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How big is TransLink’s service area?

The area of the City of Toronto, superimposed over TransLink's service area.

The area of the City of Toronto, superimposed over TransLink's service area.

Somebody asked about the size of TransLink’s service area the other day, and I thought you all might be interested in the answer.

TransLink serves a very large area in Metro Vancouver – about twice the size of Toronto, as you can see in the illustration above.

Throughout history, in fact, Metro Vancouver has basically always had one transit system that served all cities in the region, rather many cities with their own transit systems. (The exception, of course, is West Vancouver Blue Bus!)

This regional system stems from the way transit developed in Metro Vancouver.

Transit was launched in the 1890s by a private electric company, the B.C. Electric Railway, who kept expanding throughout the region and served it as one unified transit system for about 60 years. (Here’s a past post about B.C. Electric and its interurbans.)

So even as our transit system changed hands to different authorities later, the regional transit system had already stuck and never went away.

Also, here’s two more illustrations comparing us to Montreal and Chicago, if you’re curious.

The area of the City of Montreal, superimposed over our service area.

The area of the City of Montreal, superimposed over our service area.

The area of the City of Chicago, superimposed over our service area.

The area of the City of Chicago, superimposed over our service area.


  • By Rob P, September 17, 2009 @ 4:08 pm

    It would be interesting to see the service area of the dominant or primary metro/transit service from all three cities overlaid to make it a more fair comparison =)

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, September 17, 2009 @ 4:16 pm

    Sure, the more maps the merrier. Isn’t the TTC area basically the same as Toronto though? The TTC system map seems to just have a few routes reaching north outside its boundaries.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, September 17, 2009 @ 4:37 pm

    Hmm… correct me if I’m wrong, but after a quick look at the CTA region map and the Montreal service map, they seem to basically fall within city boundaries, no? PACE buses and Metra trains seem to serve the outskirts of Chicago, not the CTA.

  • By David M, September 17, 2009 @ 4:58 pm

    HI Jhenifer,

    You are correct that the TTC service area is largely the same as the City of Toronto. The only routes that go outside the boundary are those to the airport. The other routes going outside the boundary are operated under contract to the relevant transit agency (e.g. York Region contracts TTC to provide many north-south routes). In this instance, the frequency and routing is determined by the York Region transit agency – TTC just provides the buses and drivers.

    TTC has it easy; the city is a grid and very dense – so it’s easier and much cheaper to provide frequent “grid” pattern of service.

  • By David Arthur, September 17, 2009 @ 5:22 pm

    Yes, with the exception of a few things like airport express routes, the TTC serve only the City of Toronto. All the other suburbs equivalent to Richmond, Burnaby etc. have their own public transport operators, and service integration is minimal. In many cases, you can’t even get a single ticket covering your entire route, but have to pay again when you get onto a different operator’s bus.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, September 18, 2009 @ 9:21 am

    Thanks for the clarifications!

  • By zack, September 18, 2009 @ 9:46 am

    Before 1999 the TTC service area used to serve the suburbs of Etobicoke, North York, and Scarborough before they were all amalgamated into the City of Toronto. The suburbs eventually turned into boroughs. Back then, all of the suburbs of the TTC service area paid the same fare except beyond Metro Toronto boundaries. But what I was surprised is when I came to Vancouver, the transit system here is more broader and complex than Toronto.

    The suburbs share the same transit system with the City of Vancouver (ex West Vancouver), so why doesn’t Metro Vancouver amalgamate the suburbs into the City of Vancouver? The fare would definitely be much cheaper if that happens. :)

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, September 18, 2009 @ 9:53 am

    Oh man, zack, what a question :)

  • By Mark D., September 18, 2009 @ 9:55 am

    Jhen and the rest of you folks I’m sure this has been debated many many times.

    Those two cities along with NY and even London UK have far superior transit systems than us – I know having been to those places.

    As well I don’t get why the civil liberties group is all upset about a gated system.

    Lets face it – I felt A LOT safer on the London Tube and the NY Subway, the Metro and the TTC than I do on skytrain.

    Why can’t our city implement gates now? Its obvious we’re running a deficit in the translink budget and introducing gates now will help alleviate the problem and keeps those homeless unsafe types off the system.

    We need gates now, surely such a forward city and someone like Jhenifer should be able to influence those top whigs.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, September 18, 2009 @ 10:07 am


    The faregates are already planned, as the province and the federal government have committed money to their installation: here’s a post with the info. Faregates can’t show up right away though, because they must be integrated with the technology for the smartcard. Development of the smartcard is still ongoing and it’s important to ensure that it’s working properly before everything goes in. Edit: I should also mention that many of the Expo Line stations would need to be expanded in order to accommodate faregates, so there’s that challenge too.

    Also, I don’t really want to turn this particular thread into a faregate discussion. While I definitely know you feel strongly about this, the debate both for and against faregates can be very intense and emotionally charged for a lot of people, and it would take away from discussion around the topic of this post.

    You can certainly check out the earlier post about faregates for more of that discussion though. And feel free to submit your thoughts to our customer relations form, where it will be logged in the system and sent to the right staff!

  • By zack, September 18, 2009 @ 10:10 am

    Maybe that was too much to ask. Sorry :)

  • By Sungsu, September 18, 2009 @ 10:35 am

    Many systems in Europe operate on a proof-of-payment system — no fare gates — including the Docklands Light Railway in London.

  • By David, September 18, 2009 @ 4:04 pm

    I think it’s pretty clear from the maps why the transit systems in other cities have an advantage over Vancouver: more people in a smaller area.

    We don’t have a big problem with fare evasion. Almost all SkyTrain passengers use a bus at one end of their journey or the other and fare compliance on buses is very high.

    The tiny fraction of people who don’t never pay for transit will still be riding for free ten years from now, fare gates or not. It’s silly to spend a fortune trying to collect money from them.

    Fare gates also do nothing for safety. You think some guy running from the cops is going to stop and pay his fare? I’ve watched people jump over fare gates in San Francisco and push through bigger gates in other cities simply by walking immediately behind a paying customer.

    The only thing we need is a smart card system to make the fare system more fair. Paying a 2 zone fare to go from Kingsway and Joyce to Metrotown is silly when someone can go from Langley to the Tsawwassen ferry on a single zone fare.

  • By David Arthur, September 19, 2009 @ 1:46 pm

    In terms of zones, I rather like the way Copenhagen handles it: the zones are smaller, but the base fare gets you ~two~ zones. That way, you don’t have the nuisance of fare-by-distance, but you aren’t likely to get charged extra for a short trip either.

    Incidentally, Copenhagen’s beautiful new metro (which is what the Canada Line ~ought~ to have been) is another example of a system without fare gates.

  • By Cliff, September 20, 2009 @ 12:21 am

    A different zoning scheme is probably what’s needed. I see it as one of the big problems behind getting people out of their cars in the suburbs. (That and actually HAVING bus infrastructure).

    How many commuters would TransLink gain if all of a sudden it only cost $70 a month and not $130?

    However way it’s done, it needs to be done.

  • By ;-), September 20, 2009 @ 1:14 am

    The current 90 minute zone system was probably a restriction from the paper transfer days. With today’s electronic fareboxes, it should be relatively easy for people to pay for a full 90 minutes or less if they choose to. If you don’t pay for a full fare, the fare boxes prorate your transfer what time you have paid. I’m sure this will be popular in the West End where they are not likely to need a full 90 minutes to get around. For those of us in East Van, it’s much more fair to get to Metrotown or Richmond.

    @David: Yes, I would welcome zones around UBC, SFU and the West End.

  • By emmy, September 20, 2009 @ 11:21 am

    I would certainly welcome changes to the fare system.

    As an East Vancouver resident, I found it curious that I would have to pay a two zone fare to travel to Metrotown, even though it’s closer to home and more convenient.

    I would love to see a new system of pricing and perhaps an introduction of a smart card. Imagine if transit users could buy a monthly farecard that was good for 30 days that could be activated any time and was not limited by calendar boundaries.

  • By Cliff, September 22, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

    Creation of “free zones” on the SkyTrain. Places where the SkyTrain crosses a fare boundary.

    Metrotown to Joyce, New Westminster to Surrey Central, Gilmore to Holdom, Lougheed Town Centre to Sapperton.

    That would encourage transit use to the town centres and would take care of the problem of paying extra just because one happens to be at a zone boundary station. Rupert and Renfrew and Gilmore were deliberately avoided due to undesirables in the Commercial Broadway area. This would be in rush hours only as fares are not currently checked in the peak hours anyway.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, September 24, 2009 @ 9:26 am

    Well, the oddities with the fare zone system are exactly why we’re putting in the smartcard program. It’ll be much easier to put in a different fare structure to make sure people aren’t getting dinged higher fees for crossing small distances over zone boundaries.

  • By Marvin B, September 24, 2009 @ 10:05 am

    I am looking forward to smart cards. Scan the card on the way onto the bus, train or seabus then scan on the way out. Forget to scan while leaving means paying full price (whatever that will be). There hopefully will be several scanning machines at each station.

    While still in the current system, one thing I always found to be unfair besides zones is how long you get for paying your fare. While 90 minutes is more than adequate for a trip within a single zone, crossing zones is another story. I’d like to see a system where you can simply buy time. I read a previous post where you can get a pro-rated amount of time if you don’t have enough money. That’s awesome! How about also having extra time for extra money? I need 2 hours, so I pay a little extra. I think that’s a good idea.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, September 24, 2009 @ 10:08 am

    Marvin: indeed! Those sorts of time/distance charges will certainly be better implemented via smartcards. We can offer many types of varied payments if it’s programmed into a smartcard system.

  • By Tanya Simard, September 27, 2009 @ 5:59 pm

    I moved to Montreal 6 years ago. I know both transit systems pretty well. I think the comparison between Montreal and Vancouver is not completely accurate. It is as if the Vancouver map did not include the suburbs of Vancouver when looking at Vancouver’s routes. Montreal has divided its transportation into different companies yet they connect through the metro and major bus terminals. The RTL routes need to be considered as well to make it a fair comparison.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, September 28, 2009 @ 9:12 am

    Tanya: Hmm… could you clarify about the suburbs bit? The Vancouver map is of the entire Metro Vancouver region, which encompasses all of the cities in the area.

    You’re definitely right about Montreal having different transit companies that serve its entire region, and that’s what the comparison is illustrating — for the entire Metro Vancouver region, there’s only one transit organization and one fare structure that covers the whole area, rather than multiple companies.

  • By Tanya Simard, September 28, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

    It is true it is one fare structure in Vancouver and not in Montreal. However the two systems physically run together. It is fairly seamless. It just like crossing zones in Vancouver. You pay for each zone you travel across. It is the same concept. Also, I have my one OPUS card which I can prepay for all my transit trips.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, September 28, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

    Fair enough Tanya — thanks!

  • By Corey, October 1, 2009 @ 1:37 pm

    Prince George used to have smart cards that were good for 30 days from the time you activated them. They also had 5, 10 and 20 trip cards. For the latter two, it was slightly cheaper to buy a trip card than pay cash for the trips. Sadly, they got rid of all these electronic cards because the technology was unreliable. I think we were the only BC Transit system to actually use that technology. Now, we have old fashioned paper monthly passes that we flash at the driver. Of course, being a smaller system, many of the drivers know you and some don’t ask to see your pass except at the beginning of each month because they know you have one. In PG, tickets are cheaper than cash fare as well; I don’t know if that’s the case in Metro Vancouver.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, October 1, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

    Interesting! Thanks for the perspective from PG. Btw, yes, tickets and passes are cheaper than cash fares in Metro Vancouver. If you’re curious, info on all our fares can be found here.

  • By JKKT, January 8, 2012 @ 1:54 pm

    Weird. It says that lions bay and bowen island are in the Green Zone when they are clearly in the Red zone. Also, Anacis is. should also be in both the red zone and green zone. Can you please clarify? Thanks

Other Links to this Post

  1. re:place Magazine — September 18, 2009 @ 9:27 am

  2. The Buzzer blog » How big is TransLink’s service area? « metrobabel — September 26, 2009 @ 11:45 am

  3. The Buzzer blog » TransLink 101: welcome to our February special post series! — February 6, 2013 @ 8:58 am

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