Instead of a subway, Vancouver has a state-of-the-art, fully-automated, elevated, light rail rapid transit system known as SkyTrain. According to TransLink (local transit authority), SkyTrain is the “longest automated driverless light rapid transit system in the world.” It is safe, convenient, and fast. It can take you from the center of Vancouver down to the center of Surrey in just over 30 minutes, whereas it would take over an hour to drive this same distance. TransLink’s newest rapid transit line, Canada Line, runs between Waterfront Station downtown and either Vancouver International Airport (YVR) or Richmond-Brighouse Station in Richmond (every other train goes to second destination). Travel time to either destination is just 25 minutes. Driving this same stretch could take an hour, during peak traffic times.
SkyTrain and Canada Line operate within the Fare Paid Zone, as do all buses in the metro area, which means that all passengers must purchase a ticket or have a valid fare pass with them at all times when travelling on any of the lines/routes. Single-fare tickets can be purchased at any of the SkyTrain or Canada Line stations or onboard any bus and FareCards (monthly pass)/FareSaver ticket books can be purchased from an authorized fare dealer. Single fares are valid for 90 minutes, and can be used interchangeably on any SkyTrain, Canada Line train, CMBC bus/Seabus ferry, or West Vancouver Blue Bus.
The Fare Paid Zone is divided into three areas, and the cost of fare depends on whether or not you will be travelling across more than one zone.
- Zone 1 includes the city of Vancouver and UBC endowment lands.
- Zone 2 includes the North Shore and Bowen Island, Burnaby, New Westminster, and Richmond.
- Zone 3 includes Coquitlam and the Tri-City area, Pitt-Meadows/Maple Ridge (southeast of Vancouver), Langley, Delta, Surrey, and White Rock.
As of 2008, fares range in price from $2.50 (for a single zone) to $5.00 (for three zones) for an adult fare, and from $1.75 to $3.50 for concession fares (for children, secondary students with a valid GoCard [more about this under the bus section], seniors, and disabled patrons). The fare system can appear quite complex; the best way to gain a thorough understanding of the system is to download a Fare Zone Map from TransLink’s website. And when in doubt, just ask. Any SkyTrain or Canada Line attendant or Transit Operator (bus driver) will be happy to offer assistance and to answer any questions you might have. Children 4 and under ride for free.
Although you must have a valid fare with you at all times when travelling on the SkyTrain or Canada Line (regular inspections are conducted onboard and fare evaders are fined), they operate on an honor system. There are no fare gates at any of the stations (although the new stations of the Canada Line are configured to allow the installation of such in the future), and the ticket vending machines are self-operated, so whether you purchase a ticket or not largely depends on your personal code of ethics. Perhaps surprisingly, the greater majority of Vancouverites do, in fact, purchase tickets before travelling on rapid transit and/or ensure the possession of some type of valid fare pass. Students of select public post-secondary educational institutions receive a U-Pass, which is a special transit pass allowing university students to ride for free on any of TransLink’s services (with the exception of West Coast Express, different fare rates apply; cost of the U-Pass is included in school tuition and is hugely subsidized by the school). Schools not participating in the U-Pass program may participate in the FastTrax Pass program, which allows some university students to travel across all zones on TransLink’s services on a regular adult one-zone FareCard (the FastTrax Transit Strip attaches to your valid student I.D.).
SkyTrain and Canada Line are fully-accessible and stations are equipped with elevators and attendants, who are on hand to assist with accessibility and other concerns. All trains are equipped with silent alarms which can be activated by passengers at any point if safety is a concern. Trains also feature passenger-operated intercoms that connect the passenger to security personnel during emergency situations. Stations are well-lit and regularly patrolled by Transit Police and SkyTrain/Canada Line attendants. All stations also have Designated Waiting Areas, which feature greater visibility with enhanced lighting, red emergency phones, and a bench; these areas are monitored by closed-circuit television.
SkyTrain has two separate lines: Expo Line, running between Waterfront Station and King George Station in Surrey, and Millennium Line, running in a giant loop between Waterfront Station and VCC-Clark Station. The newer Canada Line runs between Waterfront Station and Richmond-Brighouse Station/YVR in Richmond.
Launched in 1985, this is the oldest of the three rapid transit lines. Expo Line begins at Waterfront Station and runs underground until it reaches Stadium-Chinatown Station, where it then emerges onto an elevated track until New Westminster Station. At this point the line goes underground briefly but reemerges at Columbia Station, a junction point with the Millennium Line. After Columbia, the line crosses the Fraser River via the Skybridge, and continues on an elevated track until the terminus at King George Station.
Expo Line shares the same track with Millennium Line until Columbia Station, where it veers off towards Surrey. Expo Line is always colored dark blue on route maps.
Millennium Line was opened in 2002, and begins at Waterfront Station, where it shares the tracks with Expo Line until it reaches Columbia Station. From there it passes through a tunnel for 1 km, after which it emerges onto elevated tracks through Eastern New Westminster, into Coquitlam, to Lougheed Town Centre Station, where the line then swings back to the west. The tracks reach ground-level at Renfrew Station, and run sub-ground level on open tracks until the terminus at VCC-Clark Station (VCC stands for Vancouver Community College).
Millennium Line is always colored yellow on route maps.
TransLink’s newest and most state-of-the-art light rapid transit system is the newly launched Canada Line, opened in August 2009. Canada Line was built to bring travelers from YVR into the city, and also to alleviate traffic congestion and long travel times between Richmond and Vancouver. The line has replaced several former bus routes which have now become obsolete due to the line’s high efficiency and extreme convenience. Commuting times to and from Richmond are thus drastically reduced.
Canada Line begins at Waterfront Station, and proceeds underground in a direct southerly line from the downtown until it reaches Marine Drive Station, the southernmost station in Vancouver. Here it emerges onto an elevated track, crosses the north arm of the Fraser River over the North Arm Bridge, and continues until it reaches Bridgeport Station in Richmond, after which the line splits into two branches, one heading west to the airport, and the other continuing south to the terminus at Richmond-Brighouse Station.
Canada Line trains have special features, and are fully-accessible for wheelchairs, bikes, and strollers (as are the other lines but these trains have more space). Each Canada Line train can accommodate up to four wheelchairs and two bikes (one bike per car). All stations are equipped with elevators and attendants, who can assist with accessibility and other concerns. Canada Line stations also feature bike racks and lockers, for convenience.
Canada Line trains are brand new and more high tech than the other lines. Aisles are wider with ample space for luggage, especially important for those coming and going from the airport. Seating is more comfortable and each train can accommodate up to 400 passengers. Travel times are short and the stations are located at convenient intervals.
Canada Line is always colored turquoise/light blue on route maps.
SkyTrain anda Canada Line run between the hours of 5 a.m. and midnight, depending on the line. For a complete schedule please see this page: http://tripplanning.translink.ca/hiwire?.a=iScheduleLookupSearch&LineName=999&LineAbbr=999. A map of the rapid transit routes can also be accessed via this page.