Living in Canada Without a Car? It Is Manageable.

“Is living in Canada without a car manageable?” This is probably one of the questions that new and prospective immigrants to Canada have in mind as they figure out their finances.

The answer to this question is yes with exceptions. This article will share some scenarios when having access to a car is a better option compared to relying on public transit.

Burrard Skytrain Station
Burrard Skytrain Station

I’ve been driving for a long time now. But, I still find myself taking public transit quite frequently because of its numerous advantages. Topping the list of advantages is avoiding the exorbitant gas prices that plague BC, Canada. Next would be dodging the hassle of competing for parking space and high parking fees. Then, there’s the advantage of having a lower carbon footprint. Aside from these and many other obvious reasons, I like taking public transit because I can let my mind wander and admire the lovely British Columbia views during my commute.

For me, living in Canada without a car is indeed manageable. In some instances, it is even enjoyable. However, some instances may necessitate getting a car.

You live or work in an area that does not have well-developed public transportation systems.

If you live and work in the downtown core of big cities such as Toronto or Vancouver, a car is not a necessity. However, if you reside in a remote area or a neighborhood with limited access to public transit, you may not have a choice but to get a car.

For example, shortly after arriving in Canada 12 years ago, I joined Dress for Success Vancouver. They facilitated monthly professional and personal development workshops at 9:00 am on Saturdays. My commute lasted for more than an hour. Unfortunately, bus services where I lived started at past 8:00 am on weekends. So, if I couldn’t rely on the usual route. I then had to walk for more than 40 minutes in any weather to get to the bus exchange, then take a bus and a Skytrain ride to make it to the workshops.

I checked the bus services in this area recently and saw that it has improved. However, public transit is still not as accessible nor is it as reliable as in downtown Vancouver.

When I visited Whitehorse, Yukon during the summer of 2022, I hardly saw public buses. It was the same scenario during my trip to Niagara Falls in 2020 and Bowen Island in 2022. But then again, municipalities generally rise to the demands of the public. So, as the population increases, public transportation services ideally improve.

Streets of Whitehorse, Yukon
Streets of Whitehorse, Yukon

Your lifestyle requires you to be highly mobile.

Your lifestyle will be a huge factor in determining the need for a car. Canada is a huge country. If you need to move from one place to another quickly in one day, taking public transit may not be a great option.

When I was a newcomer to Canada, I took a three-hour in-person course after work to enhance my portfolio. I had to be in three different cities in one day. I had to rush to the campus to catch my 6:30 pm class after work and then rush home after my class ended at 9:30 pm. At the time, buses in my area only ran once an hour after 6:00 pm. I didn’t have a driver’s licence or a car yet so I would get home at around midnight.

Your area has poor walkability.

Living in an area where connectivity and proximity between residential areas and amenities, shopping centres, and other points of interest will help you eliminate the need to maintain a car. On the contrary, it would be difficult to carry bags of groceries when catching a bus, especially during winter. In fact, lugging groceries while slipping on icy pavements was noted as one of the top challenges in one of my featured immigrant stories.

BC Ferries
BC Ferries

You have kids.

Having kids may change people’s needs and priorities. Busy parents may need to drop off their kids at school or daycare on their way to work and then quickly pick them up before going home. They would then need to carry their kids’ belongings on top of theirs.

Many of my colleagues have kids who engage in sports or after-school lessons. It is hard to take public transit with kids and their gear in tow.

Skytrain Crossing the Icy Fraser River
Skytrain Crossing the Icy Fraser River

You live in a province with harsh winters.

Poor weather conditions make anybody’s commute way more challenging.

I know someone who used to live in Quebec. One winter, he was surprised to find the bus stop empty on an early weekday morning. Not long after, he saw people inside a fast-food restaurant motioning for him to go inside. Apparently, commuters wait inside the restaurant and then walk to the bus stop when the bus arrives to prevent health risks.

As we may know, Canada has one of the harshest winter climates in the world. Windburn, frostbite, and hypothermia can affect people in under a minute.

Metro Vancouver’s mild winters do not make it prone to transportation issues during winter. News of buses slipping or getting stuck are all over the internet. But then, cars get into the same situation as well.

In these situations, living in Canada without a car may not be the best option. Otherwise, you will be fine.

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