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Vancouver is unique compared to most other cities in Canada, in that there is no major highway that leads directly into the city centre.
As a result, public transport is a central feature when it comes to getting around Vancouver. Driving is more common in the suburban areas.
The majority of city residents abandon their cars 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 that is 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 plan on commuting regularly is the monthly Compass Card, which is a reloadable fare card that offers unlimited travel on all modes of public transport within designated zones.
Compass Cards and single tickets can be purchased at vending machines located at all SkyTrain stations and SeaBus terminals throughout Vancouver, as well as at some supermarkets.
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 bus routes, such as those travelling to and from Vancouver’s city centre and those operating during rush hour, services are scheduled to arrive every eight to 10 minutes.
However, on more suburban bus routes, commuters can expect a wait of around 25 minutes between buses. After midnight, TransLink operates a NightBus, which covers most of the area normally served by regular buses and SkyTrain services.
Vancouver’s SkyTrain is a rapid transport system which 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 Line, the Millennium Line and the Canada Line.
The Expo Line and the Millennium Line serve the suburbs of Burnaby, New Westminster and Surrey, and the Canada Line connects the city centre to Richmond and Vancouver Airport.
The frequency of SkyTrain services varies, depending on the line being travelled on, with services more limited at 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 during the daytime. After 7pm, ferries leave Waterfront Station every 30 minutes. Services are more 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 of the city will find it is 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 through the city late at night. The cost of a taxi becomes more reasonable if it is split amongst a larger group travelling to the same destination.
Ride-hailing apps such as Uber are also available in Vancouver, and make for a convenient and stress-free means of travel.
Cycling in Vancouver
Vancouver is a bicycle-friendly city and cycling is one of the fastest ways of getting around, especially in more urban areas. There is a whole network of cycle routes in Vancouver and all buses have bicycle racks on the front, which allow cyclists to get to less accessible parts of the city. The infrastructure in place to assist cyclists in getting around the city includes designated cycle lanes and safe bicycle storage facilities.
Unfortunately, despite the popularity of cycling among Vancouver’s residents, the city is yet to implement a bicycle sharing system similar to those in other Canadian cities such as Montreal or Toronto. So, for now, commuters living and working in Vancouver who plan on cycling will need to invest in their own bicycle.
Driving in Vancouver
Vancouver’s road network follows a simple grid system with streets running from north to south and avenues running from east to west. Most avenues are numbered and usually use 'East' or 'West' to designate which side of Ontario Street they are on. Roads are always clearly marked, so it is generally easy for drivers to navigate their way around Vancouver.
In the city centre, drivers often have to cross bridges, which results in traffic congestion, especially at peak times, weekend afternoons and during major sporting events. It is best to avoid driving during busy times, if possible.
Drivers will usually have to pay at a parking meter. These meters can be paid using a mobile app, credit card or coins. Alternatively, drivers can park in an Easy Park Parkade, which are located throughout the city and are generally a more economical option than street parking. Please be aware that some parking bays have time limits.
Parking regulations in Vancouver are strictly enforced and parking fines are hefty. While it is possible to find free parking on residential streets, drivers should be aware that parking on streets close to SkyTrain stations or major bus stops are likely to be for permit holders only.
►Read Areas and Suburbs of Vancouver to make an informed decision on where to base your home
"Vancouver’s public transportation is great. The SkyTrain and bus routes are well-routed and one can travel around exclusively on public transport if needed. However, it’s always more convenient to own a car in North America and I would say if you have children, owning a car is a necessity."
Read more about American expat Cyrus's experiences in Vancouver.
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