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Best centres for alternative transportation in Canada

man walking his bike through a centre

When considering where to travel — and even more importantly, where to live — accessible and alternative transportation should be at the top of your list.

Over the last decade, Canada has paid special attention to the need for accessible and alternative transportation to attract tourists, future residents and future generations. 

For example, Vancouver pledged to become the greenest city with the target goal of more than 66% of total travel to occur on foot, bicycle or public transit by 2040. In 2019, 53% of travel already occurred using alternative transportation. 

In this piece, we cover alternative transportation, what it is, and which centres in Canada rank highest for those interested in travelling or living in a city with accessible, alternative transportation.

What is alternative transportation? 

woman riding her bike through a city

Alternative transportation is the availability and utilization of methods other than a single-occupancy vehicle to navigate everyday transit needs. This can come in the form of public transportation, bike-sharing programs, walkable infrastructure and ridesharing.

There are also initiatives a country or city can take to build alternative transportation programs. For example, districts, businesses and institutions can incentivize or provide their constituents with transportation alternatives, incentives to carpool, group shuttles and more. 

Many countries around the world have adopted alternative transportation as a viable strategy for reducing carbon emissions, traffic congestion and other problems that plague urban environments. 

Canada, for example, has focused their transportation planning around what’s known as a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategy. TDM encourages sustainable transportation through high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, toll roads and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). 

100 Best centres for Alternative Transportation in Canada

Each of the 100 Canadian centres in our study is making efforts to achieve a more sustainable transportation infrastructure. From central to local and municipal governments, Canada is enabling people to get around without the need for an entire car all to themselves.

Below, we dig into the results from the top 10 Canadian centres for alternative transportation. 

alternative transportation chart of montreal quebec

Montreal, Quebec, is the second-most populous city in Canada and ranks highest on our list for alternative transportation. Out of the top 100 most populated centres in Canada, Montreal ranks highest for both public transit and biking. 

Montreal has many alternative and accessible transportation options from the VIA Rail train service, Bus Carriers Federation, accessible taxis and more.  

Alternative transportation resources for Montreal

alternative transportation chart of ottawa and gatineau

Ottawa, Ontario, and Gatineau, Quebec, are bordering centres that, combined, rank second on our list of the best centres in Canada for alternative transportation. 

Ottawa and Gatineau are located across the Ottawa river from each other and benefit from the availability of a 100% electric aqua-taxi. They also have buses, ridesharing apps and a light rail. Ottawa neighbourhoods are also extremely navigable on foot or bicycle.

Alternative transportation resources for Ottawa & Gatineau

alternative transportation chart for Kanata Ontario

Kanata, Ontario, is the flattest of the top 10 centres with an average elevation change of only five feet, which makes walking and biking far more approachable. The city benefits from being located only 23.6 kilometres from Ottawa. 

If you want, you can ride a bike from Kanata to Ottawa along the Ottawa River Pathway, which is a part of the Trans Canada Trail.

Alternative transportation resources for Kanata

alternative transportation chart for St.Catharines Ontario

St. Catharines is the largest city in the Niagara region of Canada’s Ontario province and located across Lake Ontario from Toronto. According to St. Catharines’ website, the city is replete with more than 90 kilometres of trails and pathways that crisscross the city.

Alternative transportation resources for St. Catharines

alternative transportation chart for Brantford Ontario

Brantford’s claim to fame is that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone while living in his father’s house, now known as the Bell Homestead. Despite record high temperatures of 38.5⁰C and low temperatures of -30.5⁰C, the average temperature all year long is about 7.7⁰C. 

Brantford Transit operates inner-city buses, and the city also has a VIA train line that can help residents and visitors with inter-city travel.

Alternative transportation resources for Brantford

alternative transportation chart for Regina

Regina is the capital of Saskatchewan and is the 16th largest city in Canada. The city’s leadership is dedicated to alternative transportation. In fact, as of August 31, 2020, Regina began testing a four-month experiment in on-demand transit. This service will be available through a mobile app and will operate between 7 pm and 1 am, Monday–Friday.

From an accessibility standpoint, Regina also has a great paratransit initiative where travellers with disabilities can receive rides and other assistance. Regina has over 830 hectares of parks and 120 km of trails. 

Alternative transportation resources for Regina

alternative transportation chart peterborough ontario

Peterborough is located along the Otonabee River in central Ontario. For years, the city has spearheaded initiatives in alternative transportation, launching a dedicated site called Peterborough Moves

Peterborough advocates for alternative transportation to reduce carbon emissions and increase the health and well-being of its citizens through programs, workshops and other resources. “Car free Wednesdays,” for example, is a great initiative of the city to help people get more physical activity while reducing traffic and emissions. 

Alternative transportation resources for Peterborough 

alternative transportation chart for Midland Ontario

It’s not surprising that Ontario has so much representation on this list since it is home to more than 38% of the Canadian population. Midland, on the other hand, is the smallest city to make the top 10 with an estimated population of 17,017 in 2020. 

Midland’s small, harbour-centric city is a great place to walk or bike, multiple popular biking and hiking trails circumvent the harbour.

Alternative transportation resources for Midland

alternative transportation saskatoon saskatchewan

Saskatoon is the largest city in the Saskatchewan province of Canada and, according to the late Gord Downie, is known as the “Paris of the Prairies.” 

As the city with the least precipitation of any city to rank in our top 10, Saskatoon has a flat topography and more than 96 trails for biking, hiking, running and more. Saskatoon Transit Services also has many initiatives to make public transportation smooth, easy and, most importantly, accessible.

Alternative transportation resources for Saskatoon

alternative transportation chart charlottetown prince edward island


Charlottetown is the only city from Prince Edward Island to make our list of the best centres for alternative transportation in Canada. Despite recording a fairly substantial amount of rainfall, this city’s low elevation change helped contribute to a high walk and bike score, helping it rank in our top 10 list.

Alternative transportation resources for Charlottetown

5 alternative transportation statistics and tips for travelling within Canada

When travelling within Canada, most people don’t have the luxury or the inclination to get a personal vehicle and instead choose to rely on alternative transportation options.

Here are five statistics based on our study and tips for your next trip in Canada.

  1. Midland, Ontario, was the smallest city to rank in the top 10 with a population of 16,864 in the latest census from 2016. 
  2. Quebec City, Quebec, has the highest walk score of the top 100 populated centres in Canada.
  3. Chilliwack, British Columbia, has the most annual precipitation with 71 inches on average.
  4. Montreal, Quebec, has the highest transit and bike scores of the top 100 centres in Canada based on population. 
  5. 9 out of 10 centres with the largest changes in elevation are in British Columbia. The average difference between the highest and lowest point in each city is 1,448 feet. 

Methodology

When analyzing the prevalence of alternative transportation options in Canada, we summed the bike score, transit score and walk score, subtracting the total change in elevation and average annual precipitation. 

The walk, bike and transit scores were all provided by WalkScore.com. The terrain score was calculated by subtracting the lowest elevation from the highest elevation in a given city using data from Topographic Maps. Average annual precipitation data was collected using climate-data.org

The weights for these factors are as follows:

  • 30% walk score
  • 20% bike score
  • 20% transit score
  • 20% terrain/elevation
  • 10% precipitation

We assigned the lowest weight to precipitation because we didn’t want to bias the study in favour of centres with dryer climates. The terrain was assigned a 20% weight because, although transit scores are not impacted, it can have a high impact on walking and biking in a given city. 

The walk score was assigned the highest weight since the most walkable centres are likely benefiting the most from alternative transportation. Download the study to see how the 100 Canadian centres in our sample performed.

If you live in Canada and are considering moving to a new city with more Alternative transportation options, consider this list a starting point for your research. The top three centres in our rankings are Montreal, Ottawa–Gatineau and Kanata.

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Romana King

Romana King is an award-winning personal finance writer, real estate expert and the current Director of Content at Zolo Homebase. Romana has contributed to business and lifestyle publications including CBC.ca, Toronto Sun, Maclean’s, MoneySense, Globe & Mail Custom Content Team, and The Toronto Star. Among her achievements, Romana won silver for her annual Where to Buy Now real estate package in the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. In 2015, she won a SABEW Business Journalism award. When she was editor of CI Top Broker, Romana helped guide her team to obtain its first KRW Business Journalism nomination, and in 2011, she was part of a small team that helped MoneySense win Magazine of the Year at the 34th annual National Magazine Awards. Her north star is to consistently provide actionable, valuable and accurate information that helps elevate the financial literacy of everyone.