Getting Around in Ottawa
Getting around Ottawa is fairly straightforward. Public transport is safe and it is easy to travel from one corner of the city to another.
Most expats will not find it necessary to own a car, as it is often more convenient to use public transport due to limited parking and traffic congestion. However, having a car does provide greater opportunities for exploring the Canadian outdoors, and it especially useful for those with children.
Ottawa has the infrastructure in place to make cycling and walking around the city centre feasible for residents.
Public transport in Ottawa
Public transport in Ottawa consists of an extensive bus network and the city’s light rail system, known as the O-Train. OC Transpo is the company that oversees transport in Ottawa.
OC Transpo operates an integrated ticketing system. Single tickets can be bought on board buses or in bundles of six at O-train stations or local stores. Single tickets allow commuters to travel on any O-train or bus service and transfer between services for a period of one and a half hours. Single fares are relatively expensive so expats who plan on using public transport regularly will save money by purchasing daily, weekly or monthly passes.
OC Transpo has a fleet of more than 1,000 buses that operate on over 200 routes. Travelling by bus is a comfortable and convenient way to get around Ottawa and the bus network tends to cover many of the suburbs that are not in easy reach of an O-Train station.
The frequency of bus services in Ottawa ranges between 20 and 30 minutes, depending on the particular 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 which complements Ottawa’s extensive bus network. While the O-Train network does not cover as much ground as the bus network, the major advantage of using it is that it is isolated from road traffic and so often gets to a destination much faster.
The O-Train consists of just one line which runs from Greenboro to Bayview, stopping at a number of stations along the way. Trains are fairly frequent and stop every 10 to 15 minutes. A second line is currently under construction and will open an east-west route.
Taxis in Ottawa
Taxis are readily available in Ottawa’s city centre and can easily be hailed from the side of the road or found at a designated taxi rank. For those travelling anywhere from the suburbs, it is best to pre-book a taxi by phoning ahead of time.
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 is advisable to have cash available for shorter journeys.
Expats will find that most cab drivers know their way around Ottawa’s city centre very well. However, passengers may need to provide more specific instructions if they plan on travelling to a suburban location.
It is worth noting that Ottawa-registered taxis are not permitted to pick up customers from the side of the road on the Quebec side and the same applies to Quebec cabs in Ottawa. However, it is possible for those living in Quebec to pre-book a taxi in Ottawa and vice versa.
Cycling in Ottawa
Ottawa is a cyclist-friendly city with over 105 miles (170km) of cycle pathways, making getting around Ottawa by bike relatively easy. Some cycle lanes are shared with motorists and others with pedestrians. However, cycling is fairly safe in Ottawa and motorists are generally aware of cyclists on the road.
Travelling on public transport with bikes is accommodated for as bike racks are available on all buses and O-Trains in the city. While many regular commuters invest in bicycles of their own, they can also use one of Ottawa’s bike-sharing schemes.
Driving in Ottawa
While it is not essential to own a vehicle as an expat living in Ottawa, it is useful for those who live on the outskirts of the city or who have children that need to be transported around town.
Driving is fairly easy in Ottawa as the road infrastructure is of an excellent standard and signage is very clear. However, parking is limited and hard to find in the city centre and parking fees are high. For these reasons, most of Ottawa’s residents opt to use public transportation rather than drive on a daily basis.
Expats in Ottawa are only allowed to use their foreign driver's licence for their first 60 days in the province, after which they are required to obtain an Ontario driver’s licence. Depending on their country of origin, this will involve either a straight swap of their national licence for an Ontario licence or may involve a full driving test.