Thursday, 8 October 2015

Vancouver, Canada

Trolleybuses are not a common sight in Canada.  They are found in just one city, Vancouver, Canada's third largest.

The trolleybuses are operated by a subsidiary company of Translink, the transport authority for the Vancouver area.

I visited Vancouver in summer 2014.

I found three-door articulated trolleybuses in use on two routes, the 3 and the 10.




In common with a number of other North American cities, the vehicles may display the name of the corridor along which the route operates, which is not necessarily the final destination of the vehicle.

Standard two-door single-deck trolleybuses were in use on a number of other services.

Although route 10 was operated mostly by articulated vehicles, I noted a standard-length trolleybus operating as well.

Granville Street in the heart of downtown Vancouver is usually busy with trolleybuses.  However, the street was closed to traffic at weekends through 2014.

The trolleybus routes were diverted along parallel streets.  These diversionary routes have been equipped with overhead wiring, enabling the trolleybuses to be used as normal.

Conventional buses are used on a number of routes.  The vast majority are operated, like the trolleybuses, by a Translink subsidiary.

Many of the buses are powered by conventional diesel.



Most of the buses carry the current silver, blue and yellow livery.  However the oldest vehicles were carrying a previous, white-based colour scheme.

A fleet of hybrid-powered buses also operates in Vancouver.


Vancouver also has gas-powered buses, although these don't seem to appear in the centre of the city, keeping themselves instead to suburban services.

I found conventional buses were standing in for trolleybuses on a number of services.  On some services, they were operating alongside trolleybuses.


On route 7, however, they were covering the entire service.  This was due to works in the city centre which temporarily prevented trolleybuses from being used on this route.


As well as standard, two-door single-deckers, three-door articulated buses operate on some of the busiest services.

At the opposite end of the scale are a number of "community bus" routes.  Minibuses are used on these routes.

The community bus routes are identified by a route number beginning with "C".

As in a number of other North American cities I have visited, bicycles can be carried on racks fitted to the front of the buses.

A number of bus services operate into downtown Vancouver from West Vancouver, on the far side of Vancouver Harbour. 

Although these services are integrated into the Translink network, they are provided by Blue Bus.

As well as standard diesel vehicles, Blue Bus also operate hybrid-powered buses.


There is also a ferry service across Vancouver Harbour, linking downtown Vancouver with North Vancouver.  This service, named SeaBus, is operated by a Translink subsidiary company and is fully integrated into the Translink network.

Vancouver's "SkyTrain" metro system comprises three lines, with a fourth due to open in 2016.

The system was an early user of driverless trains when it first opened in 1986.

In downtown Vancouver, SkyTrain runs below ground.

Outside the city centre, the system generally runs on elevated tracks, hence the name SkyTrain.

SkyTrain forms a backbone of the transport system, into which suburban bus services connect.

This image shows the station at Bridgeport, to the south west of Vancouver.  Trains call at platforms above a small bus station, offering an easy interchange.


A range of vehicle types operate the connecting suburban services, ranging in size from minibuses... hybrid-powered articulated vehicles. 

High floor vehicles are used on longer-distance feeder services from outlying parts of Vancouver.  These vehicles can nevertheless carry passengers using wheelchairs.

Route 99 is a high-frequency limited-stop service providing connections from SkyTrain to the University of British Columbia.  At peak times, buses run every 3 minutes.

With annual ridership of around 17million passengers, it is the busiest bus route in Vancouver - and busier than any other bus route in Canada or the USA.

The 99 operates under trolleybus wires throughout its length.  However, trolleybuses are not used on this service.

This is doubtlessly because the wiring would not permit a limited-stop trolleybus to overtake other trolleybuses on stopping services along this corridor.

HandyDART minibuses provide door-to-door demand-responsive transport for people unable to use conventional public transport due to disabilities.


Fares on Vancouver's public transport system are based on a zonal tariff system.  There are three concentric zones covering Vancouver and entire metropolitan area which surrounds it.

The fare paid depends on the number of zones you travel through, or at least it does on Mondays to Fridays until 18:30.  After that time, and all day at weekends, you can make any journey for the price of a one zone fare.  At the time of writing, the single zone fare is $2.75.  A two-zone ticket costs $4, while a 3-zone ticket costs $5.50.  A special supplement applies on journeys from Vancouver Airport towards Vancouver itself, but not in the opposite direction.  Single tickets allow transfer for 90 minutes from the time of purchase.

From October 2015, all bus travel is treated as a single zone at any time.  Any bus-only journey will therefore cost $2.75.

Single fares can be bought on board buses, although no change is given.  They can also be bought from ticket vending machines at SeaBus and SkyTrain stations.  Books of ten tickets, offering a discount, can also be bought.  An all-day pass is sold for $9.75, allowing unlimited travel throughout all three fare zones.

Smartcard ticketing is currently being introduced.  Vancouver's smartcard is named CompassCard.

Full details of fares are on Translink's website.

Other services

A number of tourist services cater for visitors to Vancouver.

West Coast Sightseeing operates a hop-on, hop-off tour of the city.  Most of the vehicles I saw on this service were single-deckers converted to part open-top.

There was one other vehicle operating on the hop-on, hop-off tour.  A former London Routemaster double-decker, a long way from its original home.

The bus operates as Big Pink Sightseeing, raising funds for breast cancer research.

It has been modified for operation on Vancouver's roads.  In the UK, traffic drives on the left.  In Canada it drives on the right.

The open rear platform has been closed off, although an emergency exit door is fitted.

Passengers board and alight using a door which has been inserted onto the other side of the vehicle.

Another operator providing tours is Vancouver Trolley Company, using vehicles built to resemble San Francisco cable cars.



Stanley Park is occupies 4 square kilometres on a peninsula a short distance to the north west of the city centre.

Both tours operate into and around the park.  Stops include Brockton Point lighthouse, with views over Vancouver Harbour.

There are also tours within the park itself.  Vancouver Trolley Tours operate the Stanley Park Shuttle, a local hop-on, hop-off tour serving fifteen stops.

There is a horse-drawn tour within Stanley Park, operating from March to October.


Whilst in Stanley Park, I noticed these yellow schoolbuses.  They were being used on a private charter.  These schoolbus vehicles do not provide tours open to the public.

On Vancouver Harbour itself, the SeaBus is not the only boat service to operate.

Harbour Cruises operate a sightseeing tour on the harbour, using a paddle ship.

There is also a cruise ship terminal on Vancouver Harbour, for ships on Pacific coastal cruises calling in or starting their voyage here.

A terminal of a different kind is Vancouver's seaplane station.

These unusual small aircraft take off and land on water.


The seaplanes operated by Harbour Air (and associated brand West Coast Air) provide short tours over Vancouver, and longer tours going further afield.

There are also scheduled flights to a number of destinations in British Columbia, mainly on Vancouver Island.

Just to the south of central Vancouver lies False Creek.  This short inlet separates downtown Vancouver from Granville Island, which is popular with tourists.

Two companies operate water taxis on the creek, both running fixed routes and schedules.  As the two companies compete for business, tickets are not interchangeable between them.

The AquaBus fleet comprises two size of vessel.  The larger vessels carry 30 passengers, along with bicycles and are accessible to people using wheelchairs.

The smaller vessels, carrying 12 passengers, are not wheelchair-accessible.  These boats don't carry bicycles.



The other operator on False Creek is False Creek Ferries.

The False Creek Ferries fleet comprises small vessels which wear a dark blue and white livery.

Bicycles cannot be carried on this operator's services.  It appears they are not wheelchair-accessible either.

Granville Island was the western terminus of Vancouver's Downtown Heritage Railway.  This opened in 1998, using a former freight railway.  It operated during the summer season only, at weekends.  Heritage tramcars were used.

Modern trams operated on the route in early 2010, in conjunction with the Winter Olympics hosted in Vancouver.  

Heritage trams returned for the 2011 summer season, however that is the last time that the tramway operated.

Since the end of the 2011 season, the Downtown Heritage Railway has lain disused, financial constraints having prevented the tramcars from operating.

To British Columbia's capital

Although Vancouver is the largest city in British Columbia, it is not the provincial capital.  That honour belongs to the much smaller city of Victoria, on Vancouver Island.

The quickest way to travel between Victoria and Vancouver is by seaplane.  The flight takes around 35 minutes, city centre to city centre.   A more leisurely (and much cheaper) way to make the journey involves a ferry.

You can make the journey by coach, as Pacific Coach Lines operate a regular service which uses the ferry.  Coaches leave a terminal at Vancouver's Pacific Central station, a short distance from the centre of Vancouver.  Or you can make the journey using local transport, although the journey from city to city involves several legs.

From Vancouver, the SkyTrain to Bridgeport is the first leg.  Translink bus 620 links Bridgeport with the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen.

BCFerries operate a regular service from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, on Vancouver Island.

At Swartz Bay, buses operated by BCTransit provide the link to downtown Victoria.

I have covered Victoria in more detail in a previous post.

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