Driving in Canada is similar to driving in the United States and Europe. Many Vancouverites own and drive cars on a daily basis, and it is very handy to have a car for shopping and commuting, but not a necessity. Public transit is excellent and readily available, and it is quite possible to get around without a car unless you choose to live in one of the outlying areas of the Lower Mainland. Please see the preceding sections on public transit for alternate forms of transportation.
Although driving in Vancouver can be challenging, due to traffic and pedestrian congestion (particularly true in the downtown), it isn’t especially difficult as most streets and roads are well-marked and most traffic rules are fairly similar to those in most Western countries.
If you have a family, and will be doing large amounts of grocery shopping, it is worthwhile to own a car, even if you don’t drive it every day. Many Vancouverites use their car mainly on the weekends, and indeed, the local insurance authority, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) offers a type of auto insurance that is for leisure-use only, rather than for work or commuting-use. This type of insurance is less expensive.
If you live in the downtown, owning a car isn’t terribly important, as you can get around and shop easily without one, but still, many people prefer to own a car and most condos and places to live offer some type of parking (sometimes for a fee), although it may well be street parking.
The cost of gasoline is significantly higher than in the United States, although probably less expensive than in parts of Europe. As of 2011, gas prices in Vancouver hover around $1.37 per liter, which is close to $5.50 per liter. Gas is typically cheaper toward the end of the weekend and more expensive at the start of a new workweek.
Insurance can be expensive, especially if you don’t qualify for an experienced driver discount (more about this in the “Car insurance” section). Expats coming from the U.S. will likely be surprised at the high cost of auto insurance here, which is typically at least 50% higher.
There are several car-sharing programs available in Vancouver, if you only need a car occasionally. The major companies are Zipcar and Modo, which offer the self-serve use of a car when you need it, on a first-come, first-serve basis.
If car-sharing isn’t for you, owning a car can be convenient, as can taking public transit. It all depends on your priorities and lifestyle.