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  • Writer's pictureThis Maple Life

Navigating Public Transportation in Vancouver, BC: A Guide for Newcomers

Updated: Feb 25

Welcome to Vancouver! You've likely already discovered that this city has so many different experiences to offer, nestled between some pretty great mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

While we certainly offer walkable neighbourhoods and decent bike routes, making use of public transportation is essential for efficient city navigation, whether you're without a vehicle or, surprisingly, even if you have one – as it often proves to be the more convenient choice.

Public Transportation, Skytrain in Downtown Vancouver, bird flying, building, trees

In this guide, consider us your 'Compass' (pun fully intended, as the transit card you'll be using is the Compass Card) as we navigate through Vancouver's public transportation options, discovering the magic of the SkyTrain, buses, and SeaBus, allowing you to explore the city with confidence.

Public Transportation in Vancouver

The TransLink Network

TransLink is the regional transportation authority that serves the Greater Vancouver area in British Columbia, Canada. It is responsible for planning, operating, and managing the public transportation network, as well as certain major roads and bridges in the region. TransLink plays a crucial role in ensuring efficient and sustainable transportation options for residents, commuters, and visitors in Vancouver and its surrounding municipalities.

TransLink oversees and manages various modes of public transportation, including buses, the SkyTrain (rapid transit system), the SeaBus (passenger ferry), and the West Coast Express (commuter rail). This extensive network allows you to access almost every corner of the city and its suburbs, making it a convenient and environmentally friendly way to get around.

Compass Card

One remarkable feature of Vancouver's transportation system is its seamless integration, enabling passengers to effortlessly switch between various modes of public transit using a single fare card.

Compass card, translink payment method, Vancouver

Vancouver's public transit system relies on the Compass Card system for fare payment. You can easily add credit to your Compass Card, which serves as your all-in-one payment method for your journeys, including transfers to buses, the SkyTrain, and SeaBus.

There are several convenient ways to acquire or load value onto your card in Vancouver:

Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs): You can find TVMs at SkyTrain stations and other transit hubs, where you can purchase and load a Compass Card. TVMs accept cash, debit/credit cards, and other payment methods.

Online: You can visit the official TransLink website and create an account to order your Compass Card online. After receiving your card in the mail, you can load it with funds or purchase passes and travel products online.

Phone: Call TransLink's customer service at the provided number to order a Compass Card over the phone. You can also get assistance with any questions you may have regarding the Compass Card or your account.

In-Person Retail Locations: Various retail locations throughout Metro Vancouver sell Compass Cards and offer services for loading fare products and managing your card. These locations include convenience stores, supermarkets, and some transit stations.

Now that we've covered how to acquire and load a compass card, let's dive into each mode of transportation:


The SkyTrain operates as a fully automated, driverless system, which contributes to its efficiency and reliability. The trains run on elevated tracks, allowing for spectacular views of the city and surrounding areas.

It has numerous stations, each offering connections to buses and other transit services. Stations are designed to be accessible and user-friendly, with clear signage and maps to help passengers navigate the system.

The SkyTrain system consists of three lines, each serving different areas of the city:

  • Expo Line: This line connects Waterfront Station in downtown Vancouver with areas like Surrey, New Westminster, and Burnaby. It's the oldest and most extensive line.

  • Millennium Line: Running from VCC-Clark Station to Lafarge Lake-Douglas Station in Coquitlam, the Millennium Line provides service to several neighbourhoods, including Commercial Drive, Burnaby, and Port Moody.

  • Canada Line: The Canada Line connects downtown Vancouver with the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and the city of Richmond. This line is especially useful for travellers and commuters.

Like other forms of public transit in Vancouver, the SkyTrain uses the Compass Card system for fare payment. Fares are determined by the number of zones you travel through, so the farther you go, the more you'll pay.

Commercial Broadway Downtown Vancouver Skytrain Station

Personal Note: As residents of Langley, we initially relied on public transit for our daily commute to downtown Vancouver. Surprisingly, even after acquiring a car, we occasionally prefer the SkyTrain for our daily journey. The SkyTrain saves us from the frustrations of rush-hour traffic and we appreciate the savings on gas and the environmentally friendly aspect of public transit.


Vancouver's extensive bus network crisscrosses the city, making it the ideal choice for local exploration. Buses offer flexibility and accessibility, taking you to neighbourhoods, parks, and attractions.

Bus, public transit Vancouver, buildings on back

TransLink provides real-time information about bus schedules and arrivals through its website and mobile app. This helps passengers plan their journeys more efficiently and reduces waiting times.

Bus fares can be paid using the Compass Card system, the same as with the SkyTrain and SeaBus. Fares are calculated based on the number of zones you travel through, making the system flexible and cost-effective.

Personal Note: When we first arrived in Vancouver, we had a series of exciting bus adventures. From Kitsilano Beach to Granville Island, we discovered that the buses are a fantastic way to uncover hidden gems and local hangouts.

The SeaBus

The SeaBus travels between two primary terminals - Waterfront Station in downtown Vancouver and Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver. The journey takes approximately 12 minutes to complete, providing a convenient and scenic route across the inlet.

Downtown Vancouver, Skyline, Sunset, Ocean, Buildings
View of Downtown Vancouver's Skyline from the SeaBus

toddler girl looking out the window, Vancouver, ocean, boat,

The SeaBus operates at frequent intervals, typically running every 15 to 30 minutes, making it a reliable and convenient option for commuters, visitors, and tourists.

Personal Note: During our initial days living in North Vancouver, our routine included almost daily journeys on the SeaBus. This became our stress-free commute to downtown, offering not only convenience but also splendid views along the way.

West Coast Express

The West Coast Express (WCE) is a commuter rail service in Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It is operated by TransLink and provides a convenient and efficient means of transportation for residents living in the suburbs, particularly those in the eastern and northeastern regions of Metro Vancouver (it runs from Mission City to Waterfront Station in downtown Vancouver). It stops at several stations along its route, including Mission, Port Haney, Maple Meadows, Pitt Meadows, Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam, and Moody Centre.

It operates during weekday peak hours, with trains running from east to west in the morning and returning in the opposite direction in the afternoon and early evening.

Fares on the West Coast Express are determined by the number of zones travelled. Like other forms of public transit in Vancouver, passengers can use the Compass Card system for fare payment. Various fare products, including monthly passes, are available to suit different commuting needs.


In the city of Vancouver, a great public transportation system, including the iconic SkyTrain, extensive bus network, the SeaBus, and the West Coast Express, empowers us to explore with ease.

Vancouver's integrated fare system, the Compass Card, simplifies travel logistics, making every journey smooth and memorable.

Whether you're a daily commuter, a weekend explorer or a newcomer just embarking on your Vancouver adventure, this transportation network is your trusty companion.

Vancouver awaits, so let the journey begin!


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