Calgary: Our Beginners Guide to “Getting Around 101”
If you’re arriving in Calgary for the first time it may be helpful to know how to get around from a “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” perspective.
I’ve already provided my insights on the geographical lay-of-the-land in a previous Blog entry. Using this critical piece of correspondence you may want to mentally overlay it with what I’m about to share with you below if you want to navigate your way around our City with relative ease.
Here is a snapshot of my previous rudimentary City map overlaid with some transportation considerations that I will refer to later.
Calgary Schematic Layout Showing C-Train Routes [DD 2017]
The Calgary Train (or C-Train or LRT, as it is also referred to) lines and routes are highlighted in yellow on the map above. There are several key things any new commuter on the C-Train system may need to be aware of:
The C-Train Downtown [DD]
- The C-Train does not have any access to the Calgary International Airport (YYC)! So if you’re arriving in Calgary via YYC for the first time and you are hoping to catch the train to your final destination directly from the airport, this is not possible.
- Currently the C-Train has two lines. The RED line links the NW city quadrant originating at the Tuscany LRT Station to the SE where it terminates at the Somerset/Bridlewood LRT Station. The BLUE line originates in the NE city quadrant originating at the Saddletown LRT Station and terminating in the SW quadrant at the 69th Street LRT Station.
- The RED and BLUE lines share common tracks and LRT Stations in the Downtown Core where the train line runs along 7th Avenue South. This section of the two shared lines is called the 7th Avenue Free Fare Zone. Commuters are able to catch the train in this section without paying any transit fare. This is very helpful to know if you’re a visitor to the Downtown!
- Outside of the Free Fare Zone you WILL require proof of fare payment. A train ticket can be purchased from vending machines at all LRT Stations. A ticket must be validated by sliding it into the “Validate Here” slot on the ticket vending machine which will stamp your ticket with the date and time of travel prior to climbing on the train. The ticket must be kept as proof of purchase if asked to be seen by Transit Authorities on an ad hoc basis!
- Your train ticket can be used to transition to a city bus service if you need to catch a bus from an LRT station to your final destination. You will require your original validated train ticket to show to your bus Driver as proof of payment!
- Remember that the NW and SE quadrants are connected by the RED line and the NE and SW quadrants are connected by the BLUE line. If you travel from the NE and need to get to the SE or NW (as an example) you will need to switch to the appropriate RED line train when you reach the 7th Avenue Free Fare Zone.
- Trains run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is limited service late at night, on weekends and on public holidays, so be aware of this when planning your travel.
- A future GREEN line that runs from the SOUTH of the City, through the Downtown Core and to the NORTH is being planned by the City Developers but is unlikely to be available until after 2021.
The Calgary Transit (CT) Bus service operates regular routes throughout the rest of the City. The City runs a desktop and mobile-friendly App that can be used for planning your commuting route. Some helpful tips regarding the bus system are:
- Bus tickets can be purchased from the Bus Driver as long as you have the exact change required! Your bus ticket is valid on the C-Train as long as you ask your Bus Driver for a transfer (which acts as your proof of payment for your bus trip). If you board the train and are asked by Transit Authorities to see your ticket, you will need to produce a valid transfer stub that you picked up from your connecting bus trip. Conditions do apply to use of a bus transfer on the C-Train or a C-Train ticket on a bus route. These will be commented on later in this Blog entry.
- Several buses might be labelled by a route number followed by “BRT” on the front. “BRT” stands for “Bus Rapid Transit” and is like an express bus, stopping at fewer scheduled stops along its route. Bus stops for the BRT routes are identified by red marker signs at their respective stops, unlike the general bus routes which are usually black and white. Most BRT routes link distant neighbourhoods to the Downtown Core, the buses are frequently concertina-type / articulated vehicles, and they run more frequently during peak traffic / commuter periods. Consequently they also tend to be very full of passengers!
- There is a City bus that connects the Calgary International Airport (YYC) to the Downtown Core. This is good news for any Tourists. You will want to use the 300BRT bus for your connection between YYC, the Downtown Core and the rest of the city public transit system. Buses leave on a regular schedule from YYC and head down Centre Street making infrequent stops en route to the Downtown Core. If you are arriving at YYC on an inbound flight you will need to ask at Airport Information where to catch your 300BRT bus and also where to purchase a ticket or get change if you do not have the exact bus fare available in cash.
A valid bus or train ticket is required for each travelling commuter older than 2 years of age. As eluded to above, a critical point to make note of when using City Transit (Train or Bus) is that your ticket or bus transfer stub is only valid for 90 minutes from your time of purchase! You are able to use your ticket or transfer stub for as many bus or C-Train rides as it takes to get you to your destination, but once your 90 minutes has “expired” you may be eligible for a fine if the Transit Authorities ask to see your proof of purchase and you are outside of your 90 minute window. Fines are hefty and not worth the risk if you’re outside of your 90 minute window of travel or if you can show no proof of ticket. Remember that this does not apply to travel in the C-Train downtown Free Fare Zone where travel is always free on the Train.
Numerous taxi cab companies service the City. Three of the most ubiquitous companies are Calgary United Cabs, Checker Cabs and Associated Cabs. At the time of publishing this Blog entry the ride-sharing service, Uber, was operational in Calgary although it is tightly regulated so ride availability may be a little limited or wait times might be a little longer than in other international cities.
Associated Cabs has exclusive rights for commuter pick-up from YYC. However, any taxi company can be used for taking commuters to YYC.
Note that all paid transport departing from YYC, i.e. 300BRT bus and Associated Cabs taxi rides are subject to airport taxes and as a result will incur a slightly higher charge than the same distance / time commute for pickup at any other location off-airport, i.e. away from YYC. This surcharge does not apply to commutes that terminate / drop-off at YYC.
Use of private or rented automobiles in and around Calgary is plentiful. As a private commuter, navigating around the City by automobile is pretty easy. Peak driving hours are between 07h00 to 09h00 and 15h30 to 18h00 on working weekdays, during which time the main arterial routes to and from Downtown tend to be slow-moving. Calgarians, as with all North American countries and cities, drive on the right hand side of the road. This is good and important to know as a first time visitor to North America! Most rental and privately owned vehicles have automatic gearboxes which makes navigating a city, new roads, potentially icy winter conditions and busy traffic that much easier.
Calgary has no toll roads or bridges within the City limits.
For driving speeds and distances, Canadians use the metric system. Speed limits are demarcated in kilometres per hour (kph or km/h) and distances are referred to in kilometres (km). Vehicle speedometers are calibrated according to the metric system but the dials also show miles per hour on the inner speedometer dial. In general, high way speed limits are 100km/h, main roads are 80km/h, neighbourhood limits are 50km/h, and school zones / public parks are 30km/h. Speed limits are strictly enforced!
Parking Downtown is generally expensive, limited and closely monitored! Pay close attention to signs, roadside demarcations that might restrict parking zones or parking times, and be sure to pay for your parking at the electronic pay station assigned to your parking zone. Parking can be paid for by cash or credit card. Plans are underway for mobile pay options to be implemented in the City in the near future. Note that in many residential neighbourhoods parking is limited and a permit may be required to park there. Such permits are usually offered to residents of that neighbourhood so you may not park there unless by prior arrangement and then must display such a permit.
Parking for people with disabilities is prolific around the City as long as you are able to display a valid “disabled” sign in your vehicle.
Alberta does not require that an Albertan-registered vehicle have a front licence plate / number plate. Don’t be alarmed if your vehicle does not have one. They are not required if your vehicle is registered in Alberta.
It is highly recommended that your vehicle be fitted with winter tires suitable for driving in the icy conditions that may prevail from October through to March. Winter tires do NOT guarantee your safety; safe driving habits and caution are more likely to save you. However, winter tires may go a long way in granting you peace of mind when driving, so consider this when renting a vehicle. Note that if you are using a rental vehicle to commute to another Province you will need to ensure that you are familiar with the rules in that Province. As an example, fitting winter tires to your vehicle is mandatory in British Columbia between 1st October to 31st March while this is not a mandated requirement in Alberta. You need to ensure that your vehicle is equipped accordingly otherwise you may be fined.
Use of motor cycles is significantly less common in Calgary and is primarily limited to recreational purposes by bike owners. Specific motorcycle licensing is required in order to rent or own a motorcycle of a specific engine size. I am not covering the ins, outs, benefits and precautions of owning or riding a motorcycle in this Blog.
Finally, cycling is a great way to see Calgary. For understandable weather-related reasons the season for cycling is limited primarily from mid-Spring to whenever the pathways might become icy or when the snow flies. That being said it is not uncommon to see die-hard commuters cycling in the dark of winter, but this is not recommended for the feint-hearted or the under-equipped! There is more information provided in the Blog entry titled “Calgary: Pathway and Bikeway System” about getting around the City by bicycle or on foot!