Despite hassles, travellers pack public transit for ferry trips


Riding public transit between downtown Victoria and downtown Vancouver, with plenty of help from B.C. Ferries, can be a hassle. Yet, a lot of people are doing it, taking business away from the private bus service that Pacific Coach Lines has offered since the 1960s.

A couple of letter writers in the Times Colonist have highlighted the public transit problems.

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Under the headline Poor transit service hinders ferry passengers, a letter writer says the ferry-transit experience is “absurd” and “dreadful.” He cites people pushing and shoving instead of lining up to get on the public transit bus at Metro Vancouver’s Bridgeport station, the lack of provision for luggage, complications in paying the fare (no change machine, no ticket machine at the ferry terminals, for example) and how the bus gets so packed that he can’t get a seat.

Another writer echoes the complaints in a letter headlined Bus service for ferry terminal could be better. He also cites the “jostle” to get a seat on a packed bus, and observes that “the objective seems to be to cram as many people on as possible, luggage and riders everywhere.”

But despite its failings, travellers by the thousands are opting for public transit instead of Pacific Coach Lines.

In a regulatory application to reduce service, Pacific Coach Lines says Victoria-Vancouver ridership on its buses dropped by 40 per cent between 2010 and 2013, and will drop further in 2014. It says the big drop has been caused by people switching to public transit following the 2010 opening of the Canada Line.

While there is reason to complain about public transit between Tsawwassen terminal and downtown Vancouver, it has improved immensely since the Canada Line opened. Travellers can now board, for example, the No. 620 bus at Tsawwassen at 11 a.m., get to Bridgeport station by 11:40 a.m., and arrive downtown on the Canada Line by noon. Before the Canada Line, pokey, infrequent bus service could easily stretch that journey to two hours, or three if you missed a transfer (which was easy to do).

Even with improved public transit, a journey on a Pacific Coach Lines bus is much nicer, and can be faster because you don’t have transfers. You get a plush seat and way more leg room. There’s a place to store your luggage and Wi-Fi is included.

But thousands of travellers are clearly willing to put up with the discomfort of public transit to save money.

The cost of a one-way downtown to downtown trip on public transit, including ferry fare, is around $22 to $25, depending on time of day, and day of the week. ($2.50 for Victoria bus cash fare, $16.75 for ferry, $2.75 to $5.50 for Vancouver cash fare.)

On a Pacific Coach Lines bus, the total is $49.25 for an adult B.C. resident, ferry fare included.

[Update: The initial version of this post gave incomplete information about PCL's one-way fare from downtown Victoria to downtown Vancouver. With ferry fare and taxes included, it's $49.25 for adult B.C. residents, $58.75 for adult non-residents.]

I have mostly taken public transit to travel between Victoria and Vancouver in recent years, and it has occasionally been a hassle, mostly when I’ve been lugging stuff. The bus is often crammed, with people and their luggage stuffed into every nook, all the seats taken, all the standing room taken. Because people know it gets crammed, there's a definite lack of politeness during boarding at Bridgeport station amid the anxious quest for a seat.

The Victoria end is a bit better because a railing encourages people to line up. Buses at Swartz Bay terminal also fill up, but not as much as at Tsawwassen. I'm not sure why. Maybe people in Victoria are more willing to drive out to pick up friends and family from Swartz Bay.

The news about Pacific Coach Lines has me thinking that I don’t need to be a cheapskate all the time. I’ve decided to treat myself to their superior service a little more often.

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News story in Times Colonist: As ridership drops, Pacific Coach Lines ponders cutting trips

Pacific Coach Lines describes its Victoria-Vancouver service, including details about its fares. They are lower for students and children, and for seniors on some days; and there are options such as riding just to ferry terminals, to Vancouver airport and Vancouver hotels, all with different prices.

I wrote earlier about how to travel by bus between Victoria and Vancouver.

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My previous posts are here.


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