Tap In Tap Out, How to Get Around Vancouver Using Transit

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Tap in tap out that is the new normal for transit users in Vancouver. We’ve had months to get used to the idea, but if you are a visitor to Vancouver our new system may confound, confuse and baffle you. How to get around Vancouver if you are a tourist? What is a Compass Card? How does it work? Do I need one? Can I pay cash? What are the rates? Does Vancouver have UBER? After much trial and error of my own, I will lay out the transit options available to you in Vancouver, all with the exception of renting a car as I assume you would be familiar with that one. Vancouver is a great city and very walkable. Depending on where you are staying and what you plan to do you may be able to walk to most of your adventures, I do as I’ve been car free since 2007.

Metro News Tap In Tap Out Compass Card

Compass Card – Let’s start with what is a Compass Card? It is a reloadable card that stores your transit fares for use on Buses, Sky Train, West Coast Express and Sea Buses. All are part of our Public Transit system called Translink. You may load a Monthly Pass valued at $91 to $170 depending on how many Zones you cross, a Day Pass at $9.75 or you can load the card up with any amount you desire. The Compass Card costs $5 and can be purchased at all Sky Train stations, BC Ferries terminals, London Drugs and online.

How to get around Vancouver with a Compass Card

For people visiting Vancouver, and requiring limited transit usage, you don’t need to “purchase” the permanent blue Compass Card. You can purchase temporary Day Pass tickets and single use tickets at vending machines at every Sky Train station. Please note these tickets are only good for the day they are purchased up till 4 am.

Compass Vending Machine

If you purchase a Single Use ticket, please note that it is good for 90 minutes of travel in any direction. Multiple buses, Sky Train, etc… you can do it all, but it must conclude within 90 minutes. If you have the permanent Compass Card, you can take as many rides throughout the day, once the Fares total $9.75 or more, it will automatically convert you to a Day Pass allowing you unlimited travel until 4 am.

Buses – Buses in Vancouver are probably the simplest and most complicated form of transportation when it comes to Fares in the city. For transit purposes, Vancouver is divided into 3 zones. To cross from one zone to another costs more money except on Buses. All bus routes in Vancouver are treated as a 1 zone fare. You can take a bus from West Vancouver to Surrey, and it will only cost you $2.75 or $2.10 if you have a Compass Card.

Translink Bus

Here’s how payment on a bus works. You either have exact change in cash, $2.75 which you deposit into the machine by the Driver, or you Tap In with your Compass Card (temporary or permanent) and $2.10 will be deducted from the balance on your card. If you use cash to ride the bus, you will be able to transfer to another bus, ask for a transfer at the time of boarding, however, that transfer is not valid for all other transit options. You will need to purchase a new fare should you board a Sky Train or Sea Bus.

Sky Train – Our rapid transit lines are awesome and can get you from the airport to downtown in 30 minutes. To ride on a Sky Train all you have to do is pass the Fare Gates with your Compass Card and Tap In. If you don’t have a Compass Card, you can purchase one via the vending machines located at each station. The system automatically deducts the Fare from your Card, so when you are exiting the Sky Train station you MUST Tap Out. This ensures you are only charged for the applicable Zone travel you made. Remember I said we have 3 Zones?

Sky Train at Rupert Station

Tap In Tap Out at Compass Fare Gate

Sea Bus – The Sea Bus connects downtown Vancouver with North Vancouver via Waterfront Station and Lonsdale Quay. On the North Vancouver side there is a bus terminal that connects you up with the entire North Shore. At Waterfront Station, you can access Sky Trains, Buses, and the West Coast Express. You must Tap In and Tap Out at the Sea Bus, exactly as you would at Sky Train stations.

Vancouver Sea Bus

West Coast Express – The West Coast Express is a commuter train that runs twice a day and brings passengers to Downtown Vancouver from as far away as Mission and back. Rates differ for the West Coast Express and the schedule is here.

West Coast Express

Taxis – There are a number of Taxi Companies in Vancouver. The two that come to my mind are Yellow Cab 604-681-1111 and Black Top & Checker Cabs 604-731-1111. Both companies offer an APP to facilitate pick up and that is what I use as the APP notifies you when the cab approaches. Perfect for days when it is raining hard outside.

Yellow Cab Taxi APP

Uber – At this time, Vancouver does not allow Uber to operate in Vancouver. When and if that changes I will update this post.

Car SharingModo, Car2Go, and Zipcar are all active and available to their members in Vancouver. Please refer to their websites for vehicle locations and rules.

Photo by Cleantechnica

I hope this helps you navigate your way around Vancouver. It is one of my favourite cities in the world and the place I call home. Google Maps is the best mapping tool I’ve found for helping me plan out my routes in the city. They even include all the transit routes, so let your fingers do the typing and good luck finding adventure.


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About Author

Marc Smith is a former event planner turned vagabond adventurer. He loves strong Americano's, great wine, cold beer and zip lining over tree tops. Formerly of Vancouver, most of Marc's time when not travelling is in Canada's largest city, Toronto. Follow along on his nomad adventures and discover places to stay, things to do and where to eat & drink as he explores the world one city and region at a time.


  1. Michael Welsh on

    Good one Marc,
    With this kind of change for people who only use the transit system infrequently, the kind of detailed information you provided was useful. And by the way, my partner has purchased a compass card for me, now I just have to load it. By the way, as a senior my card is Orange.

  2. Vancouver has an amazing array of public transit options. I’ve utilized them all and love the fact that the Compass Card lets you get where you need to go for a reasonable cost.

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