I have posted a 2017 update for travelling by public transit between Victoria and Vancouver. A lot has changed since 2014.
- - -
Since Vancouver’s Canada Line opened in 2009, it has become practical to travel between Victoria and Vancouver by public transit, if you don’t mind sitting or standing really close to other people. Before that, especially on the Vancouver end, it was pretty much a project for the determined.
TransLink, which runs public transit in Metro Vancouver, is in the midst of overhauling its payment system and installing fare gates. There’s more about that at translink.ca. The instructions here don’t reflect those changes, since they are not fully in place yet. [Update: TransLink has greatly expanded its Compass Card fare system as of Jan. 1, 2016. More details here.]
Despite the blow-by-blow detail, the trip is fairly straightforward. I wrote all this out for a relative, and am passing it along after encountering confused people trying to make the journey. Also, this comes to mind because I’m going to Vancouver to catch a train to Toronto.
- - -
Travelling from Victoria to Vancouver.
Victoria’s cash fare is $2.50, exact coins. You can also buy a sheet of 10 tickets for $22.50. Or a one-month pass. More details at B.C. Transit's website.
Catch Route 70, the express to Swartz Bay terminal. It runs along Douglas Street, where there are several stops; then along the Patricia Bay Highway, where there aren’t many stops. It takes about 50 to 55 minutes from downtown.
There’s also Route 72, which has a lot of stops, and wanders all over the place. It takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes from downtown. Those extra 20 minutes feel like an eternity.
Get off at Swartz Bay terminal and buy your ferry ticket from one of the ticket machines or from the ticket seller. More details at bcferries.com
If you are planning to explore Vancouver a bit, taking two or three public transit trips in one day, consider buying a day pass. The ferry gift shop sells them for $9.75. [Update: Instead of a day pass, they now sell Compass cards for $16, preloaded with $10 of "value," plus $6 for the card.]
The ferry docks at Tsawwassen terminal after a trip of about 1 hour 35 minutes.
As the ferry approaches, get in line to get off, so that you have a better chance of getting a seat on the bus. You’ll see people clustering; there are also signs pointing you to the right door for departure.
Route 620 to Bridgeport Station, usually an extra-long bendy bus, will likely be waiting at the terminal exit. There’s a railing that sort of corrals people into standing in line. There might be an attendant directing people.
But, unless things have changed recently, there is no ticket machine. And the ferry terminal doesn’t sell bus tickets. [Update: Vending machines to pay for fares have been installed at Tsawwassen and Horseshoe Bay ferry terminals as of Oct. 5, 2015.]
If you don’t have a day pass or a ticket, you’ll need exact coins for the fare — $5.50 during peak hours on weekdays to travel to downtown Vancouver. It’s less in the evening and on weekends — $2.75. TransLink uses a zone system, where you pay less for travelling less distance.
[Update, Sept. 13, 2015: Beginning Oct. 5, Metro Vancouver's public transit system is temporarily adopting a single-zone fare for travel by bus only as it works out problems with its Compass Card system. Just to make things more complicated, if you travel on the SkyTrain system or on the Seabus, you'll still need to pay extra if you cross into another zone. More details here, on the TransLink website. I am predicting plenty of confusion about this.]
If you have a day pass or ticket, put it vertically, with arrow pointing down, into the ticket slot. It will be time-stamped, and come back out. Take the pass or ticket with you. If you pay in cash, a ticket will pop out. [This system is being phased out with introduction of the Compass system.]
The Route 620 journey to Bridgeport Station takes as little as 35 minutes if traffic is flowing; 40 to 45 minutes might be more typical.
The bus is often very crowded, stuffed with people and their luggage.
Get off at the Canada Line’s Bridgeport Station, which is the last stop for Route 620. Go up the escalators into the station. You may be asked to show your ticket; you don't have to buy another ticket if you paid the proper amount when you boarded the bus. [Again, things are changing with the Compass system. You can buy a Compass ticket from a vending machine, or a Compass Card, which requires a $6 deposit. You can load "value" onto the card, which can be used to pay for fares. You "tap in" at card readers on buses, but not out. You tap in and out on TransLink trains and the Sea Bus.]
Ride the Waterfront train into Vancouver. You can also ride in the opposite direction, to Vancouver International Airport, or to Richmond. Or catch one of the many buses that stop at the station.
- - -
Travelling from Vancouver to Victoria.
Catch an Airport or Richmond train to Bridgeport Station. It takes about 19 minutes to go from Waterfront to Bridgeport. (Marine Drive is the station before Bridgeport.)
Go down the escalators at Bridgeport and veer left to the Route 620 stop. (Check the translink.ca website for Route 620’s schedule to avoid a long wait.) If it’s close to bus time, you’ll find a pile of people who are clearly not in a line. When the bus arrives, there might be some pushing.
Get off at Tsawwassen terminal. Buy your ferry ticket from machine or person, get on the ferry.
At the ferry gift shop, you can buy a Victoria bus day pass, but not single-ride tickets. [Update: as of April 1, 2016, day passes are only sold on Victoria transit buses.]
At Swartz Bay terminal, turn right after you get outside. A bus is typically waiting, but there might not be one if it’s after 9 p.m. A railing encourages you to line up. Again, Route 70 is express, Route 72 is not. There's also Route 81, a smaller bus which goes to Brentwood, Keating X and Sidney.
- - -
An easier alternative is B.C. Ferries Connector, where you board and get off at the bus terminal in Victoria or Vancouver. It’s more expensive but you get nicer seats and having to stand is highly unlikely.
- - -