Travel information: getting around Vancouver

With its efficient bus service and famous Skytrain, Vancouver offers an easy ride

By Rebecca Tay

A small and compact city by North American standards, Vancouver is easy to negotiate on foot, at least until you venture to the North Shore. TransLink oversees an efficient public transport system; the bus service is as good as the sometimes congested roads allow, and the bus drivers tend to be remarkably sympathetic, offering travel advice and turning a blind eye if you don't have the exact change ($2.50 buys you 90 minutes' travel anywhere in zone 1).

Public transport

Vancouver has a varied, efficient and well-integrated public transport network. This is currently operated by the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority (TransLink), though the authority is under threat from the governing BC Liberal party.

TransLink information
www.translink.ca/604 953 3333.
The Transportation Services Guide For Greater Vancouver is a map of bus, SkyTrain and SeaBus routes. It's available from bookstores, convenience stores and tourist information offices. SkyTrain and SeaBus are wheelchair accessible, but not all city buses provide this service. If you know the bus route you'd like to take contact TransLink for accessibility details.

TransLink fares & tickets

Ticketing zones

Vancouver is divided into three zones for the purpose of ticketing. The Yellow Zone (Zone 1) covers downtown; the Red Zone (Zone 2) covers the suburbs, and the Green Zone (Zone 3) covers the city's metropolitan districts. Although the majority of visitors will spend most of their time in downtown it should be noted that North Vancouver and Vancouver International Airport are in the Red Zone.

Cash fares

If you will only be making one or two trips a day on public transport a cash fare is your best option. A Zone One journey will cost $2.50 adult, $1.75 reductions; a Zone 1-2 journey will cost $3.75 adult, $2.50 reductions; and a Zone 1-3 journey will cost $5 adult, $3.50 reductions. After 6.30pm an All Zone ticket is $2.50 adult, $1.75 reductions.

Cash tickets are only valid for 90 minutes, but this is an ample amount of time for any journey you are likely to make on the TransLink system.

DayPasses, FareSaver tickets & Monthly FareCards

If your day is likely to involve using a lot of public transport, your best option is a DayPass. It's valid all day and covers all three zones for $9 for an adult ($7 reductions). An alternative to a DayPass is a book of ten FareSaver Tickets. A book of Zone 1 tickets costs $19; a book of tickets for Zones 1-2 costs $28.50, and for Zones 1-3 it's $38. Visitors should note that these tickets can only be used up to 6.30pm and, as with cash fares, each ticket a maximum validity of 90 minutes.

If you are staying in Vancouver for a month, consider buying a Monthly FareCard. They cost $73 for travel in Zone 1; $99 for travel in Zones 1-2, and $136 for travel in Zones 1-3. If you are entitled to a concessionary fare an All Zone Monthly FareCard costs just $42.

DayPasses, FareSaver Tickets and Monthly FareCards are available from SkyTrain stations, SeaBus terminals and any shop displaying the FareDealer sign. As a tourist you will be entitled to the concessionary fares if you are a senior citizen or a child between the ages of 3-13. If your children are around the age of 13 it would be best to have some photo ID handy as proof of age. Children under the age of 3 travel free.

SkyTrain

The SkyTrain (www.skytrain.info) is an iconic symbol of Vancouver. It is the longest automated light rapid transit system in the world. It covers 49km (30 miles) and stops at 33 stations across the Greater Vancouver area, but it does not cover enough of the city to be a stand-alone mode of transport. The addition of the Canada line in 2009 will go some way to addressing this problem. However, used in conjunction with the bus service it is a fast, fun and uncrowded way of getting around.

SkyTrain times

Services on the SkyTrain run between 5am-1am Mon-Fri; 6am-1am Saturday; 7am-midnight Sun. The average wait for a train is approximately four minutes, but the frequency of the service can range from two to eight minutes depending on the time of day.

The system comprises two lines: the Millennium Line runs from Waterfront Station through downtown and out towards the suburbs before looping back East Vancouver; the Expo Line follows the same branches off into the suburbs. The soon to be completed Canada Line will connect downtown with the airport and Richmond.

SkyTrain fares & tickets

You do not need the exact fare to purchase a ticket but, be sure to ask for a transfer if you are making a connection. The longest journey on the SkyTrain system takes approximately 40 minutes, but all TransLink cash tickets are valid for 90 minutes so you should have no problem completing your journey within the allotted time. SkyTrain fares vary according to age, the zones you travel in, and the time of day you are travelling.

If you plan on using the SkyTrain regularly a book of ten FareSaver tickets, or a DayPass, might be your best option. FareSaver tickets also serve as transfers. Fares for the SkyTrain range from $2.50 for a single journey in Zone 1 to $38 for a book of ten FareSaver tickets that allow travel across all three zones. A DayPass valid for all zones is $9. Children four years and younger travel free, and there are reductions for older children, students and seniors.

SkyTrain commuter & airport routes

Two SkyTrain lines serve commuters from sprawling East Vancouver and Surrey, and allow tourists a reliable means to access Science World, Commercial Drive or Canada's second-largest shopping mall, Metropolis at Metrotown. The Waterfront transport nexus close to the sails of Canada Place is also the terminal for the SeaBus to North Vancouver. A third SkyTrain route, the Canada Line (www.canadaline.ca), bagan running between Richmond, the airport and downtown Vancouver on Labour Day 2009.

Mostly, though, visitors base themselves in Downtown and rarely stray far beyond Kitsilano Beach on the West Side, Chinatown to the east, VanDusen gardens to the south and Grouse Mountain to the north - all located within a 30-minute bus ride of Robson Square.

SeaBus

The SeaBus links the downtown Waterfront Station with Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver. Sailings in both directions occur at 15-30 minute intervals depending on the time of day. The service runs from 6am to midnight Mon-Sat; and from 8am to 11pm Sun. The crossing takes around 12 minutes.

The SeaBus service connects with the SkyTrain and buses at Waterfront Station. If you begin your journey by bus and plan on making a connection, ask the driver for a transfer. Tickets for SkyTrain and SeaBus are available from stations and terminals. Ticket machines accept $5 and $10 bills, as well as coins.

City buses

City buses offer the most effective and comprehensive means of getting around the city. During the daytime there is at least one bus every ten minutes on most routes, and the NightBus service operates at 30-minute intervals, seven days a week, until 3am. Travelling by bus during rush hour should be avoided. Note that you will need the exact fare when making your journey by bus.

Taxis

All taxi firms in British Columbia are regulated by the Passenger Transportation Board (250 953 3777). In the Lower Mainland, the meter starts at $2.75 (inclusive of taxes) and the cost for each successive kilometre is $1.60. Many of Vancouver's taxi operators have switched to hybrid vehicles, resulting in a severe depletion of the number of larger cars available - if there are more than four in your party, you may need to book two cars.

If you think you may have left any belongings in a taxi call the firm directly. Taxis can be hailed in the street or ordered on these numbers:

Black Top & Checker Cabs
604 731 1111.
Maclure's Cabs 604 683 6666/www.maclurescabs.ca.
Vancouver Taxi 604 871 1111.
Yellow Taxi 604 681 1111.

Driving

Vancouverites love to complain about congestion, but save for the main commuter arteries at rush hour (the Lions Gate Bridge, Highway 99 towards the Oak St Bridge) you are unlikely to encounter anything that visitors from London, New York, LA or Paris would consider even a minor hold up. This city is eminently traversable by car - but you probably won't need one until you explore the North Shore or venture further into the interior of British Columbia.

Speed limits

The city speed limit is 50 km/h (31mph) unless otherwise specified. In school zones it drops to 30km/h. On the bridges, it rises to 60 km/h. On freeways the limit ranges between 80 and 110 km/h.

Driving regulations

Driving regulations are similar to those in Britain and the United States, with the obvious proviso that you drive on the right-hand side of the road. Seat-belts are mandatory. You are obliged to yield to public buses. Keep your eyes out for overhead traffic lights and stop at stop signs. You may turn right on a red light once pedestrians have crossed and it is safe to do so.

When turning left at intersections, vehicles are expected to cross in front of their opposite number. Pay attention to overhead signs with restrictions on turns at certain times of day.

Pedestrians have right of way at crosswalks and intersections, and outside of the main thoroughfares drivers will generally stop if a pedestrian is even approaching the curb at an intersection.

Car hire

To rent a car in BC you will have to be 21 years of age (some companies require drivers to be over 25) and be in possession of a driving licence and a credit card.

All the major companies have offices in downtown Vancouver and at the airport; in Victoria; and many have representatives in Whistler. In high season, reserve ahead. Prices start at about $30 a day. Check whether your travel insurance covers driving before taking out additional coverage.

Hire companies

Alamo 1132 W Georgia Street, at Thurlow Street (604 684 1401/www.alamo.ca).
Avis 757 Hornby Street, at W Georgia Street, Downtown (604 606 2869/www.avis.ca).
Budget 416 W Georgia Street, at Homer Street (694 668 7090/ www.budget.com).
Enterprise 585 Smithe Street, at Seymour Street (604 688 5500/www.enterprise.com).
Hertz 1128 Seymour Street, at Helmcken Street (604 606 4711/www.hertz.ca).
National 1130 W Georgia Street, at Thurlow Street (604 609 7150/www.nationalcar.ca).
Thrifty 413 Seymour Street, at W Hastings Street (604 606 1666/www.thrifty.com).

Breakdown services

Unless your home automobile association has a reciprocal arrangement with the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA; 604 268 5600, 604 293 2222 for road service) you will need a towing service. In Vancouver, Busters tow trucks are ubiquitous as they're contracted by the city to impound illegally parked vehicles (call 604 685 7246 if your parked car has vanished). But the company also offers an emergency road service (604 685 8181, www.busterstowing.com). Alternatives include Mundie's (604 526 9677), Canuck Towing (604 254 0501) and Drake Towing (604 251 3344).

Parking

Most downtown streets are metered and enforced by parking wardens between 8am-6pm daily. Expect to pay $2 for 60 minutes - but note that even some metered streets have parking restrictions in the rush hour period. On non-metered streets, park only in the direction of the traffic, and not within six metres (20 feet) of a stop sign or within five metres (16 feet) of a fire hydrant. Park illegally and you will be towed (see above). Car parks are common throughout the city. Most ticket machines take credit cards or change. You can pay between $8 and $20 for all-day parking in the downtown area.

Cycling

Vancouver is an ideal city for cyclists, with cycle routes alongside the Seawall around the downtown peninsula, Stanley Park and False Creek. TransLink publishes a route map which is available from most bike stores. It is illegal to ride a bike without a helmet, a law which also applies to child passengers. Buses on the North Shore and increasingly elsewhere are equipped to take bikes on racks mounted on the front of the bus. This excellent service is free; TransLink's website (www.translink.ca) has further details.

Cycling out of town

The North Shore, a boat trip away across Burrard Inlet, and Whistler 120 kilometres (72 miles) to the north are both renowned for their mountain bike trails. Victoria, Vancouver Island and the Okanagan Valley are also popular cycling holiday destinations.

Walking

There can't be many cities with such spectacular nature walks in their midst. Stanley Park and the Seawall are obvious places to start, but the walk from Kitsilano Beach all the way out to Wreck Beach at the University of British Columbia is also scenic, if long (approximately 10 kilometres or 6 miles). The Pacific Spirit Regional Park (also known as the Endowment Lands) east of UBC is a wilder alternative to Stanley Park, and there are many good hikes within easy reach on the North Shore.

Our listings

While every effort and care has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this guide, the publisher cannot accept responsibility for any errors it may contain. Before you go out of your way, we strongly advise you to phone ahead and check the particulars.

More travel information

Getting to Vancouver
Vancouver fast facts A-Z
When to go to Vancouver

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