Ferry Travel for Expats in BC
Because of Vancouver’s location on the Pacific Ocean (Strait of Georgia), ferry travel is a necessity if you ever want to leave the Lower Mainland to travel to Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, along the fjords of the Sunshine Coast (BC’s western coast), or along the coastline of Howe Sound (Bowen Island, etc.). BC Ferries is one of the largest and most sophisticated ferry transportation systems in the world, with 47 ports-of-call in British Columbia and 36 vessels. The most frequented ferries are those running between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. Vancouver has two ferry ports: one south of the city in the Delta region at Tsawwassen (pronounced tu-wah-sen), and one located in West Vancouver at Horseshoe Bay. Ferries sail from Tsawwassen dock at either Swartz Bay near Victoria, or at Duke Point near Nanaimo, both on Vancouver Island. Ferries sailing from Horseshoe Bay dock at Departure Bay in Nanaimo.
Ferry service to and from Vancouver Island is daily and ferries depart every two hours beginning as early as 5:15 a.m. and ending as late as 10:45 p.m., depending on the route. For the Routes and Schedules Regional Index please refer to this page on BC Ferries’ website: http://www.bcferries.com/schedules/.
The crossing from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay takes approximately 1 hour and 35 minutes, while the crossing from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo takes approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Fares depend on the route, but for routes between Tsawassen/Horseshoe Bay and Swartz Bay/Departure Bay/Duke Point, fares are as follows:
Vehicles are welcome aboard BC Ferries but you must arrive at the ferry terminal at least one hour prior to departure in order to reserve space. You can make your reservation ahead of time online at http://www.bcferries.com/ (this is particularly important to do when traveling on a smaller ferry with less vehicle capacity). You must pay for the vehicle as well as for every passenger in the car. Pets ride for free but must stay on the vehicle decks at all times while on board the ferry (some ferries have a room located on one of the vehicle decks where pets can stay with their owners while onboard, but these rooms typically offer few amenities).
BC Ferries has an extensive fleet and the two largest ferries, The Spirit of British Columbia and The Spirit of Vancouver Island, offer comfortable and ample seating and various amenities such as the Seawest Lounge, the Pacific Buffet, the Coastal Café, Passages Gift Shop, staterooms, video arcades, play areas, work/study stations, telephones, elevators, wheelchair-friendly decks and washrooms, and travel brochures. The Seawest Lounge is also found on the Coastal Celebration, Queen of New Westminster, and the Coastal Renaissance ferries, and, for a separate $12 fee, is a quiet, comfortable place to enjoy the trip while partaking of complimentary Starbucks coffee, tea, and snacks, or catching up on some reading with the wide selection of newspapers and magazines. The Pacific Buffet is also available onboard the Coastal Celebration ferry, and offers elegant buffet dining with an unparalleled ocean view. The two largest ferries can hold 2100 passengers and crew, and 470 cars.
It isn’t difficult to find the ferry ports when driving from Vancouver. Highways are well-marked from well inside Vancouver all the way to the ports. For the Tsawwassen ferry port, you will be heading south from Oak Street to Highway 99 (Oak Street turns into Highway 99) and then exiting onto Highway 17, which will take you in a southwest direction toward the ferry port. Once you pass the towns of Ladner and Tsawwassen, Highway 17 turns into a single-lane road that juts out into the water all the way to the ferry terminal, which is, naturally, located some distance from the shore. You will notice a digital signboard over the road, which provides information on current sailings and ferry capacity. If the ferry you are planning to get on is already full, the signboard would provide that information, so you can adjust your plans accordingly. This would mean one or more sailing waits. The best thing to do is go ahead and pay, and then get in line if you are driving onto the ferry. If you are parking your car and walking on, there are shoreside amenities to keep you entertained until it is time to board the next ferry.
For the Horseshoe Bay ferry port, you would take West Georgia Street through the downtown, pass through Stanley Park (stay on West Georgia), cross Lion’s Gate Bridge, and then follow Highway 1 (Upper Levels Highway) all the way to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal. It is the same road for the entire distance. If in doubt, just look for the signs.
Taking the ferry is fun and the views are simply breathtaking. If the weather is nice, and you’re able to enjoy a stroll on the deck outside, you might catch a glimpse of a sea lion, a seal, or even a whale. The ferries are all safe, comfortable, modern, and offer plenty of amenities to while away the time while crossing.
False Creek Ferry
Aquabus, False Creek’s commuter ferry connecting different parts of False Creek with Granville Island, leaves from the following locations: Hornby Street (downtown), Granville Island (public market), David Lam Park (Homer Street), Stamp’s Landing (Monk’s Restaurant), Spyglass Place (Cambie Street), Yaletown (Davie Street), Plaza of Nations (stadiums), and Science World (Olympic Village). An adult one-way ticket starts at $3.25 and goes on up to $6.50. Further information and service maps/schedules can be found here: http://www.theaquabus.com.
Commuter Plane Travel
Harbour Air Seaplanes is a privately-owned company transporting passengers between the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island/Gulf Islands. The aircraft fleet consists of 34 DeHavilland DHC-3 Turbine Single Otter and DHC-2 Beaver planes. The DHC-3 planes can hold up to 14 passengers, and the DHC-2 planes can hold up to 6 passengers. Flights are daily, depending on the route (some routes are weekday-only). A complete schedule can be found here: http://www.harbour-air.com/schedules.php. Flights can be booked online, or by phone:
- 604-274-1277 (Lower Mainland)
- 250-384-2215 (Victoria)
- 250-714-0900 (Nanaimo)
- 250-537-5525 (Ganges, Saltspring Island)
- 1-800-665-0212 Toll-free in North America
Call Center Hours of Operation (Pacific Standard Time):
Sunday – Saturday: 06:00 – 22:00
Hours are limited during the Holiday Season.
Cycling is one of the fastest-growing forms of transportation in the Lower Mainland. The network of pathways and demarcated bike lanes has more than doubled in the last ten years. The newly completed 25-kilometre Central Valley Greenway links 11 SkyTrain stations, 23 bus routes, 16 existing bike routes, and 11 greenways across Vancouver, Burnaby, and New Westminster.
Numerous Vancouverites choose to cycle rather than drive, and all forms of public transit offer cyclist amenities, such as lockers, bike racks, and designated onboard space for your bike. Specialized pocket-sized bike maps showing bicycle routes in the city are available for free from City Hall, public libraries, community centers, and some bike stores, or you can download the map here: http://vancouver.ca/engsvcs/transport/cycling/documents/bikeRouteMap.pdf.
TransLink is currently conducting a study on Public Bicycle Systems, which typically offer a fleet of public-use bicycles available through a smartcard from self-serve docking stations. Findings may prompt TransLink to eventually implement this type of system in the greater Vancouver area.
The City of Vancouver provides valuable and up-to-date information on cycling in the area. For further information please refer to the website: http://vancouver.ca/engsvcs/transport/cycling/index.htm.