections.
Most major and medium sized cities have taxis. Taxis are usually metered, with a flat fee and a per kilometer charge. Drivers expect a tip of 10%-15%. Taxis can be flagged roadside, or ordered in advance by phone or online.
While intercity passenger transportation by rail is limited (only 2.8% of railway revenue is generated by passengers), freight transport by rail remains common in Canada. Canada has 72,093 km/44,797 miles of functioning railway.
The federal crown corporation Via Rail provides nationwide passenger rail services.
Travelling by rail is comparable in cost to travelling by plane, and more expensive (but more comfortable) than travelling by bus. On Via Rail, seniors and student discount offers are available, as well as off-season rates (October to June). Rail passes (unlimited travel) are also available for rail travel within Canada and to the United States.
A private railway company, Rocky Mountaineer, also offers passenger rail service during the summer only between Vancouver and Banff or Jasper.
Three Canadian cities have commuter rail services: Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver.
Canada has railway links with the United States along its southern border. Canada has no railway links to Alaska. There are no other international rail connections.
Urban public transportation
In 2006, 11% of Canadians used public transportation to commute to work.
Most Canadian cities have public transportation, normally in the form of a bus system. Bus lines are usually commuter oriented, with limited evening and weekend services.
There are six rapid transport systems in Canada:
- the Montreal Metro,
- the Toronto Subway,
- the Vancouver Sky Train,
- the Calgary C-Train,
- The Edmonton Light Rail Transit, and
- the O-Train in Ottawa.
Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver also have commuter rail systems.
Toronto also has a streetcar system.
For information on your locality’s public transportation system, visit your municipality’s web site.
Cycling is a popular method of transportation in major urban centers during the summer months.
Large cities, such as Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver, have dedicated bike lanes and routes.
Cyclists in Canada must follow the same rules of the road as drivers. However, don’t expect drivers to always respect a cyclist’s right of way.
Helmets are required by law for all cyclists in British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. Children under 18 must also wear helmets by law in Alberta and Ontario.
Many public transportation systems (undergrounds, buses) allow commuters to travel with their bicycle. Via Rail, Greyhound, and most airlines will also transport bikes, at an additional cost.
Ferry service is offered between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia (BC), Nova Scotia (NS) and Newfoundland (NF), Quebec and NF, Labrador and NF, mainland Quebec to the Magdalan Islands, Prince Edward Island (PEI) to the Magdalan Islands, PEI to NS, NS to New Brunswick.
Ferry service is offered between mainland Canada to St. Pierre et Miquelon (French territory), and British Columbia and Alaska (USA), and other Canadian border crossings in British Columbia, Ontario, New Brunswick to the USA.
By Jess Gerrow, who traded city life in Canada for island life in the Mediterranean two years ago. She is a postgraduate marketing student, blogger, and freelance writer.