Getting around in Vancouver – A brief look at the public transport system

Moving from a country where public transport leaves a lot to be desired to a place where there is a proper public transport system, seems like an upgrade. And in many respects it is. This post looks at the different public transport options available to you if you live in Vancouver, Canada.

All Vancouver Public Transportation is run by TransLink, the Metro Vancouver transportation authority. TransLink operates a variety of public transportation options in Vancouver.

Firstly, there are two types of trains:

There is the Canada Line & SkyTrain Rapid Transit – Rapid transit refers to the automated trains that run above and below ground. SkyTrain consists of the Expo Line and the Millennium Line. A third system called the Canada Line provides the travel from the airport to Downtown Vancouver. The Vancouver rapid transit runs from north to south from Vancouver Airport to Waterfront Station in Downtown Vancouver as well as from east to west/southeast from Waterfront Station to the cities Burnaby and Coquitlam.


And there is the West Coast Express – The West Coast Express is a driver-led train that connects Waterfront Station in Downtown Vancouver to Mission, with select stops along the way. This is the executive train that aims to get commuters to work fast and efficiently. So it runs on weekdays only and only during peak commute times in the mornings and evenings.


Secondly, there are also two types of buses:

TransLink provides continuous bus services throughout the day. In addition to traditional buses there are also express lines that make fewer stops, and community shuttles that carry fewer passengers to specific areas of the City.

Most buses are electrical and run on electric lines that run throughout the city centre

Seabuses carry passengers to and from Waterfront Station in Downtown Vancouver to North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Quay. They are actually boats/ferries, despite being called “buses”.

Alternative to traditional public transport

And then of course there is Zipcar. What is Zipcar you might ask? Zipcars live where you need them most. Zipcar is a car-sharing service that allows you to “borrow/lease” a car for a short period of time. For example, say you need to run an errand in the city during your lunch break, you could use a Zipcar to drive to your selected destinations and then you drop the Zipcar off at a recognised parking depot once you are done with the car. Zipcar is basically a car rental service with a twist. You reserve wheels when you want them, by the hour or day (online or in the Zipcar app) and only pay for the time you use them. And unlike a car rental, there’s no waiting in line at the counter, because everything is booked and finalised on the mobile phone app. You collect the car from selected locations and use your zipcard to unlock and lock the car. Below is a breakdown of how it works:

Something you might not expect to see, when using the public transport system in Vancouver, is the bear warning signs…

Yes, there are actual bears roaming around in the city. It depends on where you live, whether you will actually see a bear. If you live close to the mountain or in Coquitlam, you will probably encounter a bear at some point. So here’s holding thumbs…

Bear in the streets of Coquitlam during spring time

Despite all these options, the availability and viability of these travel options depend on where in the city you live. Some areas of Vancouver are more easily accessible by train or bus than other parts. For this reason, public transport is probably a good option for commuting to work and back, but it does not solve all your travel challenges. Travelling from the Superstore with your groceries  for example, is probably best done with a car unless you can take friends along on the train to help  you carry all your bags – a difficult thing to do if you are a newcomer with no friends. Furthermore, for road trips out of the city or across the US border, a car is probably a better mode of transport. Depending on your location and budget, you might have access to a Zipcar, but you also might not. So when all else fails, you buy a car right?! Read the next instalment of this blog to learn what you need to know about buying a car in Vancouver.

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