Most Calgarians have their own car for getting around the city. If you have a family and little kids, you’ll most likely need a car for carting everyone around, and it also helps for getting out of the city and exploring on weekends. However, the city also has an extensive and reliable public transport system, so it’s also really easy to get around Calgary using trains, buses and taxis.
If you’ve moved to Alberta from another province or country and wish to drive, you can use your existing license, but you’ll need to get an Alberta driver’s license within 90 days of arriving in the city. Depending on where you’re coming from, you will either be able to do a direct exchange for an Alberta license at the registry, or you may have to redo your license entirely. Unfortunately for South Africans, it’s the latter.
It’s quite intimidating to drive in Calgary for the first time. Everything is big here – from the trucks to the wide roads and it’s a lot to get used to.
Cars in Canada drive on the right side of the road and road rules are strictly enforced. We have found that although drivers are law abiding and adhere to the rules, they can be quite aggressive, and you have to keep up with the speed limit or face a very impatient driver behind you. Thankfully, the roads are all very well signposted so it’s easy to get around. But, at the same time, there is constant construction on the roads, which causes even the GPS to get confused sometimes. They’re currently building the big ring road around the city, and once this is complete, it will make driving around Calgary a lot quicker and easier.
There are some new rules to get used to. For example, if you’re turning right at a traffic light and the light is red but there are no oncoming cars from the left, then you are allowed to go. Drivers behind you can be quite impatient and will often honk if you take too long.
Pedestrians rule the road here and there are lots of crosswalks. You must be super observant as pedestrians come out of nowhere and very few of them will even look before crossing the road. You also can’t jaywalk as the authorities will ticket you if they catch you crossing the road away from a proper crossing. Cyclists can also be a bit of a menace when it comes to obeying the road rules.
Cars are well priced here and it’s easy to pick up a good deal. The thing that’s going to cost, is insurance. It’s extremely expensive, especially for newcomers, who often have to pay upfront for a year. Not all insurance companies will recognize a foreign license, so if you’re planning to buy a car before you have your local license, you’ll need to shop around.
Another expense you need to keep in mind, is winter tyres and the upkeep of your vehicle in the freezing winter months. It’s not only expensive to buy winter tyres, it’s also expensive to have them inserted or removed between the different seasons. Also, don’t forget to have anti-freeze in your car and always ensure you have a full emergency kit in case you break down in the freezing weather.
Cars become extremely dirty in Calgary in the winter and the mud is relentless as the snow falls and then melts again, so you’ll need to get used having your car full of slush for most of the year. Getting in and out of your car becomes a fine art when you have to step forward or around carefully to avoid the slush smearing all over your legs – and then you also have to be careful of slipping on the ice when getting in and out. There are plenty of self-serve car washes around the city, so it’s pretty easy to keep your car clean if you want to.
Petrol/gas is pretty cheap in the city and there are plenty of gas stations around – the price isn’t fixed so you can shop around for a good price. Gas stations are self-serve so get used to doing it all yourself – pumping the gas, washing your windows, checking your oil and water, pumping your tyres, and cleaning the windscreen.
Calgary has an extensive public transport network of trains and buses. The system is affordable and really easy to navigate. Trains and buses are part of an integrated system so tickets are interchangeable across both networks. A single adult ticket will cost CAD 3.50 and is valid for 90 minutes. There are also options for daily and monthly passes, which can work out cheaper. Kids under six travel for free and students are also entitled to reduced fares.
The CTrain has two lines: the blue line runs between Saddletown in the NE and 69th Street in the SW and the red line runs between Tuscany in the NW and Somerset/Bridlewood in the SW. Both lines intersect in downtown along 7th Avenue, where there is a free-fare zone between 3rd Street East and 11th Street West. A new green line is in the pipeline and will connect the SE with the northern central areas.
Buses cover a more extensive area of the city and are really easy to navigate. If you can’t get somewhere on a train, you’ll likely be able to make your way there on a bus.
The Calgary Transit app is very useful for planning your way around the city. It shows bus and CTrain routes, and if you add your current and planned destination it will map out the best route for you, and even shows how long it may take to walk between destinations.
There are plenty of taxis available in Calgary and ride-hailing apps like Uber operate across the city. They are, obviously, a more expensive choice than the buses and trains, but sometimes a more convenient option.
Bikes and scooters
Calgary is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world with hundreds of kilometres of dedicated bike paths. The variety of different paths is fantastic, although you won’t see many bikes around in the winter months when the paths are covered in snow and ice.