in vancouver

MEMO0006 I've arrived in Vancouver, and will be starting in my new part-time role with the transit agency, Translink, on Tuesday. At the moment I'm preoccupied with looking for housing for this six-month stay.  Home is so important to me that when I don't have one, it's hard to focus on anything else.  So between that and the book, my posts may be light for few days.

Meanwhile, if your city is on a river or very calm harbour, you should know about the micro-ferries of Vancouver's False Creek.  They're the smallest-scale passenger ferries I've seen in the developed world.  They carry 12 passengers on a perimeter bench while the single operator sits in the center and handles driving, docking, and fares.

They're ideal for short runs at high frequency over calm water, which is what they do.  More on them soon.

18 Responses to in vancouver

  1. Nicholas Barnard April 2, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

    Wow, don’t the labor costs kill the ferries on False Creek? One operator per twelve passengers is a pretty low ratio..

  2. Adrian April 2, 2011 at 11:36 pm #

    Nicholas, it explains why those ferries are outrageously expensive. One way fare from Granville Isl. to Science World is $6.50, versus $2.50 on transit!

  3. Theo April 2, 2011 at 11:55 pm #

    ^Yet people still take them. The company is privately owned and still manages to make money, somehow. Actually, there are two companies: false creek ferries and aquabus, and they both run frequent service around false creek.
    I think most of their patronage comes from tourists and very close locals (who live on or right beside the waterfront) for whom it’s inconvenient to back track to the bridges in order to cross over to the other side.
    I had a friend who operated for False Creek Ferries last summer, and he told me that the boats are constantly fairly full. The most frequent routes are the ones that depart from Granville Island to the Aquatic center or Yaletown. These routes also cost less (though are still not as cheap as transit) but the views are spectular and for certain people, it’s the fastest way to cross.

  4. Dominic Brown April 3, 2011 at 3:19 am #

    The trips are very short, so the low ratio of passengers to staff is misleading; the ferry loads and unloads about every five minutes. I estimate those ferries to board and debark 50–100 passengers per hour, and their fuel cost is negligible, too—about a litre of diesel an hour, if I recall correctly. (
    I suspect the high price, Granville Island to Science World, is strictly a tourist gouge. Locals, as far as I can see, are mainly going from the West End (i.e. the Aquatic Centre) to Granville Island and back, and that’s just a hair over the bus cost, for a much nicer and quicker ride—depending on where you’re starting from, of course.
    Though I live near Denman & Robson, I take the ferry whenever I shop at Granville Island. That’s mainly because instead of enduring an awkward and roundabout two-bus trip, each way, I enjoy a nice walk along the seawall, a fun boat ride, and the convenience of arriving right by the main market, instead of several blocks north. Also, there’s nothing like watching Canada Geese fly past at eye level, almost within arm’s reach, taking off from the water. Easily worth an extra buck.
    Oh, and the pedestrian alternative, though reasonable for me in terms of distance, would involve walking over the Granville Bridge, a monstrosity as pedestrian-hostile as any freeway, and downright dangerous in darkness or rain. Can’t wait to see it come down.

  5. Colin Stewart April 3, 2011 at 4:15 am #

    Jarrett — re: housing, you might be interested in the CRCA, the oldest co-operative house in BC. It’s a fascinating living situation, particularly for someone in urban planning. I lived there for four years when I was in the area.

  6. John W April 3, 2011 at 4:17 am #

    I’ve always thought of them as oversized bathtub toys – though that didn’t stop me taking them whenever I had the chance. It’s nice to actually get on the water, in a town that’s surrounded by it, and something about them just puts you in a better mood – worth the extra cost.

  7. Gussy April 3, 2011 at 7:50 am #

    Don’t forget that they also have similar ferries in Victoria too.

  8. Neil April 3, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    They’re a lot of fun as a tourist, and a great way to approach Granville Island, especially if you’re already on the downtown side.
    The very similar ones in Victoria are great, too. They let me explore parts of the harbour that would have been very long to walk to. Also got a good up-close encounter with harbour seals thanks to the ferry!

  9. Zef Wagner April 3, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    I love those bathtubs! It’s a pretty ingenious system. As others have pointed out, they run so fast and frequent that they get a lot of riders per operator. I actually tried to cross the Granville Bridge once and it was really terrible, so the boats are the best way to get to the market or to other points along the water. Bus may be cheaper, but they are more confusing to visitors and take a round-about path, whereas the boats just go straight across the water. I’ve always wondered if a similar system could work on Lake Union in Seattle. There are 2 major parks across the lake from each other along with other neighborhood destinations.

  10. GD April 3, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    the price is indeed steep, but the experience, and, actually, convenience, are hard to beat.
    Makes me wish Translink would enter some kind of partnership with the private operators, so that transit passes give you a decent discount.

  11. David in Vancouver April 3, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    Jarrett, do you know about Pad”>>Pad Mapper? Since you’ve already lived here, you probably have neighbourhoods in mind.

  12. Joseph E April 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    These are privately operated, for- profit ferries? Is there any public subsidy? It is amazing that a ferry could compete against subsidized buses and cars.

  13. East Vancouverite April 3, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

    There is no subsidy and they’re privately operated. I work on Granville Island and I can attest to how popular and how convenient they are. Aquabus, the larger and better located of the two ferry companies began expanding their fleet a number of years ago to include wheelchair and bicycle accessible boats which also carry more passengers, about 20 if I’m not mistaken. That has allowed people on bikes riding the Seawall around downtown and False Creek to visit Granville Island and then return to downtown without having to backtrack around the perimeter of False Creek or do a lengthy detour to cross using the separated bicycle lanes on the Burrard Street bridge.
    The ferries also sell books of tickets that reduce the price further and buying a round trips to and from Granville Island is also a way of saving money for frequent commuters. A large number of the people who work on Granville Island take the ferries which helps support the ferry companies year round and it is a much cheaper option than buying a parking pass for Granville Island (which still doesn’t guarantee a space, just the ability to park all day, and the Island is poorly served by transit with only a single bus that runs infrequently. During the Olympics the free temporary streetcar/tram that went between Granville Island and the nearest SkyTrain station drew more than half a million riders in its 60 day period of operation.
    Jarret, it’s great to have you back in Vancouver. Another tool for house hunting is, which combines Craigslist with Google Maps. is also another good site for house hunting.

  14. East Vancouverite April 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    I forgot to add what may possibly be the greatest appeal for the small ferries, which is their frequency. During the spring through fall busy season one seldom has to wait more than two or three minutes for a ferry to arrive at their docks which is about the same frequency as people are used to with SkyTrain. So essentially the small ferries operate as a short-distance nautical rapid transit service. There is no need to memorize schedules, merely to be aware of the last ferry of the night, usually some time between 9 and 11, depending on the route, and more often than not the staff will do an additional final run to catch people who may have just missed the last boat.
    If there every could be a way of integrating the ferries into the public transit system it would be a boon for the city. However they fill a valued niche and barring some spiteful regulatory barrier to their continued operation I cannot imagine that they will do anything other than thrive for the foreseeable future. City plans for the development of both Southeast False Creek/Olympic Village neighbourhood and Northeast False Creek/no snappy name yet also included central public docks for the ferries. The former is expected to be built and operational in the next year or two and the latter within the decade as that part of downtown builds out.

  15. Chris Kay April 3, 2011 at 9:58 pm #

    I’ll third the desire to integrate or otherwise discount transit pass holders. I live near the Aquabus dock at Hornby, and think the ferries make a tidy profit moving hundreds of passengers about 100 metres to Granville island for up to $3.25 each. The operating costs are low.
    I always dreamed that the city might consider a footbridge between Downtown and Granville Island under the bridge deck, even though it would come at the expense of the ferries. It would make Granville Island more accessible, particularly for downtown residents returning from nightlife (ferries stop at 9:30… you have to bus — infrequent — or taxi — pricey — if you’re on the Island for dinner or a show).

  16. John Grasty April 4, 2011 at 10:28 pm #

    Welcome to Vancouver. Be careful of the rental scams.

  17. JJJJ April 5, 2011 at 12:34 am #

    Those look to be a similar model to those operated in Boston as “Water Taxis”
    Also privately run.

  18. Pete April 5, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

    Nice looking operation. There is something similar in the city of Bristol, England, where a fleet of small ferries plies the ‘Floating Harbour’ in the city centre: