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Public Transportation in Vancouver: A Guide on TransLink, Compass Cards, and Travel Tips

Written by Alexander College in Vancouver on August 10, 2023

Did you know Metro Vancouver is home to the longest rapid transit system in Canada and one of the longest fully automated driverless systems in the world? So if you’re concerned about travelling around Vancouver without a car, you can rest assured knowing Vancouver has a great public transportation system!

Most of the public transportation you can see in Vancouver is operated by TransLink. This includes the SkyTrain, SeaBus, West Coast Express, and many of the buses.

TransLink was created in 1998 back when it was still known as the Greater Vancouver Transportation Agency. The name TransLink was adopted in 1999 when the transportation authority took over many of the transportation-related responsibilities the provincial government previously held.

SkyTrain arriving at the platform

Today, the SkyTrain lines connect over 5 different cities in Metro Vancouver and connects to the Vancouver International Airport while the SeaBus ferries passengers across the water between downtown Vancouver and North Vancouver. Many buses stop right outside SkyTrain stations for easy transfers to where you want to go.

One important thing to note about the TransLink fare system is that you pay by the number of zones travelled. Metro Vancouver is split into 3 fare zones and the fare you pay depends on how many zones you cross during your trip.

There are exceptions, however. Buses are always considered 1-zone regardless of whether or not you cross into another fare zone.

If you travel over the weekends and holidays or weekdays after 6:30pm, your entire trip is considered as 1-zone. These are very useful things to keep in mind if you want to save money!

map of the SkyTrain and SeaBus fare zones

TransLink offers a fare estimator on their website so you can double check how much your trip will cost before you go.

You can pay for your trip using any of the ticket vending machines located at any SkyTrain, SeaBus, and West Coast Express station or on buses. You can also use your Compass Card or certain forms of contactless card payment. Keep in mind that you cannot purchase a day pass on buses.

Ready to explore Vancouver? Here are some handy tips to help make your journey as smooth as possible:

Plan your route

Whether it’s transiting to school, work, or exploring Vancouver, it’s always best to plan your route to ensure you get to your destination without delays.

TransLink has its own Trip Planner which often gives you multiple options to get you from point A to point B. Similarly, Google Maps is also a handy tool to help plan your trips.

Both sites lets you set a departure time or the time you want to arrive at your destination so you’ll have lots of options when planning your trip! What’s more, either option will tell you if there is maintenance or delays on your trip so you can adjust your travel time accordingly.

For those who prefer to prefer to plan on the go, Google Maps and TransLink’s Trip Planner are available on mobile devices as well as an assortment of trip planner apps like TransitDB for Android.

two students looking at a phone

One more tip: buses may not always arrive on time so make sure you arrive at your bus stop early. Depending on the bus route, missing a bus could mean waiting up to 30 minutes!

Purchase a Compass Card

Introduced to Metro Vancouver in 2013 and fully implemented in 2015, the Compass Card is a transit card that lets people quickly tap into fare gates located in SkyTrain and SeaBus stations or Compass Card readers on buses.

You can check your balance and add value to your Compass Card through the Compass Card website or a ticket vending machine. You can set up your card to automatically reload value when the stored value on the card drops below a certain threshold on the website.

For those who frequently use public transportation to travel, monthly passes are also available for purchase. Looking for a day trip option? Day passes can also be purchased and loaded onto your Compass Card from the website or at a ticket machine.

Additionally, using a Compass Card to travel around Vancouver is cheaper than using cash or other forms of contactless payment, so maximize your savings by getting your own Compass Card from Compass Card vending machines located in SkyTrain, SeaBus and West Coast Express stations, or your local London Drugs.

Metrotown station

Familiarize yourself with schedules

Nobody likes waiting a long time for public transit so it’s always a good idea to know the timings of buses and SkyTrains. SkyTrain stations have screens that will show when the next train will arrive and major bus stops will often have a schedule posted under the bus sign, so you know when, and how often, buses arrive at your stop.

If the stop does not have a schedule posted under the sign, you can always text the bus stop number and up to two bus route numbers to 33333 to receive the next two departure times for each route via text.

Patterson SkyTrain station sign

Prepare for the weather

Those who are familiar with Vancouver’s weather know that the nickname ‘Raincouver’ exists for a reason! Check the weather forecast before you go and always bring an umbrella when possible.

The temperature difference between the daily highs and lows can also be significant, so make sure you layer up if you’re planning to be outside for most of the day.

two students exiting the Canada Line

Respect etiquette and passengers

As always, practice good transit etiquette and offer your seat to those who need it. If the bus is starting to become crowded, shuffle towards the back of the bus to make room for passengers getting on from the front of the bus.

Vancouver is a beautiful place to explore with its diverse neighbourhoods, great food, beautiful scenery, and local events. Regardless of what time of year it is, there’s always something to see and do in the city.

So, what are you waiting for? Hop on a bus, train, or boat, and enjoy what Metro Vancouver has to offer!

Waterfront station building

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Alexander College acknowledges that the land on which we usually gather is the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples, including the territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. We are grateful to have the opportunity to work in this territory.

Alexander College acknowledges that the land on which we usually gather is the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples, including the territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. We are grateful to have the opportunity to work in this territory.