One of the great things about living in Canada's capital city is the decent bus system. Here are a few tips to help you plan your way around Ottawa by bus. Boy, do I wish I had known some of these things before I moved to Ottawa!
Bus fares reflect the fact that OC Transpo offers a number of different services to riders. The bus fares changed on July 1, 2004. Most buses which visitors travel on require normal fare: Children 5 and under ride for free; Children (aged 6-11) $1.35 or 1 bus ticket; Adults $2.60 or 2 bus tickets. Express routes are more expensive and run either in the city of Ottawa or to the rural areas during the weekday rush hours only. You will be able to figure out which buses these are because they display a bright green fare sign in the front window -- you can't miss it. City Express Buses: $3.75 or 3 tickets; Rural Express Buses: $4.75 or 4 tickets.
If you use cash, please have the exact fare ready as the bus drivers do not provide change. Annoying, yes, but that's the way it is. Each bus posts a fare sign in the front window so you can always check to make sure you have the correct fare before getting on. 'The Ticket', which you can use in lieu of cash, are a great deal: they are 90 cents each, much cheaper than paying cash - a regular adult fare costs only $1.80 when using 'The Ticket'. Therefore, I highly recommend using 'The Ticket'. You can purchase 'The Ticket' at a number of places around Ottawa including OC Transpo offices. I usually get mine at the OC Transpo office at the Rideau Shopping Centre right downtown (one of the main transit system transfer points). This is probably the most convenient place for visitors to purchase 'The Ticket' as it is close to a number of museums, hotels, and the Market.
Bus Passes can also be a good deal if you are travelling with a family. You can purchase a Day Pass at one of the many vendors (check the website for locations) or on the bus. A Day Pass allows you individually or as a family (2 adults and up to 4 children aged 11 and under) to ride the bus system all day without worrying about the correct change or where you put those blasted Tickets! If you pre-buy a Day Pass at one of the OC Transpo locations it will cost $6. If you buy it on the bus it costs $6.50.
The bus system in Ottawa runs on a Proof of Payment system. If you are paying cash or are using 'The Ticket' be sure to grab a 'transfer' from the bus driver as your proof of payment. You certainly don't want to get dinged with a fine on your trip to Ottawa! The proof of payment also acts as your transfer for other buses. It is valid for 1 1/2 hours after first payment - good for short trips but not so good if you are travelling around the entire day or with a family. Therefore, I highly recommend the Day Pass.
There are 3 main kinds of routes in Ottawa: Black - regular routes; Red - weekday rush hours; and Green - weekday rush hours requiring premium fares. Bus stops list each bus by number and colour so it is easy to determine which bus stops at which location.
The 95 and 97 are the main cross-city routes which operate almost exclusively on the transitway (except in the downtown area). These two routes will get you from one point to another in an efficient and quick manner.
You can check the various routes, maps, and times on the OC Transpo website, but if you are like me and hate doing that, you can always pick up a paper copy of the route schedules at the OC Transpo offices. This is much more handy if you are travelling with your family and have to figure out where to go and at what time. You can't whip your desktop out of your backpack whenever you feel like it!
I've found the bilingual staff at the OC Transpo offices and on the buses very helpful whenever I've had questions. They know the city and the routes well and will be able to help you plan the best (whether the fastest or the most scenic) way to get to your destination.
There are a few special routes which you should be aware of. The 800-series buses run from 4am-6am. Bus 103 will get you to Jetform Park for Ottawa Lynx baseball games. The 400-series buses run to the Corel Centre for Ottawa Senators games and special events. These buses run across the entire city. Check the website for more info and look for the Connexion 400 signs for your bus stop when you are actually in Ottawa.
Problems: I've noticed that OC Transpo service on Sundays is not very reliable or efficient. Service is cut way back -- on some routes, only 1 bus per hour! The more busy and main routes are better but it is best to check with OC Transpo before you find yourself stranded.
Bus racks are provided on routes 1, 2, 7, 85, 95, 97, 105, 118 and 180. Unfortunately, there is space for only 2 bikes per bus. It is, however, more convenient than riding from one end of the city to the other when you hadn't planned on it! The use of the bike racks is free with your bus fare. If the racks are full, wait for the next bus.
Accessible buses run on a number of routes in Ottawa. Some routes are accessible all day, others on only some trips. The OC Transpo website will tell you exactly which bus routes and which trips have accessible buses and low-floor buses. These buses are not only convenient for wheelchair users but also for families with children in strollers.
Special Days and Activities: On particular days, bus travel can be free or discounted. For example, during the Tulip Festival, a free shuttle bus was provided to get visitors from one location to the others. On Canada Day, bus travel will be free after 10pm in order to facilitate the clearing of the crowds from Parliament Hill after the fireworks display (well, I suspect it also has something to do with getting people who've had a few too many to drink home safely). OC Transpo posts this information on its website.
Changes to Service: OC Transpo makes frequent changes to service because of the school year, road construction, etc. I hate waiting for a bus only to discover that the bus schedule has just changed.
Service was cut back on June 27, 2004 due to budget constraints. Most routes which tourists would use are generally unaffected. Check out the website or stop by an OC Transpo office for the full scoop.