Vancouver is a unique Canadian city, in that there is no major arterial that leads directly into the city centre. As a result, public transport is a central feature when it comes to getting around in downtown Vancouver, where most residents forgo driving in favour of public transport and cycling. Ultimately, the best option when it comes to getting around within the city centre is walking.
Public transport in Vancouver
Vancouver has an integrated public transport system operated by TransLink, the regional transportation authority. This public transport system is made up of buses, the rapid transit called the SkyTrain, and the SeaBus passenger ferry.
The best option for expats who commute regularly is the monthly Compass Card, which is a reloadable fare card available at all stations and offers unlimited travel on all public transport within designated zones.
Vancouver’s bus service covers a wide geographical area and travels along most of the major streets in the city. The frequency of bus services varies according to the route.
On busier routes, such as those running directly to and from Vancouver’s city centre and those operating during rush hour, services are scheduled to arrive every eight to 10 minutes.
On more suburban bus routes, commuters can expect to wait around 25 minutes between buses. After midnight, TransLink operates a NightBus, which covers largely the same areas served by regular buses and SkyTrain services.
Vancouver’s SkyTrain is a rapid transport system that connects the city centre to some of Vancouver’s southern and eastern suburbs. The system is made up of three colour-coded lines: the Expo, Millennium and Canada Lines.
The Expo Line and the Millennium Line serve the suburbs of Burnaby, New Westminster and Surrey, while the Canada Line connects the city centre to Richmond and Vancouver Airport.
The frequency of SkyTrain services varies depending on the line, with limited services during weekends and on public holidays.
Vancouver’s SeaBus is a passenger ferry service connecting Waterfront Station in the centre of Vancouver to Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver. The journey between these two terminals takes just 12 minutes.
The SeaBus runs every 15 minutes in the daytime. After 7pm, ferries leave Waterfront Station every 30 minutes. Services are limited on Sundays.
Taxis in Vancouver
Taxis in Vancouver are readily available, especially in the city centre. Those travelling from or within a quieter suburb will find it best to book a taxi in advance.
While taxis aren’t the cheapest way of getting around Vancouver, they are a safe and reliable mode of transport, especially for those travelling late at night.
Ride-hailing apps such as Uber are also available in Vancouver, and make for a convenient and stress-free means of travelling.
Cycling in Vancouver
Vancouver is a bicycle-friendly city and cycling is one of the fastest ways of getting around, especially in the urban areas. There is a whole network of cycle routes in Vancouver and all buses have bicycle racks in the front, allowing cyclists to reach the otherwise inaccessible parts of the city. Vancouver’s cycling infrastructure includes dedicated cycle lanes and safe bicycle storage facilities.
Despite the popularity of cycling among Vancouver’s residents, the city is unfortunately yet to implement a bicycle sharing programme similar to those in other Canadian cities such as Montreal or Toronto. So, for now, cycling enthusiasts living and working in Vancouver will need to invest in their own wheels.
Driving in Vancouver
Vancouver’s road network follows a simple grid system with streets running from north to south and numbered avenues running from east to west. Roads are always clearly marked, so it is generally easy for drivers to navigate the city.
In the city centre, drivers often have to cross bridges, which results in traffic congestion, especially during peak times, weekend afternoons and major sporting events.
Drivers will usually have to pay at a parking meter. Payment can be made using a mobile app, credit card or coins. Alternatively, drivers can park in an Easy Park parkade, which are available throughout the city and are a cheaper option than street parking. Please be aware that some parking bays have time limits.
Parking regulations in Vancouver are strictly enforced and the fines are hefty. While it is possible to find free parking on residential streets, drivers should note that parking spots on streets close to SkyTrain stations or major bus stops are likely to be for permit holders only.