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Getting around Ottawa is 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. Still, having a car does provide greater opportunities for exploring the Canadian outdoors, and is 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.
Public transit is free for children aged five and younger, and on Wednesdays and Sundays, it is free for seniors aged 65 and over.
OC Transpo operates an integrated ticketing system. Single tickets can be bought on board buses or in bundles 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.
Expats who plan on using public transport regularly will save money by purchasing daily, weekly or monthly passes.
Smart cards are also available which make paying for and accessing public transport easy. These include the Presto card, U-Pass and the STO multi-card. The U-Pass is a bus-pass programme specifically for students at the University of Ottawa. The Presto card can also be used on public transit systems in Greater Toronto and Hamilton.
OC Transpo has a large fleet of buses that operate extensive routes connecting most parts of Ottawa. The bus network covers many of the suburbs that are not in easy reach of an O-Train station.
Travelling by bus is a comfortable and convenient way to get around Ottawa. Buses are wheel-chair friendly and have air conditioning.
The frequency of bus services in Ottawa 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 network. While the O-Train 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 two lines. Line 1 runs 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 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.
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. But it is possible for those living in Quebec to pre-book a taxi in Ottawa and vice versa.
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 clear.
However, parking is limited and hard to find in the city centre and parking fees are high. There are several park-and-ride facilities that aim to reduce congestion and parking issues. We also advise expats who own a car to look for accommodation with on-site parking available.
Expats in Ottawa are only allowed to use their foreign driver's licence for the 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.
Cycling in Ottawa
Ottawa is a cyclist-friendly city with extensive cycle pathways, making getting around Ottawa by bike relatively easy. Some cycle lanes are shared with motorists and others with pedestrians. 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.
►Get up-to-date info on public transport in Canada's capital city on the OC Transpo official website
►For information on getting around the country, read Transport and Driving in Canada
"Considering extreme weather conditions and distances, I’d say you do need a car, especially if you have young kids. Public transit is slow, expensive and unreliable once you’re out of the city centre."
Read what expat Juliette Giannesini has to say about life in Ottawa in this interview.
Are you an expat living in Ottawa?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Ottawa. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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