Canadian airports and cities

Nanaimo joins growing list of airports with transit service

A handshake marked the inauguration of transit service to Quebec City International Airport in August 2019 (photo: Quebec City Airport Authority).

Nanaimo Airport on Vancouver Island inaugurated regular transit service Monday, becoming one of the the smallest Canadian passenger facilities to join the list. A new route links the airport and the city centre, five times a day.

The airport handled 435,000 passengers in 2018, a 21% increase over the previous years, and blowing through the airport’s projections. Nanaimo is in the midst of building a $15 million expansion.

“It’s great to see this starting,” said Twitter user Jason Pineau, “a great option instead of parking at the airport. However, with no service after 1830 or on weekends, I’ll still have to drive.”

Before Nanaimo, Quebec City was the last Canadian airport to welcome transit service when the first bus arrived at the terminal on August 28 last year.

“The creation of routes 76 and 80 is good news for both passengers and airport workers,” Stéphane Poirier, YQB’s president and CEO, said at the time. “Hundreds of thousands of people who travel to and from YQB each year will now have access to an affordable travel option. This greatly increases the accessibility of the airport site.” 

Canada largely lags other countries when it comes to airport transit service, although there have been marked improvements over the past 15 years.

Two airports – Vancouver and Toronto – have inaugurated frequent train service to the downtown core in addition to bus service. Indeed, Toronto has grander plans with its Union Station West proposal, designed to make the airport a ground transit and train hub for the sprawling metropolis.

Two others are adding trains, with Ottawa in the midst of building a station for the capital’s light rail extension, and Montreal readying the airport for a connection to the region’s $6 billion rapid transit expansion.

An artist’s rendering of the train station at Ottawa International Airport under construction (photo: City of Ottawa).

While other airports have bus service to varying degrees, it has not always been easy. In 2017, city bus service to Edmonton International Airport was put on life support and the cash fare doubled to $10 when the airport authority withdrew its operating subsidy. Service was only restored a year later thanks to a four-way deal called the Airport Accord.

“We are sustained by an excellent long-term relationship with all surrounding municipalities,” Tom Ruth, President and CEO of Edmonton International Airport, said at the time. “Enhanced transit connections to and around the airport lands are an essential step towards advancing the mandate of the Accord partnership.”

Abbotsford, British Columbia, which in 2019 welcomed more than one million passengers for the first time lags far behind, with only a single bus trip to the airport in the morning and a smattering in the afternoon, though private inter-city coaches also stop at the facility.

AirportTransit serviceFrequency / Hours
Nanaimo, B.C.BusFive trips
Victoria, B.C.Bus30 – 60 / 0630 – 2040
VancouverTrain6 – 12 / 0448 – 0105
Abbotsford, B.C.BusFour trips
Kelowna, B.C.Bus15 – 30 / 0556 – 1831
CalgaryBus (2 routes)20 / 0526 – 2350
EdmontonBus30 – 60 / 0410 – 2348
SaskatoonBus30 – 60 / 0602 – 0008
WinnipegBus (2 routes)10 – 15 / 0549 – 0200
Thunder Bay, ONBusEight trips
TorontoTrain15 / 0509 – 0114
TorontoBus10 – 20 / 24 hour
HamiltonBus20 – 30 / 0525 – 1928
OttawaBus15 – 30 / 24 hour
MontrealBus6 – 60 / 24 hour
Quebec CityBus (2 routes)30 / 0500 – 0030
HalifaxBus30 / 0545 – 0015
St. John’sBus60 / 0650 – 2220
A summary of bus service to major airports across Canada.

Transit and private vehicles – either driven or hired – are two of the few ways to reach most airports. While parking is a major source of airport revenue, transit reduces the strain on airport infrastructure, particularly curbside drop off space, and the need to build costly parking structures.

Regina International is one of the few major Canadian airports still without transit service.