Lack of Fare Options for Visitors Using Transit

Comments 14 by Rebecca Bollwitt

Not a week goes by that I am asked some sort of question by a tourist on the street and usually it’s about the bus. Sure, the Translink “Trip Planner” seems to be a decent “A to B” service, although getting from the Westin to Granville Island really isn’t an FAQ I encounter. It’s more like: “How much is the bus”, “How long is this ticket valid”, “Where will this take me”?

Dave currently has some friends in town so he asked me if I knew of any special visitor fare passes since he’s experienced this in other cities. Off the top of my head I couldn’t think of anything, and after further research we both decided that the best short term fare option would just be a book of blank “Fare Saver” tickets although even those are separated in value by zones.

This inspired me to look at a few other North American cities to see how Vancouver, whose main industry is tourism, stacks up.

I compared Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Boston and Seattle as they are all cities I have either lived in or visited. The image below shows just a few of the criteria I think would be useful to visitors or those new to town.


All cities offer day and monthly passes. Visitor passes are available in 3 of the 5 cities listed although they are in different forms.

In Calgary they have the “Show n’ Go” which is a 2-14 day pass you can obtain for the transit system if you are attending a registered conference or event ($4/day). Toronto has a weekly pass available, as well as the same type of “Convention Pass” as Calgary, available for 3+ days (from $3.75/day). Boston also has weekly passes for bus or ‘T’, which is the subway system ($15/week). Seattle doesn’t have any short term passes however they do have more long-term options, offering an annual pass for the system. Translink’s “Fare Savers” start at $18 for a book of ten 1 zone tickets.

charliecard.jpgThe best transit system that I have used has got to be the MBTA in Boston. When I moved there in 2002 I was able to download schedules to my PDA and plot out routes across town and state just using their website and maps. Five years later and looking up information for this post, I still find the MBTA website to be the most useful (and it’s the nicest looking of the 5 as well). They have even introduced the “Charlie Card” which is a reusable, re-loadable fare card that you can manage online.

You would think that such a tourism-minded like Vancouver would offer better resources and options for tourists especially when it came to fares. Information kits explaining zones and time limits, weekly passes, convention passes or even special fare saver tourist bundles available from hotels would be a start. I think visitors would really benefit from more information about public transit to get around the city (and out to other regions) then maybe they won’t always have to ride in some big red bus that looks like a double-decker with its roof chopped off.

Interesting article/review of the new BART EZ Rider Smart Card – they mention Translink… but not this Translink

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14 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. RaulSunday, September 16th, 2007 — 8:24pm PDT


    Your posts always impress me, but this one just made me go like, WOW. Very well written Rebecca. I had a good time in Montreal with their metro system, but the bus transit I am not 100% sold with it.

  2. PatZSunday, September 16th, 2007 — 8:51pm PDT

    can’t you get a two zone 24 hour day pass for $8? i think that’s what my sister gets when she comes here…maybe…really, i’ve been brainwashed by the UPass.

  3. John BollwittSunday, September 16th, 2007 — 9:28pm PDT

    And just to throw more into the mix, I’ve done a number of visits to New York. The MetroCard system there is pretty slick, especially when visiting my friends in the Manhatten/Brooklyn/Bronx area.

    Just checking this link:

    $24 for a 7-day unlimited pass to ride the subway and buses, $7 for a one day pass. Compare that to doing the $8/day unlimited 2-Zone pass that would equal $56(approx US$54) for an entire week, that’s kinda rough. Also, it appears that MetroCard has a better online presences these days with really useful details on how the MetroCard works as well as a online site to check the status of your card. Don’t know about renewing them or recharging, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

  4. ChrisSunday, September 16th, 2007 — 10:01pm PDT

    PatZ is right – you can get a DayPass for $8 ($6 for a concession fare).

  5. Miss604Sunday, September 16th, 2007 — 10:22pm PDT

    Yes, but that works out to $56/week… hardly affordable or reasonable for anyone staying longer than a day in town. Also, that’s a flat rate irregardless of zone so those traveling in Zone 1 all day are paying a much as someone going from Horseshoe Bay to Langley. It could work out, but I’d much rather be paying $15 for an entire week of inter-zone travel.

  6. MarkMonday, September 17th, 2007 — 1:14am PDT

    It would also be nice to allow visitors to buy a DayPass online in advance.

  7. KarenMonday, September 17th, 2007 — 12:02pm PDT

    Just for a bit of an international comparison, I was in Hong Kong recently and noticed they also have a few tourist passes available: $50 HKD/~$7CAD for one day unlimited use; or their airport tourist octopus pass, which is $300HKD/~$43CAD for round trip on the airport express (to leave the airport, naturally) and 3 days of unlimited subway use. Not bad. Also, the front page of their customer site has a big “tourist information” button and a page describing all their offerings (including the Disneyland souvenir cards. eep):

    Also, in case you may not be familiar with the HK octopus card system, there is no such thing as an unlimited monthly pass. Their octopus smart card system charges by the distance travelled, and you fill up the octopus card kind of like a prepaid phone card. So those who travel shorter distances automatically spend less.

  8. Paul HillsdonMonday, September 17th, 2007 — 2:42pm PDT

    I still find it rather amazing that it was only a few years ago that we had the old punch fares in the buses and the red ticket machines in SkyTrain stations. You would think that we should already have a smart card system in place, especially considering how many other cities around the world already have their implemented. What I find sad is, according to the official plans, Translink was supposed to study, and pending on judgement of that study, have a smart card in place by now. I guess it fell by the wayside thanks to all the monthly drama that occurs surrounding the GVTA….

    Anyways, just by having a smart card up and running would imply that they would have the flexibility in the system to make these cool tourist fares real in no time. I think they are a fantastic idea Rebecca, and it’s disappointing to know that Translink isn’t at all innovative, or fast enough to come up with a solution that is not yet a “huge” problem. It’s like they are always playing catch up and it’s just sad.

    I do recall that there was a report on tourist having real bad troubles with wayfinding on the SkyTrain… even more of a reason for Translink to take into account how many visitors are, and would like to, use our transit system to get around.

  9. AnonymousMonday, September 17th, 2007 — 9:26pm PDT

    I just came back from New York and stayed in Manhattan for a week and I got one of those 7-day MetroCards. It’s so convenient, $24 for unlimited travel on the subways and buses. They also have options where you can pre-load a certain amount of cash on the MetroCard and use it like a debit card on the transit. Once you run out, you can either toss the card or reload it.

    I was in Montreal a couple of years back and they have a similar system with their subways too. I can’t remember how much it was for the 7-day pass, but it was between $20-$30. I don’t think it had a load/reload option, but it was better than what we have here.

    Granted, we don’t have a subway, but we should have something to entice visitors/tourists to use public transit.

  10. DavidWednesday, September 19th, 2007 — 10:14pm PDT

    It’s worth mentioning that while the Boston T is very good at making it a good, affordable choice for visitors, the transit itself (at least the last time I was using it regularly, which was 2005 and earlier), was very uneven. Certain subway lines, like the Red Line, had realtively fast, modern trains. On the other hand, the Green Line was essentially a slow bus on rails, and often very crowded and uncomfortable. Also, getting from some places to other places, even though they are relatively close to each other (say, Cambridge to Brookline) was extremely difficult by subway, requiring that you go in to the center of town in order to change to another spoke. I suppose there are some buses for that, but I never managed to figure it out well in the 15 or so years I lived there.

    Boston never managed to get the directions of lines on the subway maps and boarding areas to make any sense. You might be at a stop, wanting to go to say, Charles/Mass General Hospital from Downtown Crossing and you’d have to ponder whether that was ‘outbound’ or ‘inbound’, Unlike Paris, where they always named the direction of the Metro line by the stop on the end of it the train was heading toward (and the way the Skytrain _sort of_ does it), Boston never named the maps this way (although sometimes you’d see it on some of the trains). Finally, that slow Green Line also split into 4 different parts, and if you got on the wrong train (a B, C, D or E – I have no idea what happened to the A), you’d find yourself having to backtrack, and this could get really complicated.

    It’s true that Boston did have good pricing and a good web site, but it was not really a user-friendly city. Just writing about this stuff has reminded me of how frustrating it was at times.

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  12. DarcySaturday, March 29th, 2008 — 7:55am PDT

    I’m surprised that Vancouver hasn’t done more about the smartcard too. The Olympics are coming!
    I was in Europe last summer & the best deal was in Vienna. For 20 euros a day your Tourist Card, (a Stop & Go pass) put you on the metro & 3 different bus route tours leaving steadily from the Opera House. We spent the day on all 3 buses, sitting on the top, at the front & went all over Vienna, getting off at various points of interest. We only had 2 days there. What a great way to see a city fast!
    A ride around Old Vancouver on that vintage bus costs $22!

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