A Journey from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C. on Transit

New Flyer trolleybuses in Vancouver rush hour traffic

New Flyer trolleybuses in Vancouver rush hour traffic

It’s the perfect occasion for a transit adventure to Vancouver, B.C. The brand new Canada Line opens today at 1 pm for free rides until 9 pm. If you’re feeling adventurous and have the time, it is possible to travel from Seattle to Vancouver on public transit by making a series of transfers and some walking or cycling across the border. The journey costs $12 and takes at least 7.5 hours. Back in March, wanting to do a transit field trip up north, I decided to try the schedule on Evan Siroky’s Regional Transit Transfers page. The following (after the jump) is an account of my experience with lots of pictures!

Begin in Downtown Seattle

The journey begins in the early morning on a weekday. It is the only time when the schedules work out. Evan’s schedule assumes that you are beginning in downtown Seattle. Most of us, myself included, don’t live within walking distance of downtown. I live near I-405 and I thought of skipping Seattle but the Bellevue-Everett buses didn’t run early enough. So my first step is to get to downtown Seattle to catch the 510 to Everett Station. I left home with a rolling backpack at 4:25 am for the first Metro route 255 to Seattle due around 4:33 am. I was lucky that Metro added this trip in February, otherwise I would risk missing the transfer downtown if I took the next bus 30 minutes later.

At 4:30 am, the streets were empty and it was still dark. Boarding near the start of the route, I was the first and only passenger but not for long. The bus picked up a bunch of passengers as it traveled through Totem Lake, Juanita, and Kirkland. By the time it got on SR 520, many of the seats were filled. The bus entered the Transit Tunnel and I got off at International District/Chinatown station as it was closest to the 510′s stop on 4th & Jackson. I had plenty of time before the 510 arrived.

After watching the parade of trolley buses heading out for morning peak service, I walked to the bus stop at 4th & Jackson beside Union Station. The 510 arrived on time and it was an articulated bus.

Seattle to Everett

Traffic was light on northbound I-5, not so for the opposite direction with commuters heading into Seattle, and the sky began to brighten. I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR and it featured a story on the Kogi Korean taco truck in LA. It reminded me that I haven’t had breakfast, yet. I arrived at Everett Station with about 10 minutes to spare. The next bus to catch is the Skagit Transit (SKAT) route 90X to Mount Vernon. It is parked in the bay next to the Sounder platform.

Everett Station: Sounder and the County Connector

Everett Station: Sounder and the County Connector

The 80X Bellingham Express, 90X Everett Express, 411W (Whidbey Island), and 411C (Camano Island) are part of the County Connector services that link Island, Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom counties together by transit. Service began in September 2005 and ridership on the Bellingham and Everett express routes has been strong. Over 200 riders use the 90X every day to take advantage of the connection to Sounder and other buses at Everett Station. Initially funded by a state grant, a 0.2% transit sales tax increase approved last year by Skagit County voters kept the service running.

The Skagit Transit Gillig bus had a high floor with comfy cloth seats much like Sound Transit and Community Transit commuter buses. The fare is $2. I watched Sounder close its doors and depart for Seattle shortly before it was our turn to go. The bus drove up North Broadway through downtown Everett and across Steamboat Slough before entering I-5 for a non-stop 45-minute run to Skagit Station.

Mount Vernon and Skagit Station

Skagit Station main buildingRoute 90X arrives at Skagit Station in Mount Vernon, the major transit hub for Skagit County and an Amtrak Cascades station. From here, connections can be made to other SKAT routes and Island Transit buses to Whidbey and Camano Islands. I took a 5-minute break inside the Skagit Station building with restrooms, water fountains, and information. I had my first experience with a Dyson hand dryer in their restroom. It works but it doesn’t seem to be much faster than a regular hand dryer. The next bus to take is the 80X to Bellingham which should be waiting at its bay. The fare for the 80X is another $2. Transfers are not given nor accepted on the 80X and 90X.

SkagitThe 90X bus, owned and operated by Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA), is a low floor Gillig with bucket cloth seats. It uses I-5 and makes a few stops at several park-and-rides along the way with several people boarding and alighting. The 2-position bike rack was full and the driver allowed another person to bring their bike onboard the bus.

I liked the part where the bus entered the mountainous area near Lake Samish. The wet and foggy weather really is refreshing. Soon after, the bus enters Bellingham.

Bellingham

Bellingham StationThe 90X’s final destination is Bellingham Station, in downtown Bellingham. It has been only two and a half hours since I left downtown Seattle. That’s pretty fast for a transit bus and the connections have been seamless. It is from this point when waiting and travel times become longer.

Bellingham Station Waiting RoomLike Skagit Station, Bellingham Station has a building with restrooms, seats, and rider information. It also has a WTA customer service office, a change machine, and a transit pass vending machine. An unlimited rides monthly pass is only $20.

I had about 30 minutes for breakfast at a nearby cafe located a few blocks from the station. Breakfast is highly recommended since the most difficult part of the journey is coming up. The next point on my way to Vancouver is Cordata Station. To get to Cordata Station, I had a few choices: the GREEN Line (route 232), GOLD Line (route 331) or route 15. I chose route 15 as it seemed the most direct but schedule-wise, the 232 is fastest. The fare for regular WTA service is 75¢ with a free transfer.

WTA Bus Driver Coffee Cup Holder

GO Lines: frequent service branding

GO Lines, a bus every 15 minutesWhat I noticed in Bellingham was the GO Line branding for frequent service routes. There are five GO Lines named after colors. Each GO Line is a group of bus routes sharing a common corridor before splitting off to other destinations. Together, they provide service every 15 minutes along the corridor. Bus stops along GO Lines are clearly marked with the GO Line branding on signs and shelters. GO Lines are also prominently shown on system maps.

PLUM Line Shelter

Cordata Station to the Border

Cordata StationCordata Station is located north of downtown Bellingham near a business park and the Bellis Fair Mall. It is a brand new transit center that opened earlier this year. I like it that there are clocks everywhere. There’s not much to see here but buses, and I think that’s good enough.

The bus to take to get to the US/Canada border is Route 55 to Blaine/Birch Bay. It is important to not miss this bus as it runs only 3 times a day with a 2-3 hour wait between each trip. I gave my transfer slip to the bus driver when I boarded.

On the WTA route 55 before departureI enjoyed the ride through the semi-countryside as the bus spends an hour getting to Blaine. A large stretch of the route parallels the BNSF mainline and I saw track maintenance vehicles and a short freight train pass by. The route is a Flex route so it deviated a bit from the main route. I got off at the Blaine City Hall stop. This stop is after the bus makes a right turn on to ‘H’ Street.

Downtown Blaine looking north

Crossing the Border

Here comes the exciting and most tiring part. Unlike Detroit or San Diego, there is no public transit service in that takes people across or directly to the Peace Arch border crossing. There has been talk of WTA beginning a cross-border bus service and just that. I had to walk across the border and then to the outskirts of White Rock to continue the journey by bus. If you want to bring a bike, it’ll make it much easier but be aware of limited rack capacity.

After getting off the bus, I walked towards the ocean back to Peace Portal Drive and headed north along that road, went underneath the I-5 overpass (on the south side), crossed the northbound exit road, then crossed to the north side of the street, and walked up 2nd St to the entrance of Peace Arch State Park.

Blaine Peace Arch State Park entranceAs I walked through the parking lot I saw a Homeland Security patrol truck. Citizens from Canada and the US are free to meet each other in this park but neither can cross into the other country without clearing immigration and customs. There are motion sensors and surveillance cameras that watch the border. There are restrooms at the park for relief.

The Peace Arch and U.S./Canada BorderI walked across the grass lawn and the Canada-bound roadway to a sidewalk/bike path that leads to the border checkpoint building. Traffic was very light heading into Canada.

Think Metric signI followed the signs to the brand new building with expanded capacity to handle Winter Olympics traffic.

Douglas Border Crossing BuildingPedestrian/bike path and Walk your bike signsThe path leads into a small inspection booth that was unstaffed. I waited for a few minutes and was hesitant about walking straight through. I figured that they weren’t doing anything here and walked through the doors to the other side. Then I turned left, entered the main lobby, and walked to a Canadian border agent.

The key to crossing the border is being prepared to show documentation and to answer any questions. A passport or an enhanced drivers license/ID (proof of citizenship) is now required to cross the border. I presented my passport. Here is a sample of the questions the official asked me and my answers:

What’s the purpose of your trip? To study Vancouver’s public transportation system.

How did you get here and from where? On the bus from Bothell, WA. (Her response was: You can get here by bus!?)

Where are you going and how are you getting there? Vancouver, BC by transit. There’s a connecting bus on the other side.

And what route would that be? C51 to White Rock Centre (looks like the official checked)

What’s your job and how long you’ve been working there? An intern at the Seattle Department of Transportation for more than a year.

What are you studying and when will you graduate? Masters in Civil Engineering (Transportation) at the University of Washington graduating at the end of this year.

How long are you staying and what’s your hotel? (I gave my itinerary and reservation info to the official)

After all that questioning for 10 minutes, the border agent cleared me for entry and I walked out of the building with a sigh of relief.

Into Vancouver

Looking back at the borderTo get to Vancouver from the border, I have catch a C51 to White Rock Centre. From there I take the 351 Vancouver Express bus to get downtown. Note: after September 7, the 351 will end at Bridgeport Station in Richmond on the Canada Line instead of going to Vancouver. Transfer to a train to get to downtown Vancouver.

It’s still a half-hour walk to the nearest bus stop. I crossed the street to the east side by the visitor centre which was under renovation. I saw workers install a large sign proclaiming “Welcome to British Columbia, Canada. The Best Place On Earth.” I found that statement pretentious and tacky, especially for welcoming people from all over the world attending the Olympics. What’s wrong with “Beautiful British Columbia”?

Evan’s directions mentions walking along a high-speed freeway but I found a bike path protected by jersey barriers that took me to the first interchange at 8 Avenue. I walked along the shoulder of the exit ramp, crossed the street by the roundabout, and walked west across the freeway on the north side of the overpass. I saw an out-of-service bus pass by and continued along 8 Avenue, which turns into Marine Drive until I got to the intersection with Stayte St (160 St) and walked up the hill to the stop for the C51. I could’ve continued down Marine Drive and avoided going up a hill but I wanted to kill time as I just missed the C51 that runs every 30 minutes.

Translink bus stop bench with ad in White RockEven out in the suburbs, the bus stop had a bench with an advertisement on the back. After 20 minutes of waiting with another person, the bus arrived, except that it was more of a van of the kind used for Metro’s DART or Access paratransit. The van was fully equipped with a validating farebox, automatic stop announcements (audio and visual), 2-position bicycle rack, and wheelchair lift. Every stop was announced, not just major stops. Each stop announcement was preceded by the “Windows Ding”.

C51 White Rock Centre Community Shuttle VanI had some trouble when I tried to pay my fare on Translink. At first I tried to purchase a DayPass for $9 but quickly realized that those were only sold at SkyTrain TVMs. Then I tried to pay the $5 3-Zone fare with a $5 bill but the fareboxes only accept coins. The driver just waved me on and told me to pay when boarding the next bus.

When I paid on the next bus, I asked the driver for a 3-Zone transfer and dropped the coins into the farebox. A magnetic stripe paper transfer ticket popped out from the farebox. When I board another bus, I just insert the ticket into the farebox and it will spit it back out with an acknowledgment beep. Transfers are valid for 90 minutes. Proof of payment is required at all times on Translink buses, trains, and SeaBus.

$5 Translink 3-zone fare in coinsThe 351 Vancouver departs White Rock Centre every 30 minutes from Bay 5 which is south of the bay the C51 dropped me off. I was surprised to see two high rises in a suburb so far from the central city. High rises can be seen everywhere throughout Metro Vancouver. I can see them looming in the distance in multiple clusters way out in greenhouse land. The ride to downtown takes a little over an hour with the bus travelling on the freeway most of the time and making drop-off only stops within Vancouver.

Peek at Canada Line train yard and bridge

Conclusion

On a bus entering rainy VancouverNine and a half hours after leaving my home on the Eastside in the wee hours, I was in the heart of Vancouver and I got there using only public transit buses on the cheap. All that walking made me hungry and I dropped by a sushi bar for a late lunch before checking in at my hotel.

I stayed in Vancouver for a few days to ride SkyTrain, the B-Line BRT lines, SeaBus, and several bus routes. I saw trains testing on the Canada Line in Richmond. I observed many things about Vancouver’s public transit system that I wished we had or did in Seattle and some things from Seattle I wish was in Vancouver. I returned to Seattle via Amtrak Cascades and loved the extraneous leg room on the Superliner coaches but was really frustrated at the snails pace of the train between Pacific Central Station and the border.

If you’re interested in embarking on this journey, I’ve designed a printable timetable with a map of the border crossing route but your mileage may vary and I cannot guarantee that you’ll make it across the border. Also, I haven’t tried the reverse trip back into the United States but a UBC student has done it before and wrote about it. With many agencies facing revenue shortfalls, the County Connector service faces the risk of being cut, so I suggest doing it as soon as you can.

[UPDATE: Thank you to everyone who suggested improvements to the itinerary and upcoming schedule changes. I have updated my printable timetable]




Comments

  1. Stijn says

    I find getting into Canada easier than getting back into the U.S. as a legal alien.
    Nice timetable you got there. Alot of usefull info, but I’m not sure I would do this by myself. Sounds like a fun trip to take with a few people though.

      • says

        Didn’t seem to be a problem for the UBC student I linked to at the end of my post. He was neither Canadian nor American. I think he was Singaporean and I’m Asian, too.

      • Barman says

        Honestly, I’m surprised by the amount of questions they asked you. It never takes me much longer than 2 minutes and 3 questions to get into Canada. It usually happens like this:

        “What is the purpose of your visit to Canada?”
        “Shopping.”
        “How long will you be staying?”
        “I’ll be returning later this evening.”
        “Okay, have a nice visit”

        Sometimes they don’t even check my I.D., but they’ve started along with the new passport requirements. American guards don’t ask many more questions, just things like, “Are you brining anything back with you?” Maybe crossing by foot is harder I don’t know, but I think you got it worse than I ever have.

      • S. Morris Rose says

        It pains me to say so, but having crossed the border on the Amtrak bus too many times over the last decade, it’s clear that people of colour have a much harder time getting across the border without close inspection than white folks. Noticed it more northbound than south. Happen every time? No. Happen a lot? Yes.

      • Stijn says

        Yeah. I noticed that when being told to enter the office.
        I bet it was about 80% procent not-white being in there.
        Pretty sad imo.

  2. Mike Skehan says

    Great adventure and learning experience, Oran. When HSR starts running 4 trains a day between Seattle and BC, with on boards customs clearing (sigh.. one can dream), your trip will be down to just a few hours, with bistro car in tow, photo ops along the way, and many interesting stories from all the new friends you’ve met.

    • Tim Whittome says

      Yes, all you have to do is dream! 4 trains! Well that would be nice, but look at all the effort just to get two of the things and even the second of those two may not even be permanent. I’m sure it will be, but no one is committing to it.

      I am looking forward to when the Sounders get to play Vancouver in the 2011 season and then we really will want four trains – including a late night train back from the games…..

  3. says

    Thank you for your journey diary. I very much enjoyed reading.

    Starting September 7, in conjunction with its shortening to Bridgeport Station, the 351 bus will run every 15 minutes.

    Plus, the 375 bus stop is a few blocks closer to the border than the C51 stop, near the second roundabout along Route A on your map, and it runs every 30 minutes as well. Click on my name for a link to the Google map of the bus stop.

    • says

      Thanks, so that out of service bus was there for a reason. I did see a bus stop there. When I looked up the schedules, I thought that stop was served only during peak hours. Translink’s schedule look up is not as straightforward as Metro’s.

      If I took the 375, I could’ve also transfered to SkyTrain at King George.

      That’ll save a lot walking and waiting!

      • says

        The 321, which serves that same stop as the 375, is peak hours only. Unfortunately, the 375 only goes as far as Guildford, which is about 2 miles from the SkyTrain. Your best bet is still to transfer to the 351.

        Check out TransLink’s map of the area by clicking on my name.

  4. says

    This is an awesome post, Oran. I always wondered if this was possible. I’ll have to try it sometime soon. Maybe Friday. Just fantastic. I’m guessing the return trip is more complicated if you don’t go via Amtrak – or perhaps a little too tedious.

  5. Matt the Engineer says

    Or you could have taken this for $51 round trip that takes 4 hours. But where’s the fun in that?

    • Squints says

      They have strange pickup locations – the “downtown seattle” pickup is at the Best Western by the EMP, which I find odd, since that area isn’t terribly well served by transit. Well, except the monorail. I suppose they wanted to avoid street traffic and I5 so 99 north of downtown was the way to go.

  6. Max says

    I agree with you on the “best place on earth”. Are the british columbians that insecure that they need to keep reminding themselves that their place is great?

    • says

      As a British Columbian, I am deeply embarrassed by the “Best Place on Earth” slogan. I agree that there was absolutely nothing wrong with “Beautiful British Columbia.”

    • Andrea C. says

      “Best place on earth”, my a##.

      I can claim with absolute certainty that British Columbia would be a MUCH better place on earth if slimy premier Gordon Campbell and his minions would leave for a distant locale – preferably outer space.

      Embarrassed, and a whole lot more.

  7. Seattle says

    Thanks for doing this. I’ve contemplated taking an adventure and running one of Evan’s routes, but haven’t had the time to yet. Thanks for the full report!

  8. Randay206 says

    Awesome post! Have you ever done this trip at another time of the year (or heard of such)?

    Interesting to see how easy / difficult this would be during a different service season…

    • says

      The schedules for rural and small town transit services don’t change too frequently. I did this in March and checked again last night and the schedules were the same.

      As other commenters have noted, the service from White Rock to Vancouver will significantly change in September.

  9. alexjonlin says

    Great post. And great design on that schedule and map as always! My friend and I took a trip to Portland on buses last summer and we’re probably going to do it again in a couple weeks. ST 590 series to Tacoma, IT 603 to Olympia, IT 68 to Tumwater Square, CAP Rural Transit to Longview, CAP Rural Transit to Salmon Creek Park & Ride, C-Tran 134 to Portland, and you’re there! First bus is about at 6:30am, and you get to Downtown Portland at about 2:30. Cost about $8 for youth, probably a couple dollars more for adults.

  10. ltarte says

    Really cool, Oran! I’m thrilled to discover Evan’s Transit Transfers page. I’d love to try the trip to Vancouver or to Friday Harbor. I actually tried to plan a trip via public transit to Friday Harbor last summer, but couldn’t figure out how to put together the different pieces myself. – Lauren

    • alexjonlin says

      Yeah it doesn’t work because Skat doesn’t coordinate the bus schedules with the ferry at all. I wish they did cause that would be a cool trip.

      • alexjonlin says

        Wow you’re right the 410 is a lot more frequent. However, there’s still no way to go from the San Juans back to Seattle on buses without a huge layover at March’s Point or Mount Vernon, because the 513 only comes four times a day and the Everett Express only comes at peak times. But at least it’s now an option.

      • Chris Stefan says

        The last time I did that trip I took the Victoria Clipper San Juans boat.

        Another option would be to take a bus or train to Mt. Vernon and then ride a bike to the ferry terminal.

  11. alexjonlin says

    Does anyone know if minors can go across the border alone? Is there some specific age limit?

    • says

      I boarded a flight from Thailand to Seattle as a minor alone. All I needed was a passport. But I recommend you checking with CBSA and US CBP to be sure.

    • says

      As a youth civil rights advocate, I know this. You need a notarised letter signed by *both* parents (or a court document if only one parent has custody) *and* the letter must contain their phone number(s). Officially, the reason is to prevent cross-border non-custodial parent abductions.

  12. Andrea C. says

    Thank you, Oran, for your detailed account of an “all public transit” journey from Seattle to Vancouver, BC.

    About 10 to 15 years ago, I used to go to Bellingham from downtown Vancouver on a regular basis, year round. I would take the bicycle along on warmer days. 35 cents a ride. I’ve even taken other people along on a few occasions. Great memories!

    More recently (about two years ago), I repeated the experience a couple of times. I find the one thing that makes this trip more difficult now is the cutbacks to the direct Blaine-Bellingham bus (70X?). There used to be a midday service. I doubt that it will ever come back.

    I have also made use of county transit services on longer bicycle tours, and I am interested in checking out Island Transit’s free bus.

    Frankly, I no longer need to scrounge for nickels like I used to (though I’m not rich), but I will continue the adventure of exploring how far public transit can take me.

    P.S. I think you should be able to buy an all-day pass on any bus, as long as you have $9 in coins. The driver just makes out a paper transfer valid for the rest of the day. This might not be available, however, on the dinky community buses.

    P.P.S. Props to Evan Siroky and his transit page, as well.

  13. says

    Nice write-up Oran. Thanks to all the commenters as well. I’ll try to get around to updating the itinerary with the points brought up in these comments.

    Also I’ve had so much fun publishing these transit journey schedules that I’ve bought the domain http://www.epictransitjourneys.com. I hope to transition these itineraries and add some more by the end of this year. From preliminary searching, it may be possible with a few long hikes/bikes to travel from Canada to Mexico on public transit.

  14. 47hasbegun says

    I’ve been wanting to do this, too, but haven’t found the time. It sounds like a great adventure!

  15. Andrew says

    I do the Bellingham to Seattle run every couple months to visit my father who lives in the Federal Way area. If you’re really looking for a cheap ride Island Transit buses are free and generally much more comfortable than the SKAT buses, the 411C/412C routes with a transfer near Stanwood, Washington actually get you to Everett Station earlier than a direct SKAT bus for which you would have to wait for over an hour at Skagit Station. Anyway it’s a fun trip, i suggest that anyone who has the time to spare use transit to make the trip.

  16. says

    awesome… I have always wondered if that is possible. My dad lives in Tacoma (I live in vancouver), and i have wanted to do the public transit trip before… thanks for letting me know that it exists! wooo!

  17. Andrew A says

    I’ve taken this trip from Bellingham to Tacoma and it is not bad if it time it well and it only works on weekdays. That is great you can go all the way to vancouver on Transit. Thanks for the info Oran, I love hearing about your adventures. I think in the meantime I’ll put out the 30$ for a ticket from Seattle to Vancouver on Amtrak, which come Tuesday will have two trains a day going there! Its nice to have this option though! The one time I did it I went from Bellingham to Tacoma in 3 hours which isn’t bad. I am excited for the epictransit adventures website and may have to do one and post it there myself!

  18. Jeff says

    Having just moved from the Vancouver area to the States, I found your article very interesting. We never went on public transit, but your trip was very familiar as it was our trip home. Not sure if you were able to see the Canucks games, but this idea for a cup holder was actually born in that stadium.

  19. David M says

    Really great write-up of the trip. Something I would love to do one of these days.

    In Canada, there is another option to the C51 and that is the 375 which terminates at King George Highway and 8th Avenue – it runs every 30 minutes to White Rock Centre. It’s closer to the border crossing, but means walking down the side of Hwy 99 – probably not fun.

    You can also get the 321 from White Rock Centre that takes you to Surrey Central Skytrain Station, then the Skytrain Expo Line to downtown Vancouver. The 321 runs every 15 minutes (every 30 minutes after 9:00pm)in the off-peak, and the Expo line runs every 3-6 minutes.

    As stated, the 351 will be terminated at Bridgeport Skytrain Station on the Canada Line. The 351 frequency will be doubled to every 15 minutes during the day. Skytrain Canada Line trains run every 3-6 minutes depending on the time of day (every 10 minutes after 11pm).

    • says

      I’ll put up more photos in the pool that shows the route along Hwy 99. I expected walking on a shoulder next to speeding cars but it wasn’t like that. For the most part, the side path beginning at the visitor centre is protected by jersey barriers up until the 8th Avenue exit ramp.

    • says

      The 345 bus also takes you from White Rock Centre to the SkyTrain Expo Line but at King George Station. The 345 runs every 30 minutes and stops running at 8:45pm, but the travel time is shorter, and it brings you to the end of the line so you are more likely to get a seat.

  20. poncho says

    very interesting trip, though sounds tiring worrying about making connections on buses that are real infrequent. i’ve done the portland to salem by transit and i was pretty beat after doing it as a round trip day trip. (streetcar to max to wes to 1X to local salem buses for around town). there are quite a few people who make the transit trip between portland and salem daily.

    you can also go from seattle to vancouver via victoria… victoria clipper to downtown victoria (great ride but very expensive), walk a few blocks from the ferry terminal in the victoria harbor to behind the empress hotel where on douglas street where you catch route 70 (typically double decker transit bus) from victoria to swartz bay ferry terminal, take the bc ferries swartz bay-tsawassen super ferry (a range of onboard dining options), route 620 from tsawwassen ferry terminal to ladner exchange, 640 from ladner exchange to scott road expo skytrain station, skytrain to downtown vancouver. i’ve done portions of this trip. you can also take the pacific coach lines direct bus from downtown victoria to downtown vancouver. this coach bus goes onboard the BC Ferry.

      • Chris Stefan says

        I’m pretty amazed at how fast you got from Bothell to Bellingham. Too bad that trip only really works on weekdays. I wish the Bellingham to Vancouver segment was as seamless.

        Though it does seem no matter what mode you take to Vancouver the pace of your journey seems to slow a bit once you cross the border. At least that is my experience in both driving to Vancouver and taking Cascades.

  21. two for the rail! says

    I’d be interested in knowing what you wanted to see in Seattle from Vancouver and what Vancouver needs from Seattle.

    • says

      A few things from Vancouver: the new trolley buses, a variety of bus models (for the bus fan in me), buses with better interior arrangements and 3 doors, passenger activated rear doors, passive-restraint system for wheelchairs to eliminate tie downs, “fare-paid zones” on all transit vehicles, low floor buses with rear view windows, exit through the rear door policy, better looking website, automated stop announcements for every stop. I liked the lighting quality on the SkyTrain MkII cars, the simple fare system, and finally The Buzzer!

      Vancouver needs more schedules! Maybe I was looking in the wrong places but it was hard to find printed public transit information like schedule books. In Seattle, they’re in public libraries, shopping centers, drug stores, supermarkets, office buildings, and on every bus. I don’t want to pay Rogers and AT&T extra $$ for data roaming. Many bus stops, even in downtown Vancouver, lack timetables or other information about service other than route numbers and destinations. Also accessing schedules on Translink’s website should be more straightforward. PDFs of the actual booklets are too cumbersome. And why do I have to enter a date to get to the link for the entire route timetable. Seattle’s individual route maps are very useful.

      I miss the Ride Free Area. I miss the high-back seats. I want Vancouver to adopt ORCA.

      • Paul says

        Oran, great post. I’ve tried the bus/ferry only option to Victoria before, but became so frustrated with the amount of time it took that I just coughed up the cash for the Clipper. Kudos for sticking it out and not opting for a faster, albeit more expensive, means of getting there.

        I’ve recently moved from Seattle (grew up there) to Victoria and have now had a chance to explore Vancouver’s transit system a bit. Here are a couple of things to I’d add to a Seattle transit wishlist based on biking and busing in Vancouver:

        (1) More aggressive bus drivers (more aware car drivers) so that the buses don’t wait to pull away from the curb.

        (2) Better integration of transit and bike infrastructure planning. As far as I can tell, Translink is charged with upgrading the region’s bicycle infrastructure. The result, I’ve found, is good integration of transit with bikes. Two recent bike/transit additions I’ve seen are that they’ve added bike route finder to their website, with options to limit distance or grade or traffic interaction and they included a bike path on the Canada Line bridge to Richmond.

  22. says

    Of course, Amtrak is public transit.

    So what you mean is, “Seattle to Vancouver using only municipal buses.” It would be fun to try WA state and BC ferries sometime on this trip.

    • alexjonlin says

      Yeah you can also do this by going across to Bainbridge on WSF, up to Poulsbo on KT, up to Port Townsend on JT, and over to Port Angeles on Clallam Transit. Then it’s Blackball Ferry to Victoria and buses up to Swartz Bay, BC Ferries across to Tsawwassen, then buses up to Vancouver. That would be fun to do sometime.

  23. Jessica says

    Now I know how I’m getting to the Olympics if I’m able to go!!

    Is there anything me & my wheelchair need to know? I would bring my power wheelchair since I don’t think I can do the gap across the border manually.

    Don’t have to worry about a hotel since I have some friends in Surrey who would let me stay

    • Shawn says

      You would have an interesting situation crossing the border! Would you plan to walk/ride/wheel your way to White Rock from the border? By yourself or with friends?

      • Jessica says

        My brother lives with me now and I wouldn’t mind him coming with me (he’s more of a transit geek than I am – remember, he came out originally on a visit just to ride the Link and he decided to stay and was accepted into UW)

        I now have a motorized wheelchair (here’s a picture from the company I got it from: http://www.spinlife.com/Drive-Medical-Geo-Travel-Power-Wheelchair/spec.cfm?productID=79126) instead of a manual chair, so no more having to bit*h about hills, and no more tired arms.

        How far is it exactly from the last bus stop in Blaine to the Border to a bus to Vancouver (I think in the comments someone mentioned something closer than the C51 White Rock Centre)?

      • Bernie says

        Christ, that’s practically a Hummer compared to Old Trusty! What’s the carbon “footprint”? Oh well, now that you’re a soccer mom I guess you need the SUV :=

      • says

        From Blaine City Hall to the border to the stop at 8 Ave & King George Hwy. Take the 375 which departs every half hour.

        Total distance: 3.3 km (2 mi), The border checkpoint is located halfway between the two. That’ll save you 15-25 minutes of walking off the route I took

        I really need to update my guide and map now.

      • Jessica says

        Yes, please update.

        That doesn’t sound too far at all and (if all connections are still in place), this is how Adam (my brother) and I are getting to the Olympics if we can go. Just for the heck of it :-D

      • says

        One gotcha I found about the 375:

        You will have a 15 minute layover at the route terminus (King George Hwy & 11th Ave) as the 8th Ave stop is only served by the outbound trip. This results in a 25 minute trip from 8th Ave to White Rock Centre versus an 8 minute trip on the C51, not including walking/biking time. So you have two choices.

  24. Mike Orr says

    Yes, many thanks, Oran. I did not know there were buses north of Mt Vernon, much less that people had compiled schedules of them. Washington state has gotten closer to comprehensive transit in recent years, and that’s a very good thing, even if the buses are still maddeningly few.

    I sent a link to my Canadian friend, and his first question was, “I wonder why the White Rock buses don’t go directly to Peace Arch Park? It’s a popular location for picnics.” As a BC resident, he has further clout to push this than I do.

    He also said that the Richmond/Airport SkyTrain was inagurated yesterday. He saw the part about the White Rock-Vancouver bus changing when the Skytrain opens and said, “The new extension line to the Skytrain opened today from Downtown Vancouver to Richmond with a spur to the airport. 1-9pm today was free and it was 300 meter line ups to get a free ride. Reporters on the 6pm news said if you were not in the line-up at time of broadcast (6.15pm) dont bother going as you will not get on if you want a freebie both ways. I was thinking of kids on school vacation who would get to Vancouver and then have no money to get back cos at 9pm you have to start paying.”

    I told him Seattle’s Link opening was a bit of a better deal: two days, shorter lines, a shuttle bus, and a regular bus (174) if you got stuck at one end at night.

  25. Andrea C. says

    And I thought I was the only one who liked travelling this way….

    There’s lots of us. Cool!

  26. Gary says

    Cool Trip!

    A long time ago the “Seattle Weekly” sent someone out to Ocean Shores via public transit. They made it too. It was kind of cool to see how well all these systems connect and how with a little more work, they could connect even better.

  27. Willie Weir says

    Orin,

    We made the Vancouver trip on August 4. Light rail from Beacon Hill to International Station, a short walk to AMTRAK, AMTRAK to Vancouver, short walk to Sky Train, Sky Train to downtown Vancouver. Then a short walk to our hotel.

    Fabulous.

    • says

      Wow. That is really cool. Of course the 36 bus would have done the trick before, but it’s just so much more fun to make it an all rail trip, isn’t it? :) I want to try this myself.

  28. david yip says

    Came across Evan Siroky’s website last year.
    In Apr., used Greyhound between Vancouver and Bellingham,
    then transit to Everett for a 2 night stay.
    Day 2: Sounder train to Seattle, transit to Tacoma,
    Sounder train back to Seattle, ST 510 to Everett.
    Day 3: Transit to Mukilteo ferry, ferry to Clinton,
    transit to Bellingham, Greyhound to Vancouver.
    Note: Greyhound now has a 21 day advance purchase resulting in
    inexpensive travel between Vancouver and Seattle.
    In June, Greyhound to Everett (purchased Orca Card)
    Day 2: Sound Transit 513 to Seattle, ferry to Bainbridge Is.,
    transit to Pt. Angeles (this was when the Hood Canal Br. was
    closed for reconstruction), Coho ferry to Victoria, transit/ferry/
    transit to Vancouver.
    In June, bus/Amtrak to Portland and back. In Portland all travel by transit.
    Next month, back to Portland. Plan to visit McMinnville, home of
    the Spruce Goose and Salem by transit. Next year hope to try transiting
    from Seattle to Portland.
    Website for Metro Vancouver transit is http://www.translink.ca.

  29. Donald says

    For the return trip back (or for Vancouverites looking to do the same thing), (before Sept 7, catch the 351 from Burrard Station at 8:11am, after Sept 7, catch Canada Line by 8:30am and transfer to the 351 at Bridgeport at 9am, arriving White Rock Centre at 9:45 in either case), transfer to the 375 at 9:55, get off at King George Hwy and 8th Ave at 10:04 and walk across the border, catch the 55 Cordata bus from Blaine at 11:26 arriving Cordata 12:37, transfer to the 232 Downtown (Green Line) at 12:45 arriving Bellingham Station 13:05, transfer to 80x Mt. Vernon 13:15 arriving Skagit Station 13:575, transfer to 90x Everett at 15:15 arriving at Evertt Station 16:00, transfer to Sound Transit 510 at 16:10 and arrive at downtown Seattle sometime after 17:10.

    At a brisk pace, you could walk 3.3km in 30 minutes. If you plan on walking an average pace or if you’re worried about border waits, I suggest shifting leaving downtown Vancouver by half an hour (before Sept 7, catch the 351 at 7:41, after Sept 7 catch the Canada Line by 8:00).

  30. says

    Wow! Quite the trip. I wouldn’t have even thought to take public transit all the way.

    Hope you make it back to check out the new Canada Line to the Airport and Richmond. Crazy popular opening day, almost 100,000 people rode the system from 1pm to 9pm. LIne ups were 2 hrs long just to get on. Judging by the popular interest in the new line it will be wildly successful and will have to be expanded with additional trains.

    The lack of a public bus to the border on the BC side surprised me too but, sad to say, the attitude about crossing the border on transit probably raises suspicions. Look at the direct transit links from San Diego to the border crossing with Tijuana ( I took it a couple of years ago ) but that is mainly to service day labourers who live in Mexico and work in the US or drunk frat boys who party in Tijuana.

    Sorry the weather wasn’t better for your visit. Come back soon!

  31. cph says

    I like reading these stories about long trips using local transit.

    Back in 1996, I did a similar trip (but since there was no 80X/90X, I “cheated”
    and used Greyhound between Everett and Bellingham) I also used a cab between the
    border and the first #351 stop (Semiahmoo Mall?)

    WTA really needs to boost that 70X, and extend it into Canada. There was talk about
    connecting with the #351, but now that the Canada Line is running, might as well
    extend it there.

  32. Donald says

    Makes me wonder who will handle the cross border transit service. In Detroit MI, Windsor ON, it’s Windsor who runs their one TunnelBus route into Detroit.

  33. Julie says

    I tried to download the map, but I got a 404 – not found. I’m pretty interested in this trip, I go to school in Bellingham and don’t have a car (or money). For Western students with an annual bus pass (“free” if enrolled in at least 6 credits), the ride from Bellingham to Blaine is free.

    • says

      Sorry Julie, try again. It should work now. The original file was hosted on my personal website and I cleaned it up recently, wiping out the file. I put it on this web site so it should be safe.

      Do note that the Canada Line is now open and routes to Vancouver from White Rock now terminate at Bridgeport Station. Check Translink.ca for details.

    • Bernie says

      My son’s a frosh at Western. He took the bus last weekend back to Redmond (friends in Redmond, family in Bellevue, guess what’s more important ;-). I think the magic number for the “free” pass is 12 credits. You actually do pay for it but it’s like $35 per quarter which is virtually free. A really great deal.

    • says

      It’s an exercise in creativity. If you’re a true transit geek you need to try this out at least once.

      (And since this post is recommended I have to update it for the Canada Line)

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