Best Canadian cities for non-drivers?
February 16, 2010 11:44 PM   Subscribe

Best Canadian cities for non-drivers?

I'm Canadian, I live in a small town, I'm at a crossroads in my life, and I'm seriously considering a move to a bigger city.

I have vision problems that prevented me from ever getting my drivers' licence. Right now, I'm stuck relying on family and friends and taxis to get around, which sucks big time. When I move away, I'm not going to have this, so being able to get around as a non-driver is pretty important.

What Canadian cities have the best public transportation? I've heard Vancouver and Toronto both have fairly good transit systems - how easy is it to get by as a non-driver in those cities?
posted by vanitas to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total)
As a non driver in Vancouver, I get by just fine without a car. I actually think it would be a hassle, I have no idea where I would park. I don't know if every city has this set up, but the transit schedules are all integrated with google maps on my iPhone, I just type in from "current location" to wherever, and it tells you what to do step by step. A lifesaver in a new city!
posted by piper4 at 12:02 AM on February 17, 2010

In Vancouver it's very doable, as long as you choose a location that's good for transit. You won't be happy if you're using transit in South Van or the suburbs.

I'd say that the area roughly bounded by the ocean, Commercial, 16th, and Alma is generally good for transit - not totally contiguous, but you get the idea. Same for downtown proper (although downtown is less interesting, but that's a topic for another thread).

Just about anywhere in those areas, many of your neighbours will also be transit/bike users so shops etc will cater to that demographic.

Memail me if you have any more questions about transit accessibility in Vancouver!
posted by ripley_ at 12:03 AM on February 17, 2010

I have lived in Toronto all my life, and never driven a car.

If you live and work in Toronto's downtown core, getting around without a car is pretty easy. I cannot recall a single instance where I needed to get from one downtown point A to some other downtown point B and the TTC did not provide an adequate means of doing so. As you move into more suburban areas, obviously, you can't rely so heavily on the TTC. Caveats:

- At $3 a ride, no matter its length, taking the TTC can be expensive. Probably less expensive than owning a car, but expensive. Look into whether buying a metropass (which buys you unlimited transit for a fixed monthly fee) would be worth it for you. It feels like fares are always being raised, too.
- At about 1-1:30 am (depending on the day of the week and the particular station), subways stop running, and some bus and streetcar lines do not run all night. If you like to go out late at night, you may have to rely on the (aptly named) vomit-comet (one of the few 24-hour lines), taxis, the kindness of friends, etc.
- Taking the TTC can be pretty unpleasant - especially at rush hour, in which case you should fully expect to be standing in a packed vehicle with your face buried in a stranger's armpit while someone else's backpack knocks into you repeatedly.
posted by mellifluous at 12:09 AM on February 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Much of the Ottawa core is very walkable. Public transit is rather good, but a bit expensive - the buses are ~$2.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:10 AM on February 17, 2010

I don't drive, and have lived in the following Canadian cities without problem:
- Ottawa (good transit system)
- Vancouver (great transit system)
- Halifax (pretty poor transit system, but if you live near downtown everything you need is walking distance)

I'd also agree that Toronto is an easy place to get around by transit alone (I grew up in nearby Hamilton).

People have mentioned above that single-use transit fares are "expensive" at $2 or $3, but they're actually pretty good for the level of service you get. Also, if transit is your main method of getting around, it's worth investing in a pass. The cost of a transit pass in all of the above cities is peanuts compared to the monthly cost of car ownership.
posted by sanitycheck at 12:55 AM on February 17, 2010

Montreal's metro is also good. I mostly use the subway, but I think the bus coverage is pretty good as well. I'm in a grad program, and from what I've heard at most 10/500+ students in it have cars.
posted by Anali at 5:31 AM on February 17, 2010

Montreal is perfectly possible to get around with public transit only, as long as you live and work within the areas that are well-served by it (not the suburbs). As with Toronto, public transit gets weaker after about 1 am (until 5 am), and is packed at rush hour. Accessible transit is fairly weak.

Ottawa is possible but seems to be trickier than the other cities, from what friends have said.
posted by jeather at 5:47 AM on February 17, 2010

Vancouver is pretty easy to get around on the buses/skytrain. There's even a snow bus that takes you up to Grouse mountain for the skiing :o)
posted by arcticseal at 5:56 AM on February 17, 2010

Vancouver is both well served by public transit, as others have noted, and nicely compact. It's a good city to walk or bike around. Frankly, if rollerblades were something you wanted to run around on every day, the city's perfectly scaled for them. When I was there, I lived in Kitsilano and did most of my stuff downtown. We ditched one of our two cars when we moved there. My wife used the other one to get to work in Richmond, but I almost never drove.

(Although I did have a friend rollerblade in from North Van once across the Lion's Gate bridge and down through Stanley Park. He only did that once. Coming down that long grade must have been terrifying!)
posted by Naberius at 6:02 AM on February 17, 2010

Another Montrealer here. Many of my single friends don't have cars and get along fine without them. The Métro is fast and dependable, and the bus system covers pretty much the whole island. The suburban trains go pretty far out, and if you want to get to Toronto or Ottawa or Québec City, there are interurban trains.
posted by musofire at 6:49 AM on February 17, 2010

I live in Toronto and I don't drive. Hardly any of my friends have cars, either. It's no problem if you live within a few minutes' walk of a subway station (very easy to do in many price ranges) or major streetcar or bus route (even easier). Plus in most parts of the downtown core you can easily hail cabs on major streets. Even in the winter, it's no big deal not to drive in Toronto.
Montreal without a car is also fine.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:39 AM on February 17, 2010

It's actually not which city, but which neighbourhood. Almost every major city in Canada is liveable without a car as long as you choose a neighbourhood close to a major transit station, and that is relatively central. I'm an Edmontonian and as a whole Edmonton is not a very good city to be without a car. However, if you live in a central neighbourhood (University area, any of the neighbourhoods along Whyte Ave or downtown) it's possible to get anywhere you'd want to be without driving.

I've also lived in Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa and found them fairly transit friendly (although Ottawa could be way better for a lot of stupid reasons related to their municipal politics). If your visual impairment still allows you to bike, you might like a warmer place like Vancouver to get around by bike, but the hilly terrain there makes it a bit of a workout. (I.e. when I biked to work in Vancouver, I needed to shower at the office afterwards.)

If I were you, I'd choose a city based on the job you can get, the culture and then choose a nice central neighbourhood in which to live. As general rule of thumb, neighbourhoods with a lot of post-secondary students are transit friendly.
posted by Kurichina at 7:42 AM on February 17, 2010

I don't know about other cities but Montreal has a bike rental service all over the centre ville which is a delight in warm weather.
posted by The Whelk at 7:48 AM on February 17, 2010

I vote for Vancouver. While I agree that the center of almost all Canadian cities are well served by transit, I would say that the weather in the lower mainland is more conducive to walking than other places.
Interestingly, Vancouver has finally got a shiny new skytrain route which has opened up a lot of the city to non-drivers.
I would also say that living close to a skytrain station will really help. They are fast and frequent; you can't always say the same for the buses.
posted by fingerbang at 8:24 AM on February 17, 2010

nthing Vancouver. Especially downtown Vancouver, but you'll be served pretty well anywhere in downtown, along the Broadway corridor, or near any skytrain/canada line station. Once you get too far from these places however, it gets a bit more tiresome to be reliant on the public transit system. Doesn't mean it's impossible, just not quite as easy. Avoid the 'burbs though. They can be horrific, transit-speaking.

That being said, I live outside downtown, and only ever use my car when I need to visit people in the 'burbs, and occasionally when lugging large groceries home (giant boxes of kitty litter...). Other than that, it sits neglected.
posted by cgg at 9:03 AM on February 17, 2010

I've lived in TO for the past four years and grew up in Ottawa, and visted Montreal and Vancouver extensively. I acknowledge in advance my pro-TO bias.

Ottawa - has an amazing bus system (heated shelters!) that can get you anywhere, and if you live downtown the bonus is that you've got a small, compact area to work in. The downside is, you live in Ottawa. :)

Montreal - you can walk to a lot if you live downtown, but you're going to have to be willing to hoof it up/downhill sometimes, and even on flat ground that's not so fun in the wintertime. Still, the transit system there seems pretty together, so that's a plus.

Vancouver - admittedly my time in Vancouver was relatively short, but I wasn't crazy about their transit. Everything seemed to involve multiple transfers, and especially long bus rides which killed me (I get motion sickness on the bus). The transit did seem more affordable in general, and most routes had lots of stops so you didn't end up having to walk far. My friend who moved there recently adores it but is now facing having to get a car for work because transit is no longer practical for her commute - still, she loves the transit system and combines it with walking and cycling with few problems. They seem to be expanding the SkyTrain lines as well, which is great.

Toronto - Having moved from South Florida, the most nightmarish place to have no car, Toronto was like a dream. I would argue that Toronto is by far the most walkable. The GTA is pretty spread out, but most neighborhoods in the core can provide everything you need within a short jaunt. From where I live I can walk to any necessity in 5 minutes and most of the other major neighborhoods in under 20-30 (but I also like long walks). If you live towards the outer edges of the core you might be more isolated as compared to more central locations, but you will mostly be able to get to everything you need to in walking distance with transit travel left for your work commute and going out.

The TTC is something that spoiled urbanites love to complain about. It's so much cheaper and more convenient than driving but people just love to bitch about it. I find it great, the subway can be unpredictable during rush hour but you have to budget time for that just as you would driving. I also enjoy not having to take the bus ever since I live on the subway line.
posted by SassHat at 12:59 PM on February 17, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all your help!

The two main cities I'd been considering were Toronto and Vancouver, so it's good to hear that I can get around in both places via public transit. I'm not very comfortable biking, but I have excellent walking endurance so living somewhere where it's easy to walk around downtown is a big plus. And the cost of transit isn't a huge concern for me - the way I see it, even a bus pass is a pretty small investment compared to how much it would cost me to buy a car.
posted by vanitas at 9:25 PM on February 17, 2010

« Older Arrggghhh!   |   Can you get in trouble for not signing a final... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.