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Your guide to getting around in Canada


For those considering a move to a new country or city, transportation is a major concern.

How am I going to get around? How much will it cost me? Is it easy get around? These are all good questions to ask, especially for new international students.

Of course, there’s always the option of buying or renting a private car, but for the majority of students, that’s not exactly a realistic option. So to help take some of the guesswork out of the situation, here is a rundown of some of the different ways to get around Canadian university towns – no matter where in the country you choose to study.


Bus Systems


As a student, local bus systems are a great way to travel throughout the city or town where you are studying without breaking the bank. Many Canadian universities even offer the option of bus passes as part of students’ tuition fees – which means unlimited access for a great price, plus no worrying about correct change or buying monthly passes once you’ve received your student ID card. Take Saint Mary’s University for example, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Last year, all students were offered unlimited access to the city’s Metro Transit buses (as well as ferries!) for the entire academic year, from September through April, for the overall cost of $115. As this option varies from school to school, be sure to check with your institution to see if you’re covered.

For those who aren’t covered or opt out of student bus plans, however, not to worry! Bus travel is still an affordable way to get around your new university town, even if it’s not included in your school fees. In Halifax, for example, one-way fares in 2011 were available for $2.25. Alternatively, a monthly pass cost around $65.
Wondering how to use the bus system? Just get on the bus through the front door (where you will pay and/or show your pass), and whenever you want to get off, just ring the bell by pulling the cord that runs above the windows on both sides of the bus. Also, if you’re paying per ride, be sure to obtain a “transfer” if you need to change buses. Just ask the driver for one when you get on – but note, these transfers expire within one hour. You can find bus routes and maps at most convenience stores, where you can also purchase tickets if you don’t want to worry about carrying the correct change.


Rapid transit systems


Although most Canadian cities do not have train or rapid transit systems, for those studying or travelling in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton or Ottawa, you’re in luck! This is another affordable (and quick) way to make your way around the city.


Taxis


As the most expensive travel option, taxis are not generally part of the typical student’s daily travel plan. But, especially if you’re in a hurry or are hoping to get around late at night, taxis can be a real lifesaver. Although rates vary between different cities and taxi companies, you can base your estimate on the following – start rates are generally somewhere between $3 - $3.50 (that’s how much you pay no matter how short your ride), and then add on $2 - $2.50 per kilometre. You may also pay more for each additional person in the taxi. Alternatively, if you’re travelling quite a distance (for example, from the city centre to an airport), you might be able to negotiate a flat rate – be sure to ask the operator or driver about this before you agree on the ride.

If you think you might be interested in taking a taxi, just ask your university’s International Student Centre when you arrive at your university – they should be able to provide you with contact information for a list of trustworthy taxi companies.


Bicycles


Bicycles are another great way for students to get around Canadian cities. Major cities across the country boast a growing number of bike-specific road lanes, and many citizens (including, in some cases, student organizations) are working hard to encourage the option as a great sustainable and eco-friendly mode of transportation.

Interested in getting a bit of exercise while you travel? Great! Just be sure to also get yourself a helmet (mandatory by law) and high-quality bike lock. Although Canadian university campuses are known to be quite safe for the most part, bike theft can still happen. Also note that, if you are studying in one of the cities which boast less than mild winters (Winnipeg or Halifax, for example), you’ll want to have an alternative transport option in mind for yourself for the coldest, snowiest months – these being, on average, November to March.
Another fun wheeled alternative? Rollerblading!


Walking


Obviously the cheapest transportation option, walking, is also a great way for international students to get to know a new city. Some cities are of course more conducive to walking than others (those that are less spread out or smaller), but in general, most Canadian campuses are set up with walkers in mind.

If you’re particularly keen on being able to walk to and from classes, as well as all around your new city, you might want to consider looking at universities located in those smaller and/or less spread out cities – Halifax, for example (home of Saint Mary’s University), as well as Sault Saint Marie, Ontario (where Algoma University is situated), or Windsor, Ontario (with its similarly-named University of Windsor) are all smaller cities, ideal for navigation by walking enthusiasts.


Traveling Between Towns


Hoping to travel outside of your university town? Not a problem! For students looking to explore a bit more of Canada, there are a number of different travel options, including buses (check out www.greyhound.ca for routes and price examples), trains (www.viarail.ca), and planes (flight options include www.aircanada.com as well as www.westjet.com and www.canjet.com). Affordable shuttles often connect city centers with out-of-town airports, and for those interested in venturing past the mainland, a number of regular ferry services carry travelers to islands off both the west and east coasts of Canada.

Want more good news? By becoming a full-time student at a Canadian university, you also qualify for an “ISIC” card – that stands for International Student Identity Card. With this card, you can receive discounts at all kinds of stores and services across the country as well as around the world. And that includes travel. WestJet airways, VIA Rail, and Greyhound, for example, all have special offers for ISIC-holders – in many cases, this can mean 25 - 50 per cent off your travel costs!

Interested in booking your next trip, either within or outside of Canada? Check out Travel CUTS – located in cities and on campuses across the country, as well as online (www.travelcuts.com). As Canada’s leading student travel experts, Travel CUTS helps students to book anything from short trips to round the world adventures, all at hard-to-beat prices. Extra bonus? They know exactly how to help you get the most savings out of your ISIC card and international student status!


Bon Voyage!


Although Canada is a huge (and hugely diverse) country, and it’s not exactly quick to “hop” from, say, Toronto to Vancouver, it’s still a relatively travel-friendly country – whether that travel be from one side of town to the other, or across the country. So whatever you do as a new student, be sure to get out and make the most of all the options your new city (and country!) has to offer – whether that be by foot, bike, bus, train, or plane!

-Arwen Kidd

• Arwen Kidd currently serves as Communications Director for the Canadian University Application Centre and its parent organization, Higher-Edge. A Canadian university graduate herself, Arwen has spent most of the past five years working and travelling overseas. Among her credits are various documentary film and photo journalism projects in Eastern Europe, Australia and West Africa. Arwen is currently based in Liberia.

Posted: Feb 1, 2012

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