Image by/from Steve Morgan
Transportation in Vancouver, British Columbia has many of the features of modern cities worldwide. Unlike many large metropolises, Vancouver has no freeways into or through the downtown area. A proposed freeway through the downtown was rejected in the 1960s by a coalition of citizens, community leaders and planners. This event “signalled the emergence of a new concept of the urban landscape” and has been a consistent element of the city’s planning ever since.
As the city is surrounded by water on three sides, it has several bridges to the north and south. Although similar to most other cities in that the automobile serves as the primary mode of transportation, it has alternatives such as the SkyTrain system, which is the longest fully automated light metro system in the world, and an extensive network of bicycle paths.
Until 2020, Vancouver was one of only a few major cities in North America without transportation network companies services (such as Uber), due to a provincial law banning their operation until legislation was amended to allow such services in 2018. The first transportation network companies, Uber and Lyft, were approved to operate in the region on January 23, 2020, but services had yet to commence as providers must undergo administrative approval, business licensing, and insurance procedures. On January 24, 2020, Uber and Lyft commenced operations in Vancouver.
The Metro Vancouver operates a regional rapid mass transit network, under the auspices of the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority (formerly Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority). Known as TransLink, it is responsible for all aspects of municipal transportation. In addition to public transport, TransLink is also responsible for maintaining some roads and providing ferry service within the Lower Mainland.
TransLink introduced a smart card based electronic payment system called Compass Card to replace existing monthly and daily passes, tickets and cash. Translink has been slowly phasing in use of the Compass Card. Summer 2015 saw most post-secondary school students begin using the fare cards. Translink rolled out the card to the general population in November 2015. The Compass Card has a [C$]6 refundable deposit. It is a NXP Mifare DESFire EV1 card.
Bus service operates throughout most the region under a subsidiary of Translink, known as Coast Mountain Bus Company. TransLink was established by the provincial government as a way to divorce itself from the responsibilities of roads, bridges and transit service. Ultimately the provincial government retains responsibility for funding of all projects under the aegis of Translink. Service in West Vancouver and Lions Bay is contracted through West Vancouver Blue Bus.
All buses are wheelchair-accessible and carry cycle racks; they can carry two wheelchairs and bicycles. Vancouver is actively maintaining and upgrading its trolleybus fleet. With purchases of 188 E40LFRs and 74 E60LFRs from New Flyer Industries (in 2005-2009), the trolley network serves the downtown core and much of the city of Vancouver proper with fully wheelchair-accessible and bicycle-friendly zero-emission buses.
Certain diesel commuter buses which travel to the suburbs as RapidBus have bicycle racks, wheelchair lifts, reading lights and high back reclining seats. Frequency in Greater Vancouver ranges from every couple of minutes within downtown Vancouver to two to three trips a day in far-flung suburbs such as Maple Ridge, Langley, and Aldergrove.
The SkyTrain is an advanced rapid metro system operating fully automated trains on three lines. Built for the Expo 86 World’s Fair, it has since become the world’s longest automated light rapid transit system utilizing the world’s longest transit-only bridge, the SkyBridge. The Expo and Millennium Lines link downtown to the suburbs of Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey, and Coquitlam.
A third rapid transit line connecting downtown Vancouver to central Richmond and the Vancouver International Airport, known as the Canada Line, started operation on August 17, 2009. It utilizes Hyundai Rotem instead of the linear induction Bombardier technology used on the first two lines.
Plans from the 2000s to expand the Expo Line to the southeast, increasing its capacity and extending its route further into the city of Surrey, were superseded in the mid-2010s by a proposed light rail line.
As of 2017[update], planning is underway for a $2-billion extension of the Millennium Line west towards Kitsilano and Point Grey. The phase 1 extension would start at the current VCC-Clark SkyTrain station terminus, then run under the Broadway Corridor to terminate at Arbutus Street. At a future date, a phase 2 extension would be built to the University of British Columbia.
The city was planning the first phase of a downtown streetcar from Granville Island around False Creek to Waterfront Station and then to Stanley Park using a combination of modern low-floor trams and heritage streetcars. The Vancouver Downtown Historic Railway was running the phase-zero route, Granville Island-Main Street SkyTrain station, in the summer months, as a demonstration.
From January 21 to March 21, 2010, a free demonstration service called the “Olympic Line” (named after the 2010 Winter Olympics) ran along 1.8 km of the Downtown Historic Railway, from Granville Island to Olympic Village Station, using two Bombardier Flexity Outlook streetcars borrowed from the Brussels tramway.
Plans were being developed that would have extended the streetcar network into Yaletown making a ring around the downtown peninsula as phase two. Longer range plans were being discussed that may have extended the streetcar from Granville Island west onto the Arbutus corridor, east along Hastings Street and/or south along Main Street. However, there are no current plans for a streetcar network in Vancouver, and the Olympic Line demonstration line was decommissioned.
The West Coast Express, a heavy commuter rail train, serves Port Moody, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge, and Mission. These services have an integrated ticketing system.
The SeaBus is a passenger-only ferry connecting downtown Vancouver and the City of North Vancouver across Burrard Inlet. There are three ferries in the fleet, which is owned and operated by the Coast Mountain Bus Company. The newest vessel was put into service in 2014.
Canadian census data shows that cycling mode share for the city is 3.7% as compared to 1.7% for the Metro Vancouver area. In neighbourhoods such as Point Grey, Kitsilano, Mount Pleasant and Grandview Woodlands the cycling mode share can be over 10%. Within the downtown core, the combined walking and cycling mode is as high as 50%.
Vancouver is served by a network of over 300 lane-km of on- and off-road bicycle routes. Most of these routes are local street bikeways (also known as bike boulevards), streets that have extensive traffic calming measures such as traffic circles, and signal control to facilitate crossing of major roads. Neighbourhoods are encouraged to plant and care for the circles and boulevards and add public art along bike routes.
Since 2004, with the implementation of the Downtown Transportation Plan the City has been adding more bicycle lanes on roads in the densely populated downtown core, signalling its desire to encourage greater commuter use of bicycles. A lack of separated facilities in the downtown core and poor bridge crossings remain as an obstacle to provide facilities that serve the needs of novice and advanced cyclists. The City of Vancouver is continuing to provide additional racks and other types of bike parking.
The Central Valley Greenway, a 25-kilometre green bicycle corridor, was officially opened on June 27, 2009. This route forms a regional connection linking downtown Vancouver to Burnaby and New Westminster. Within the City of Vancouver, the Central Valley Greenway is almost entirely separated from traffic; counts completed by the City of Vancouver show that almost 2,000 cyclists per day were using this route within one month of the opening.
On May 7, 2009, Vancouver City Council approved a bicycle lane trial on the Burrard Bridge which began on July 13. It saw the southbound motor-vehicle curb lane and the northbound-side sidewalk allocated to bicycles, with the southbound-side sidewalk allocated to pedestrians. The reassigned lane was separated from motor vehicles by a physical barrier. As part of the trial, traffic pattern changes to accommodate feeder bicycle traffic were also completed on Pacific St. next to the North bridgehead over complaints from local merchants that cited lack of consultation and a negative impact on their businesses. Two weeks into the trial, the City of Vancouver released a data report showing daily bicycle travel across the bridge had increased by an average of 30%. The same report indicated little change in pedestrian trips, a slight drop in motor vehicle trips, but no change in motor vehicle travel times between 12th Avenue and Georgia Street along Burrard via the bridge.
Proposed cycling infrastructure upgrades have often been met with concerns about impacts to the business community. Three days into the Burrard Bridge Bike Lane trial, a local merchant reported a 46% drop in sales compared to the same days the year before. Six weeks into the trial another local merchant reported a 25% drop in sales, and a local restaurant reported a 30% drop in sales. In July 2011 Stantec was commissioned by the city to survey businesses in areas around recently installed downtown bike lanes in order to prepare a report summarizing impacts to businesses of the bike lanes; 32% of business responded to the survey. The study concluded that there was a total loss of $2.4 million in sales for nearby businesses amounting to $480,000 in lost profits a year, which was categorized as “moderate economic impacts.” However, in 2017, the upgrades were welcomed by the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association as a “competitive edge” for local employers.
Translink, the regional transportation authority, permits two bicycles aboard each SkyTrain car at all times except in the peak direction at morning and afternoon rush periods. The Canada Line Skytrain permits one bicycle per car with no limitations on time of day or direction. All buses are equipped with bicycle racks. The Seabus, which connects Vancouver to North Vancouver, allows up to six bicycles per sailing during all hours of operation.
On July 20, 2016, a bicycle sharing system known as Mobi launched in the City of Vancouver. In September 2018, Uber announced plans to launch its dockless electric bicycle sharing system, Jump Bikes in Vancouver.
On August 24, 2009, the Vancouver Police Department announced a sharp increase in bicycle theft, with the first 3 weeks of August experiencing a 53 percent increase in thefts over 2008. Constable Jana McGuinness, Vancouver Police spokeswoman was quoted as saying, “there is no link between the increase in bike thefts and the recent dedicated bike lanes on Burrard Bridge.”
Municipal bylaws and geography have protected Vancouver from the spread of urban freeways, and the only freeway within city limits is Highway 1, which passes through the eastern edge of the city. All other limited-access routes entering the city (Highway 99, Knight Street, Grant McConachie Way), cease being freeways before they enter Vancouver’s city limits. From Highway 1, Hastings Street is the primary route to Downtown. Other freeways in the region include Highways 1A, 7, 10, 15, 17, and 91.
The lack of freeways in the City of Vancouver is primarily due to the protests of concerned citizens as the city was being developed. During the late 1950s, proposals were made by the City to put a freeway through the heart of Chinatown. The Chinese community joined together with non-Chinese supporters to prevent the freeway from being implemented, and by 1971 Chinatown was declared a historical area. The only sections built were the Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts, which became low-speed streets.
Vancouver is served by Vancouver International Airport (YVR), located on Sea Island in the City of Richmond, immediately south of Vancouver. YVR is the second busiest airport in Canada and one of the busiest international airports on the west coast of North America.
Vancouver Harbour Water Aerodrome on Burrard Inlet and a heliport near Waterfront Station link downtown directly to Victoria, Nanaimo and YVR.
Rail service is operated from the following stations:
Two BC Ferry terminals serve the Greater Vancouver area. One is to the northwest at Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, and the other is to the south, at Tsawwassen in Delta. Routes link the mainland to Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast, and the Gulf Islands.
Aquabus and False Creek Ferries are private companies that operate passenger and bicycle ferries connecting the downtown peninsula with Granville Island and the False Creek neighbourhoods. English Bay Launch operates daily scheduled foot-passenger water taxi service between Granville Island, Coal Harbour and Bowen Island. Coastal Link Ferries operates daily scheduled foot-passenger water taxi service between Coal Harbour, West Vancouver, and Bowen Island.
Several private taxicab companies operate 24-hour service in Vancouver, including Yellow Cabs, Vancouver Taxi, Black Top Cabs, and MacLure’s Cabs. Taxis and drivers are regulated by the city and, as of 2006[update], 477 licensed cabs operated in the city, including 59 wheelchair-accessible vehicles. As of 2009[update], a taxi ride to or from Vancouver International Airport costs approximately $30-$32. Cabs in Vancouver are powered by gasoline, natural gas, and electricity. There is also a pedicab company operating in downtown Vancouver called Tikki Tikki pedicabs, usually operating on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.