skytrain vancouver

Vancouver Public Transport Mega Guide (+Local Tips)

Having trouble sorting out your Vancouver public transport? Well that’s no surprise. Even locals like us are still learning the nuances of Vancouver public transportation system.

I can only imagine how travellers like you feel navigating the city’s complex complex web of Skytrain (our subway/metro), bus, and ferry services.

Luckily you don’t need to worry as you’ll have my years of experience (and screw ups!) with you along the way as you discover the city stress-free!

Here’s my Vancouver public transport mega guide.

Index

  1. Overview
  2. Vancouver transit fares + zone map
  3. Transit passes
  4. Skytrain
  5. Buses
  6. The Seabus
  7. False Creek Ferries
  8. Bike sharing and rentals
  9. The West Coast Express
  10. FAQs

Vancouver Public Transport

skytrain arrives at a station in vancouver canada

People always ask me how easy it is getting around Vancouver without a car. I often here people telling me that they’d heard that you absolutely need a car or taxi to get around town.

While having wheels definitely comes with its advantages, I’m here to show you that these people are wrong.

With a few useful travel hacks and a little patience you’ll find that Vancouver public transit is clean, efficient, and affordable. You’ll have no problem accessing all of the city’s top attractions.

First lets cover the basics.

Vancouver Transportation Options

Public transport in Vancouver is overseen by a regional transportation authority called Translink.

Translink operates a system that includes:

  1. The Skytrain: Greater Vancouver’s metro system
  2. The Coast Mountain Bus Company:  A provider of an extensive network of bus routes
  3. The Seabus: A downtown to North Vancouver passenger ferry
  4. The West Coast Express: A commuter train that links downtown with Vancouver’s Eastern suburbs

Additionally, the city is one of the most bike friendly cities in North America. You can use the regional bike share system known as Mobi or private bike rentals to access our vast network of bike lanes. Or better yet, take them for a spin on the legendary Seawall.

Lastly, there are two private companies: Aquabus and False Creek Ferries, that provide a small passenger ferry service throughout False Creek.

Vancouver Transit Fares

The cost of your trip depends on four main factors:

  • Distance travelled: (number of zones)
  • Method of payment: (cash, compass card or day pass)
  • Mode of transport: (transit option used)
  • Time of purchase: (weekday, evening or holiday)

Each factor will be discussed in detail below but in the meantime, here is a quick look at the fare list.

vancouver fare list

*Concession rates apply to seniors (65+), children (5-13) and youth (14-18) with valid ID.

Fare Zone Map

The Metro Vancouver area is divided up into four zones:

vancouver fare zone map

  • Zone 1-Encompasses the entirety of the City of Vancouver, including Downtown and the city’s Southern peninsula.
  • Zone 2-Covers the neighbouring suburbs on the North Shore, Richmond, Burnaby, and New Westminster.
  • Zone 3-Is constituted of the more distant suburbs to the East, including; Delta, Surrey, Langley, Coquitlam, and Port Moody
  • The Airport Zone-Includes the three stations located on Sea Island, including YVR-Airport.
Airport Travel

All travellers are required to pay the $5 YVR addfare surcharge in addition to any ticket purchased that leaves Sea Island.

This surcharge is not levied for trips to the airport from the City Centre.

For more information on travel from YVR check out our Airport Transportation guide.

Mode of Transport

The Skytrain and Seabus require a 1, 2, or 3 zone ticket dependent on the time of day and distance of travel.

However, it is important to note that all bus trips are considered one zone fares regardless of trip duration.

Methods of Payment

There are 4 methods of payment on all forms of transit operated by Translink:

  1. Single/Cash Fares: Cash or credit/debit card purchase of a single fare.
  2. Stored Value (Compass Card): Vancouver’s reloadable fare card.
  3. Day Pass: 24 hours of service across the transit system.
  4. Monthly Pass: Provides unlimited access for one month.

Each method of payment will be discussed in detail in the corresponding sections below.

Single/Cash Fares

With a single fare you can transfer as often as you like between the Skytrain, buses, and Seabus within 90 minutes with one notable exception (below).

There are three methods of purchase for single fares:

1) Cash From a Compass Vending Machine (CVM)

You can purchase a single fare (called a Compass Pass), from vending machines at any Skytrain or Seabus station, or at most London Drugs locations.

These fares can be purchased with cash, debit card, or credit card and allow for transfer across all modes of transport for up to 90 minutes.

Single fare passes expire at the end of the day of purchase even if not used.

2) Cash Aboard a Bus

Exact coin fare is required for cash payment aboard a bus.

This fare enables the user to unlimited use of the Metro Vancouver bus system for up 90 minutes with acceptance of a transfer.

Unfortunately this does not extend to the Skytrain system. A Compass Card or Compass Pass is required for free transfer to Skytrain, Seabus, or West Coast Express services.

3) Tap to Pay

You can simply tap your contactless credit card (Visa or Mastercard) or mobile wallet (Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay) on any of the card readers located at the front of the bus or Skytrain fare gates to begin your journey.

On the Skytrain, be sure to tap your card or device when transferring/exiting the station (not required on buses) otherwise you may incur additional charges.

Note that card readers do not accept debit cards.

Vancouver Transit Passes

A Compass Card

Compass Card

The Compass Card is Vancouver’s easy reloadable fare card that works on Translink’s entire Skytrain, Bus, West Coast Express and Seabus network.

As displayed in the fare table above the Compass Card offers users travel at a discounted rate relative to regular cash fares.

Consequently, we strongly recommend Compass Card purchase if you expect to make extensive use of the transit system.

Types of Compass Card

There are three types of Compass Card available for purchase, in addition to the single fare Compass Pass discussed above.

1) Adult Compass Card

The most popular option, the adult Compass Card can be loaded with stored value or pass products (daily or monthly passes).

Available online, at Compass Vending Machines (CVMs), or at select retail locations (see the section below for details).

2) Concession Compass Card

The concession Compass Card offers discounted rates of travel for seniors aged 65 and over, children between 5-13 and youth 14-18 with valid photo ID (children under 5 ride free).

The cards are available online, at select retail locations, the Compass Customer Service Centre at Stadium-Chinatown Station and the West Coast Express Office at Waterfront Station (see the section below for details).

3) Compass Card wristbands

In addition to the traditional card format, the Compass Card is also available in a recently introduced wristband (in both adult and concessionary format).

Wristbands are only available at the Compass Customer Service Centre at Stadium-Chinatown Station or the West Coast Express Office at Waterfront Station.

They function in exactly the same manner as the traditional card format and can be obtained for the same $6 deposit.

How do you purchase a Compass Card?

There are four different ways to purchase your card.

1) Compass Vending Machines (CVM)

Located in all Skytrain, Seabus and West Coast Express stations as well as the Horseshoe Bay and Tsawwassen ferry terminals.

*Note that concession Compass Cards are not available at CVMs.

2) Local Retailers

Compass Cards are available at select retailers such as, London Drugs, Save On Foods, 7-11, Shoppers Drug Mart and Safeway.

This is the preferred option for purchase of concession Compass Cards.

Looking for a place close to you? Check out their find a retailer page.

3) Online

Online purchase is likely of little use for tourists as it requires delivery.

However, if you’ve got an address to send them to in the city pre-loaded Compass Cards are available for purchase on the Translink website.

For more details click the link here

4) The Compass Customer Service Centre

Located at Stadium-Chinatown Station.

There is a refundable $6 deposit required to purchase a Compass Card. At the end of your trip this amount can be returned to you, along with any remaining balance.

How do you use a Compass Card?

Skytrain, Seabus & The West Coast Express

The Compass tap at the Skytrain Gate

Simply tap your card on the card readers located at the entrance to the station. This will automatically initiate a three zone fare.

Once your journey is over, be sure to tap out upon exiting the station. And remember, this also applies to key transfer points.

Tapping out ensures that the proper amount will be deducted from your stored value. Otherwise, you’ll be dinged for a three zone fare.

Buses

The Compass tap on a busWhen travelling by bus, tap in on the card readers located on board at the front of the bus, or on the rear doors upon B-line or Express buses.

You will only be charged for a one zone journey, as the entire Coast Mountain bus network is considered one zone.

Consequently, you are not required to tap out at the end of your journey.

Day passes

Purchase of a Vancouver transit day pass grants unlimited access to the Skytrain, bus, and Seabus networks on the day of purchase.

The passes cost $10.25 for adults or $8.00 for seniors and youths.

Unlike many cities offering passes with validity for 24 hours after validation, Vancouver transit day passes expire at the end of the service day they are purchased, even if unused.

For this reason we only recommend purchasing a day pass if you plan on getting an early start and need to travel extensively throughout multiple zones.

There are two ways to buy day passes:

1) Purchase a Day Pass Ticket

You can purchase a day pass from a Compass Vending Machine (CVM) located within any Skytrain, Seabus or West Coast Express Station, or from any select retailer that offers Compass products.

2) Load a Day Pass onto a Compass Card

You can add a day pass to your Compass Card online or at any CVM located within any Skytrain, Seabus or West coast Express station.

*Note that the day pass will be used before any stored value already on your card, so only buy one when you intend to use it.

Now that you are well versed on all of the payment options, let’s get familiar with Vancouver’s main transport options.

Still confused? Hit me up in the comments below.

Skytrain

skytrain vancouver

The Skytrain is Vancouver’s fully automated metro system.

The system’s name is derived from the fact that the majority of its tracks are elevated well above the streets below.

This provides users with panoramic views of Vancouver’s skyline and the North Shore Mountains.

Fast, efficient, and cost effective, Skytrain is fully equipped with all of the modern amenities regarding security and handicap accessibility.

This is simply  the best way to get around Vancouver. Consequently, I highly recommend using the Skytrain as your primary method of public transport.

Skytrain Route Map

The Skytrain has three fully integrated lines, as displayed in the route map below:

Skytrain route map
Courtesy: Paul Wittal

The Canada Line

Opened for the 2010 Olympics, the Canada Line is the newest line in Vancouver’s metro system.

As the principal method of airport transportation, it will likely be your introduction to the Vancouver public transportation system.

The Canada Line has two main branches:

Richmond-Brighouse

This branch operates North-South between Waterfront Station in Downtown Vancouver and Richmond-Brighouse Station in the suburb of Richmond, BC.

This means it provides service to most of the area’s airport hotels, the River Rock Casino and the wealth of dining and shopping options located throughout Richmond.

YVR-Airport

The line branches off from Bridgeport Station in Richmond and heads to YVR-Airport Station on Sea Island, which will form most visitors introduction to the city of Vancouver.

In addition to YVR, this branch services the popular McArthurGlen Outlet Centre via Templeton Station.

If you’d like a more detailed look at the Canada Line, including schedules, hop on over to the Canada Line web page.

The Expo Line

The original Skytrain route constructed for Expo ’86, this line contains two branches that provide service from Downtown through East Vancouver to the city’s Eastern suburbs.

From a tourist perspective, both branches will provide service to the major sites and attractions located in Chinatown, Gastown, and Vancouver’s Little Italy, located on Commercial Drive.

It also provides service to Pacific Central Station, which offers train and coach service to Whistler, Seattle, and Vancouver Island.

Most tourists will not venture far enough East to reach the divergence in lines. So unless you are heading to Surrey or New Westminster, by all means jump on either train.

The Expo Line has two main branches:

King George

The first branch operates from Waterfront Station in Downtown Vancouver and heads South-East through East Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster before terminating at King George Station in the suburb of Surrey, BC.

Lougheed

The second route follows the same route from Waterfront Station but after Columbia Station in New Westminster branches off and heads North-East towards Production Way in Burnaby.

For detailed schedules and maps visit Expo Line website.

The Millennium Line

The aptly named Millennium Line was opened shortly after the new millennium in 2002. As the line does not enter Downtown Vancouver, it will likely be of little use to most tourists.

It heads East from VCC-Clark Station in East Vancouver through Burnaby before heading North-East across the suburbs of Port Moody and Coquitlam. The newly opened Evergreen Extension will then take you to the terminus Lafarge Lake-Douglas Station.

Check out Translink’s Millennium Line site for more details.

Skytrain Hours

The three Skytrain lines have similar schedules with a few slight variations:

skytrain hours

The above table is offered as a rough guide. Please consult the Translink for exact schedules and interactive maps for all three lines.

Saturdays
  • Canada Line hours stay the same
  • The Expo and Millennium Lines begin service later, at 6:48am and 6:30am respectively, with the last train running at regular hours
  • All lines offer reduced frequency
Sundays/Holidays
  • Canada Line hours don’t change
  • The Expo Line offers service from 7:48am-12:16am
  • The Millennium Line runs from 7:30am-12:29am
  • Frequency is reduced on all lines

Skytrain User Tips

Use stored value

We recommend purchase a Compass Card for ease of use and most importantly to receive discounted rates.

Avoid public transit day passes

Unless you get an early start and plan on travelling extensively throughout zones 2 and 3, day passes don’t provide the best value.

Bring your things

The Skytrain has plenty of room for luggage, bicycles, and skis/snowboards. Plus there are elevators in every station.

Grab a window seat

If travelling outside the city centre on the Expo or Millennium Lines, or in Richmond on the Canada Line you will be afforded spectacular views of Vancouver’s skyline, the North Shore Mountains and the Fraser River.

Vancouver Buses

an express bus travels through vancouver bc canada

The Vancouver bus network is extensive and offers efficient, safe, and reliable service throughout Vancouver and its many suburbs.

As valuable a transportation tool as the Skytrain is, it simply does not offer the same degree of coverage as many metro lines in comparably sized European and Asian cities.

As a result, use of Vancouver’s bus network will become a necessity for travellers who wish to explore some of Vancouver’s more distant attractions in areas like Kitsilano, UBC and East Vancouver.

Vancouver Bus Routes

Vancouver’s bus network operates on a grid system, with most routes generally terminating in Downtown Vancouver or at the University of British Columbia.

Trolley buses generally run North-South along the main thoroughfares, with diesel buses running East-West and usually terminating at the UBC bus loop.

There are three specific bus routes that will be of most use to visitors to Vancouver: The 99 B-Line, the Rapid Bus and the NightBus.

Vancouver Express Buses

The 99 B-line and the RapidBus provide a network of express routes that offer fast, reliable and high frequency service along a number of main arteries in the Metro Vancouver area.

There are currently 5 different express routes on offer:

The 99 B-Line

The busiest bus route in North America, the 99 B-Line runs East to West from Commercial Drive and Broadway to its terminus station at the University of British Columbia.

The 99 will likely be the most important express route for tourists, offering service to popular Vancouver neighbourhoods like Commercial Drive (Little Italy), Fairview, Kitsilano, and UBC.

The route offers connection to the Expo Line at Commercial Drive-Broadway Station and the Canada Line at Broadway-City Hall station.

For schedules visit Translink’s B-line next bus page.

The RapidBus

The new RapidBus program offers fewer stops and up to 20% faster service than  local buses. There are currently 4 routes on offer:

R1 King George Blvd

The main Vancouver public transit route in Surrey, the city’s largest suburb. The R1 runs primarily North to South along King George Highway connecting Guilford Exchange, Surrey Central and the Newton Exchange.

The route provides connections with the Expo Line at Surrey Central and King George Stations.

R3 Lougheed Hwy

The R3 provides transit connections to the distant suburbs of Port Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge from Coquitlam Centre Station at the end of the Skytrain’s Millennium Line.

R4 41st Ave

The 41st Avenue RapidBus provides lightning fast connection between the Expo Line’s Joyce Station and the University of British Columbia. The service connects to the Canada Line at Oakridge Station along the way.

R5 Hastings St

The R5 runs East to West predominantly along Hastings Street connecting Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Burnaby with Burrard Station in Downtown VancouveR. The line offers connection with the Expo Line at Burrard Station.

For more information and a complete list of RapidBus Schedules visit the Translink web page.

Vancouver Night Bus

Another instance when you’ll need to use the bus network is after a long night out smashing Vancouver’s nightlife, after the Skytrain is long closed.

Luckily there is a night bus hub at the intersection of Granville and West Georgia, equidistant from Vancouver’s main nightlife districts of Gastown, Yaletown and the Granville Strip.

This means that after 2 am all 10 night buses leave every 30 minutes from one safe, secure and well lit downtown location 7 days a week. It’s actually quite a good system.

You’ll be able to tell it’s a NightBus by the half moon symbol located beside the number on the bus stop sign and the N in front of the route number (N9, N19 etc).

All night buses cost $3.00.

Night Bus Routes

The three most important routes closely mimic those of the Canada Line (N-10), Expo Line (N-19) and Millennium Line (N-9).

Buses generally run from around 2am-4am with a few exceptions.

For all the info check Translink’s Night Bus page.

Other Key Routes
  • #19 Stanley Park: Runs along Pender Street to the heart of Stanley Park
  • #22 Knight: Runs east through downtown from Burrard Station towards Chinatown
  • #4 UBC: From Granville Street downtown through Kitsilano to UBC
  • #236 Grouse: Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver to Grouse Mountain, including the Capilano Suspension Bridge.
  • #257 Horseshoe Bay Express: Express service to the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal
  • #620 Tsawwassen: Bridgeport Station in Richmond to Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal

For further information on routes and schedules visit the Translink bus page.

The Seabus

The Seabus is a passenger-only commuter ferry between Waterfront Station in Downtown Vancouver and Lonsdale Quay in the suburb of North Vancouver.

The service will be of use to those who would like to visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge, Grouse Mountain, or simply enjoy the bars and restaurants located in North Vancouver’s Lonsdale neighbourhood.

Seabus Fares

The Seabus is subject to the same fare structure as other forms of transit operated by Translink, and is considered a two zone fare.

As such a one way ticket costs $4.25 or $3.45 with a Compass Card.

Sailing Times

Sailings, which take around 12 minutes, occur every 15 minutes during the day until 9:00pm and then every 30 minutes thereafter.

The times of the first and last sailing are listed below:

Seabus hours

Connections

The Seabus connects with the Canada and Expo Lines of the Skytrain at Waterfront Station.

At Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver there is a public market, hotel, and bus loop connecting the attractions on the North Shore, such as:

  • Grouse Mountain (bus # 236, leaving from bay 8)
  • Capilano Suspension Bridge (bus #236, leaving from bay 8)
  • West Vancouver (bus #239, leaving from bay 6)
  • Upper and Lower Lonsdale (bus #230, leaving from bay 3)

Vancouver’s Beautiful North Shore is an attraction in it’s own right.

Whether you’re skiing the local mountains, hike up the famous Grouse Grind, or hitting one of Lonsdale’s numerous bars or restaurants. It’s a big part of any Vancouver itinerary.

The False Creek Ferries

aquabus docking at granville island in vancouver bc canada

The Seabus isn’t the only commuter ferry service offering travel across Vancouver waters.

There are two small private companies that offer ferry service amongst a variety of stops littered throughout False Creek. This allows visitors to travel from downtown to the attractions on Vancouver’s Southern peninsula.

This includes Granville Island, Science World and some of the city’s best beaches. Additionally, you can also hit numerous museums (Museum of Vancouver, Planetarium & Maritime Museum) that are located in the neighbourhood of Kitsilano.

The tiny ferries offer a brief reprieve from the urban environment and present travellers with stunning views of the Vancouver skyline, the North Shore Mountains and False Creek’s glittering waters.

The Ferries run from roughly 7:00am to 10:00pm depending on season and station.

Be aware that Compass Cards and other Translink fare products are not accepted aboard the ferries.

*Cash is the preferred method of payment on board.

Aquabus Daypasses

If you plan on travelling extensively throughout the False Creek area then we’d recommend purchasing a day pass, which grants you with unlimited travel during one calendar day.

Grab My Pass Now

Need more info? Visit the Aquabus and False Creek Ferries websites.

Vancouver Bike Share

A bike share is a system that offers public bicycles available for short term use to users for a small fee or subscription.

Vancouver has recently implemented its own system, allowing users to make use of the city’s extensive network of bike lanes in addition to the world renown Seawall as a transportation tool.

Mobi

mobi bike share terminal in stanley park vancouver bc canada

A bike sharing network administered by the City of Vancouver, Mobi allows users to borrow a bike from any of over 100 stations, and simply return it to any station in the network once they’re finished.

Each station also comes equipped with wifi, a valuable tool for visitors.

To gain access to Mobi users must sign up online, or pick up the Mobi app in the App Store or Google Play.

Bike Share Payment Options

There are three main options available to users:

  • 24 hour pass: $12.00
  • 30 day pass: $25.00
  • 365 day pass: $129.00

The 24 hour pass has traditionally been the most popular with tourists.

However, recent price increases have made the 30 day pass a more viable option for those who intend to make extensive use of the system.

Things to Know

Each pass entitles users to 30 minutes of use of their bicycle.

After this period has expired the bike must then be returned to any Mobi station, which can be located on the Mobi app.

Otherwise, the user will be required to pay a $5.00 overage fee per 30 minute period (ie. $10.00 for an hour, $15.00 for 1.5 hours).

However, you are entitled to as many 30 minute rides as you would like within the duration of your pass.

Vancouver Bike Rentals

While Mobi can be a useful tool it’s predominantly aimed not at tourists getting around Vancouver, but locals on their way to work.

For visitors who would like to enjoy a bike ride around Stanley Park or the Seawall we would strongly recommend using one of the city’s numerous bike rental companies.

That way you can spend more time enjoying the city rather than looking for Mobi stations!

Our friends at Van City Bikes and Adventures are currently offering discounted bike rentals online, the rates are as follows:

  • $18.00: 2 hours
  • $33.00: 5 hours

Choose from a wide variety of bikes from their location near the entrance to the Seawall and Stanley Park.

Then you can take your time and enjoy the areas beautiful views, Vancouver’s best beaches and attractions.

Grab My Bike Now

The West Coast Express

the west coast express train at waterfront station vancouver bc canada

The West Coast Express is a commuter rail service offered between Waterfront Station in Downtown Vancouver and the distant suburb of Mission, located to Vancouver’s North-East.

A one way trip from Mission takes 75 minutes and costs between $7.45 and $12.45 depending on distance travelled. Seniors and youth receive a slight discount.

The train offers a number of stops along the way

  • Moody Centre*
  • Coquitlam Central*
  • Port Coquitlam
  • Pitt Meadows
  • Maple Meadows
  • Port Haney
  • Mission

*Denotes stop that intersects with the Millennium Line of the Skytrain.

The service runs 5 times per day from Monday to Friday and only operates during the peak morning and evening rush hour period.

As a result, it is not of much value to most visitors to the region, and primarily targets suburban commuters.

Travelling to the burbs and need it? Check out the Translink’s West Coast Express page for fare information and schedules.

FAQ

How much does Vancouver transit cost?

Vancouver transit fares for adults on the Skytrain, Seabus and bus system all cost $3.00 or $2.40 with a Compass Card.

One-zone concession fares for seniors (65+) and children (5-13) and youth (14-18) with valid ID cost $2.00 or $2.40 with a Compass Card.

How do you pay for Vancouver transit?

You can pay by cash, stored value (Compass Card), day pass, monthly pass or tap to pay with a Visa or MasterCard.

What Skytrain line goes to Vancouver International Airport (YVR)?

The YVR branch of the Skytrain’s Canada Line offers service from Downtown Vancouver to Vancouver International Airport.

When does the Skytrain start running?

The first train runs at 4:48am on the Canada Line, 5:32am on the Expo Line and 5:30am on the Millennium Line.

When does the Skytrain stop running?

The last train runs at 1:05am on the Canada Line, 1:16am on the Expo Line and 1:20 on the Millennium Line.

Can you use Skytrain tickets on the bus?

If you have a Compass Card or Skytrain ticket (Compass Ticket) you can transfer across bus, Skytrain and Seabus on a single fare for up to 90 minutes.

However, bus transfers received after cash fares are not valid on the Skytrain or Seabus.

Not Enough? Board Our Knowledge Train

That about does it for Vancouver public transport but maybe I missed something along the way?

If you’ve got any question about getting around Vancouver or any of its many can’t-miss sites then do be in touch in the comments below.

I’ll be back with an answer ASAP!

Safe travels 🙂

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *