The Newcomer's Guide to Public Transport in Canada

April 3, 2024


  • Sinethemba Phongolo

For newcomers to Canada, understanding the country's diverse transit systems is essential for seamless travel and integration into daily life. From bustling urban centers like Toronto and Vancouver to charming smaller cities and towns, Canada offers a wide range of public transportation options.

Whether you're a student, a professional, or a visitor, mastering public transportation can enhance your Canadian experience, offering convenience, affordability, and environmental sustainability.

Transportation in Canada

Canada’s vast and widely dispersed population requires an efficient and accessible transportation system to connect people and facilitate economic activity. Canada’s multi-modal transportation system has several strategic networks and infrastructural assets across all regions.

Transportation plays a vital role in Canada’s economy. It links people to jobs, connects regions, and delivers products to consumers, communities, and international markets.

By moving large volumes of people and goods, Canada’s transportation sector directly impacts Canadians' and their communities' safety, security, and socio-economic well-being. Canada’s National Highway System extends over 38,000 kilometers. This ensures the constant flow of goods and people even in Canada’s frigid conditions.

What Are the Different Transportation Systems in Canada?

The transportation systems in Canada encompass various modes of travel that play a crucial role in connecting the country's vast regions and supporting its economy. The primary modes of transportation in Canada include:

Public Transport in Canada

All cities and most major towns in Canada have a public transportation system. Overseen by Transports Canada, these multi-modal transport systems, with one or more travel methods, such as bus, train, subway, and light-rail trains.

Therefore, we recommend researching each city’s public transportation systems before you decide where to live. Buses are the most common form of urban transportation in Canada. You need a ticket or transit pass for public transportation. Transit passes give you unlimited use of Canada’s public transportation for a month or more. Transit passes are generally cheaper than buying many tickets.

Tickets are offered at convenience stores, major transit stations, and from the bus driver’s themselves. To learn more about public transportation in your city or town, call your local transit information line, visit your city government's website, or visit the main transit station kiosk. Canadian public transportation has features to assist commuters with physical disabilities.

Rail Transport in Canada

Trains in Canada are safe and comfortable and run across the entirety of the country. Buying train tickets in advance from Via Rail Canada is cheaper than going to a train station in person. Canada has four Class I railways and 41,465 route-kilometres of track. As of recent information from the Canadian government, the were 4.8 million intercity rail passengers in Canada, mpst of whom use services provided by Via Rail Canada.

Bus Transport in Canada

If you have to go a great distance, Travel by bus can take a very long time. There are many benefits to choosing the bus, such as bussing, which is often the cheapest way to travel between cities and a way to get to smaller towns if you don’t have a car.

Furthermore, buses have air conditioning and a washroom. Greyhound and its partners run the largest network of bus routes in Canada, and you can buy bus tickets by calling or visiting your local Greyhound bus station.

Ferry Transport in Canada

Canada’s coastal areas, such as British Columbia and the Atlantic region, have ferry boats as a common travel method. Ferries transport both passengers and commercial and trade freight. You can find and buy tickets from ferry companies that operate routes in your area, including prominent examples such as

Walking And Cycling in Canada

Walking and cycling are cheap and healthy ways of getting around Canada’s cities and towns. You can get a map of bicycle routes from your local town or cities bike shops or provincial or territorial government’s website and information kiosks.

Car Transport in Canada

Canada has a large network of highways, ensuring long-distance travel by car is possible between far-flung places. Hence, there is a constantly growing number of private car owners in Canada. Whether relocating for a new job, purchasing a car from another province, or simply enjoying seasonal migration, having your car in Canada is vital.

The Auto Carrier Conference of Canada (ACC) represents the national network of car carrier companies. When selecting a car vendor, consider factors like experience, insurance options, and vehicle type. While making your way across Canada, consider purchasing an open trailer, which is more economical, while enclosed trailers offer superior protection from the elements.

Taxis in Canada

Canada’s cities and towns have many companies offering taxi services. Canada’s taxi costs have set rates used by meters to calculate the cost of your trip based on mileage, fees and optional tips for the driver.. If you want to know how much your taxi trip will cost, ask your driver before the trip starts.

However, in general, the normal cost (tariff) for a taxi ride in Canada is 4.50 CAD according to Numbeo. Taxi drivers have an official identification card to show that the city licenses them. You can find the card on the taxi dashboard.

Air Trasport in Canada

Due to Canada’s large size, people regularly travel between major cities by airplane. Canada’s main cities have airports with regularly scheduled flights offered by public commuter air carries such as

Some places don't have a main airport, especially in small and rural towns and areas in Canadian territories and provinces like Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Yukon.

If you’re traveling to a place without an airport, you must fly to the nearest main airport, rent a car, or take a train or bus. To fly in Canada, ensure you carry a photo identification issued by the federal, provincial, or territorial Canadian government or a foreign passport.

According to the Canadian government, over 1,400 air carriers operate in, or to and from Canada, 37,000 Canadian registered aircraft, and almost 55,000 licensed pilots.

Public Vs Private Transportation in Canada

Public transportation in Canada includes all forms of communal (taxis, trains, airplane,trams, buses etc.) transportation in Canda while private transportation mostly involves private car usage for individual or collective commuting services. The advantages and disadvantages of public and private transportation in Canada is outlined in the table below.

Aspect of Assessment Public Transport in Canada Private Transport in Canada
Cost Pros: Affordable fares, especially for frequent travelers. Pros: Can be cost-effective for individuals or small groups, especially for shorter distances.
Cons: Higher costs for individuals traveling alone or with fewer passengers. Cons: Expenses include fuel, maintenance, insurance, and parking fees.
Convenience  Pros: Extensive network coverage in urban areas, reducing the need for personal vehicles Pros: Provides flexibility and autonomy in terms of travel routes and timings. 
Cons: Fixed schedules may not align with individual preferences or non-standard hours. Cons: Traffic congestion and parking availability can lead to delays and stress.
Environmental Impact Pros: Lower carbon emissions per passenger compared to private vehicles, promoting sustainability. Pros: May include environmentally friendly options like electric or hybrid vehicles.
Cons: Reliance on fossil fuels for some modes of public transit. Cons: Higher emissions per passenger compared to public transit, contributing to pollution and greenhouse gases.
Traffic Congestion Pros: Reduces traffic congestion by encouraging fewer individual vehicles on the road. Pros: Minimal impact on traffic congestion, especially for individuals commuting during off-peak hours.
Cons: Overcrowding on popular routes during peak hours can lead to delays. Cons: Contributes to overall traffic volume, especially in urban areas with limited infrastructure.
Maintenance & Safety Pros: Public transportation systems undergo regular maintenance and safety checks, ensuring reliability and passenger security. Pros: Maintenance and safety are the responsibility of the individual vehicle owner, providing a sense of control over upkeep and cleanliness.
Cons: Instances of crime or harassment may occur, although security measures are in place to mitigate risks. Cons: Potential for accidents or breakdowns, especially without regular maintenance.
Accessibility  Pros: Designed to be accessible to people with disabilities, with features like ramps, elevators, and designated seating areas. Pros: Provides door-to-door accessibility, especially for individuals with mobility challenges or specific travel needs.
Cons: Accessibility may vary depending on the mode of transportation and infrastructure limitations. Cons: Limited accessibility for some vehicles, such as high-rise trucks or sports cars, in certain locations or terrain.

What is the Average Cost of Transportation in Canada?

The average cost of public transportation in Canada heavily depends on the mode of transport you choose to patronize. However, according to Numbeo, based on the regular monthly pass, the average cost of public transport in Canada is 104.90 CAD.

If you use your car to transport across Canada, ensure you have enough money to cover the 1.59 CAD gasoline per liter. In general, the costs of public transportation in Canada can be outlined as follows.

Forms of Transport in Canada Cost Per Month (CAD)
Local Transport One Way Ticket 3.50
Regular Price For a Monthly Pass 104.90
Normal Tariff for a Taxi 4.50
Normal Tariff for a 1 hour Taxi Ride 40.00
Normal Tariff for a 1 km Taxi Ride 2.10
A liter of Gasoline 1.59

Experiencing Canada’s Public Transportation System

Visiting and experiencing Canada's public transportation system can enrich exploring the country's diverse landscapes and vibrant cities. Several visa options exist for individuals seeking temporary stays in Canada to facilitate travel and immersion into Canadian culture, each offering unique opportunities to engage with the public transit network.

IEC Working Holiday Visa

The International Experience Canada (IEC) Working Holiday Visa program is popular among young adults aged 18 to 35 from countries with reciprocal agreements with Canada. This visa allows participants to work and travel in Canada for up to two years, providing ample time to explore the country's public transportation infrastructure.

With this visa, individuals can immerse themselves in Canadian life, utilizing buses, trains, subways, and ferries to navigate cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. They can experience the efficiency and convenience of Canada's public transit firsthand while discovering cultural landmarks, scenic routes, and local communities.

Learn more about what you should know about the Canada Working Holiday Visa.

Canada Visitor Visa

For those interested in shorter stays, the Canada Visitor Visa offers an opportunity to temporarily experience the country's public transportation system. This visa allows individuals to visit friends and family, explore tourist attractions, or attend business meetings for up to six months.

Visitors can utilize public transit to explore iconic Canadian destinations such as Banff National Park, Niagara Falls, and Old Quebec City, enjoying the convenience of buses, trams, and light rail systems in urban centers and the scenic beauty of train journeys through picturesque landscapes.

Note that if you’re going to apply for a Canadian visitor visa, to ensure you’re pathway to Canada will remain comparatively free of obstacles, you must learn how scammers target Canadian Visitor Visa applicants.

Business Visitor Visa

Business visitors to Canada can use the Business Visitor Visa to engage in professional activities while experiencing the country's public transportation network. Whether attending conferences, meetings, or trade shows, business visitors can use public transit to navigate cities efficiently, network with colleagues, and explore potential business opportunities.

By experiencing Canada's public transportation system, business visitors gain insights into its infrastructure and transportation logistics, enhancing their understanding of the Canadian market and fostering connections with local businesses and organizations. Learn more about Canada's Visitor Visa.


Are Discounts Available For Specific Groups Using Public Transit in Canada?

Discounts for specific groups, such as students, seniors, and persons with disabilities, are commonly available when using public transit in Canada. These discounts vary by region and transit authority, so checking with the respective transit agency for eligibility and application processes is advisable.

What Etiquette And Rules to Follow When Using Public Transportation in Canada?

When using public transportation in Canada, it's important to adhere to basic etiquette, such as giving up seats to those in need, refraining from loud conversations or music, and keeping personal belongings contained.

How Can I Plan My Trip Using Public Transit in Canada?

Planning a trip using public transit in Canada can be efficiently done using online trip planners provided by transit agencies or third-party apps. Simply input your starting point and destination along with desired departure or arrival times to receive route options, fare information, and estimated travel times, allowing for seamless navigation of Canada's public transit systems.