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Getting around Ottawa is straightforward as public transport is safe, efficient and extensive. The city also has dedicated cycle paths and a pedestrianised city centre.
Most expats will find it unnecessary to own a car in Ottawa, as it is often more convenient to use public transport due to limited parking, traffic congestion and rising fuel prices. Still, having a car provides an opportunity to explore the great Canadian outdoors and may be especially useful for expats with children.
Public transport in Ottawa
Public transport in Ottawa consists of an extensive bus network and a light-rail system, known as the O-Train. OC Transpo is the company that oversees public transit in the city.
Buses and trains are free for children aged five and under. On Wednesdays and Sundays, it is free for seniors aged 65 and older.
OC Transpo operates an integrated ticketing system. Single tickets are available on board buses and at O-train stations and local stores. Single tickets allow commuters to travel on any O-Train or bus service, and they remain eligible for transfer between services for one and a half hours.
Expats who will be regular commuters can save money by purchasing daily, weekly or monthly passes.
Smart cards, which make paying for and accessing public transport easy, are also available. These include the Presto card, U-Pass and the STO multi-card. The Presto card also allows access to public transit in Greater Toronto and Hamilton. The U-Pass is a bus-pass programme specially designed for students at the University of Ottawa.
OC Transpo has a large fleet of accessible and comfortable buses that connect most of Ottawa's far-flung areas and suburbs through its extensive routes.
The frequency of bus services ranges between 20 and 30 minutes, depending on the route and time of day. Frequency is usually reduced in the late evenings and on Sundays.
The O-Train is a light rail transit service that complements Ottawa’s extensive bus system. While the O-Train does not cover as much ground as the bus network, its advantage lies in its isolation from road traffic, so it often reaches destinations faster.
The O-Train consists of two lines. Line 1 runs from the east to west, stretching from Blair Station to Tunney’s Pasture, while Line 2 runs between Greenboro and Bayview.
Taxis in Ottawa
Taxis are readily available in Ottawa’s city centre and can be hailed or found at a designated taxi rank. For those travelling from the suburbs, it is best to pre-book a taxi by phone.
All taxis in Ottawa must have a working meter and charge a base fare and then a set rate per additional kilometre. Most taxis have credit card facilities, but it's advisable to have cash on hand for shorter journeys.
It is worth noting that Ottawa-registered taxis are not permitted to pick up customers on the roadside in Quebec, and the same applies to Quebec cabs on Ottawa's side. Nevertheless, residents from both Quebec and Ottawa can pre-book a taxi from either side.
Driving in Ottawa
While car ownership is not essential in Ottawa, it can be useful for those living on the outskirts of Ottawa or those with kids. Driving in Ottawa is relatively straightforward, thanks to excellent road infrastructure and clear signage.
However, parking in the city centre is limited and expensive due to high demand. The city also has Park and Ride facilities to reduce congestion. We advise expats who own a car to look for accommodation with on-site parking.
Expats in Ottawa are only allowed to use their foreign driving licence for the first 60 days in the province, after which they will need to obtain an Ontario driving licence. Depending on their home country, this will involve either a straight swap of their national licence for an Ontario licence or a full driving test.
Cycling in Ottawa
Ottawa is a wonderland for cyclists, with extensive cycle pathways making getting around Ottawa relatively easy. Both motorists and pedestrians use some cycle lanes. Be that as it may, cycling in Ottawa is fairly safe as motorists and pedestrians generally respect the rules of the road.
Buses and trains in the city have dedicated bicycle racks, making travelling on public transport with a bike a breeze. Cycling enthusiasts will have to invest in their own wheels, as Ottawa currently does not have a bike-sharing scheme.