Vancouver has a good public transit system. This guide contains basic information plus some insider (local) tips that you might find useful while at Islandoracon.
Local tip: if you want to know where north is, look for the mountains. In fact, the city across the harbour from Vancouver is called North Vancouver, and you will hear locals say “north shore” frequently.
Translink (the local transit authority) provides bus service, light rail service (the Skytrain), passenger ferry service to North Vancouver (the SeaBus). Other services, such as local community shuttles (small buses that run outside of downtown), a commuter train to and from the eastern suburbs (West Coast Express), also exist, but you will likely not use them while visiting Vancouver.
Translink uses zones to determine fares, but they are only in effect on weekdays from early morning until 6:30 PM. But, the whole city of Vancouver is 1 zone. You cross zone boundaries when you enter Burnaby, Richmond, or New Westminster. Also, zones only apply on Skytrain and Seabus. Trips on busses are always 1 zone, even if they cross zone boundaries.
To pay your fare, you have a couple of options. Busses (but not Skytrain or SeaBus) accept exact change. Conveniently, you can pay with your Visa or Mastercard credit card, or with a Compass Card if you buy one (which you probably won’t need to do) (more info). A single, 1 zone adult fare on buses, SkyTrain, and SeaBus is $3.00 and lasts 90 minutes, and lets you travel in any direction.
For travel within downtown Vancouver, stick with the bus. The major east/west route is the 95 SFU/Burrard Stn, which runs along Hastings Street (the street separating Harbour Centre and the Delta Suites Hotel). Major north/south routes include the 14 Hastings/UBC along Burrard Street, the 10 Granville/Downtown along Granville Street and the 3 Main/Downtown along Main Street. The best bus to take to Granville Island is the 50 Waterfront Stn/False Creek South, which stops at Granville and Hastings.
You pay your fare when you enter the bus. Some busses let you enter at the front and rear doors. You only tap your credit/Compass card when you get on, not when you get off. You can also pay with cash at the front door, but you need exact change. All bus routes are considered within a single zone, which means you can travel anywhere in Metro Vancouver for $3.00 (within 90 minutes).
Local tips: Like in many other places, in Vancouver, not all busses stop at all bus stops. Route numbers are clearly marked on the blue “T” bus stop signs, so check for your route number before you wait. Also, Night Busses (that run very late at night) do not stop at the same place that daytime busses with the same route number do. NightBus stops are often one block away from the corresponding day bus stop. The Translink mobile website offers a useful “Next Bus” feature that lets you plug in the stop number to see a minimal schedule for that stop.
Most busses in Vancouver are fully accessible.
The SkyTrain is Metro Vancouver’s light rail, and runs both above the ground on raised pylons (hence the name “SkyTrain”) and in some places underground like a subway. You are most likely to use the Skytrain to travel between Vancouver International Airport and downtown Vancouver, or if you want to visit Commercial Drive.
To travel to the airport from downtown, get the train at Waterfront Station. The south entrance, at the corner of Granville and Hastings, is the best one to use. Once you are at the platform, the displays will clearly indicate when the next train to the airport is arriving. Note that Translink charges a $5 “AddFare” (i.e., tax) when you take the Skytrain from the airport, so to downtown, it will cost $9.25 ($5 AddFare and $4.25 for a two-zone regular fare) Still a good deal compared to taxi.
To travel to Commercial Drive, get the train at Waterfront Station, and get off at Commercial-Broadway Station. This is at the south end of Commercial Drive; to get to the greatest concentration of restaurants, bars, etc., walk north, toward the mountains. (If you’re a microbrewery connoisseur, you may not get past St. Augustine’s.) Commercial-Broadway station is in transit zone 1, same as downtown ($3).
You pay to enter a Skytrain station by tapping your credit or Compass card on the turnstile, and you must also tap your card to exit the station.
If you are going further than Commercial-Broadway, you may need to change trains. Translink’s Trip Planner is pretty useful.
SeaBus is a passenger ferry that runs between Waterfront Station and North Vancouver (schedule). It’s worth taking as a sightseeing excursion. Getting on it is similar to getting on the SkyTrain, you tap a card to get in and you tap a card to get off. North Vancouver is in Zone 2, so a trip across the harbour will cost $4.25. Since each fare lasts 90 minutes, you can return within that time without repaying (but you still must tap to get through the turnstile).
While Lyft has recently announced intentions to operate in Vancouver, services are not likely to be in place by the time of Islandoracon. Uber does not operate in Vancouver.