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History tidbit: how to transfer buses in 1974

From 1974: the rules about how to transfer between buses in Vancouver!

Michael Taylor-Noonan, editor of the Transit Museum Society newsletter, passed along this interesting tidbit from a route map published in April 1974. It describes a set of complicated rules around transferring buses!

It seems the ticket system in the 1970s allowed you to travel in one-direction only, which made for specific rules about how one could transfer without violating the one-way policy. Michael wasn’t aware of the exact details about how the system worked, but provided this basic description: 

Some major cities allowed transfers only when the routes intersected, but because of the layout of Vancouver’s downtown with buses operating on parallel streets, the restrictions allowed transfers to nearby buses. Of course you couldn’t start to walk if you missed the bus, because the transfer would no longer be valid when the next bus came along.

So, over to you: can anyone shed a bit more light on the transfer system of the 1970s and how it worked, exactly? A few kind folks have provided a nice explanation of the 1990s transfer system in the past—is it similar?


  • By ;-), November 9, 2010 @ 8:34 am

    I remember those days…. It’s more clearer if you had an image of one of those old transfers. Basically the transfer was punched North/South (or was it East/West?). Imagine being able to travel West on #41. But you would not be able to take any service to go East for a return trip in your 90 minute window.

    In the old days, there was a lot more “loop routes”. To confuse the drivers and save money on the return trip. You would take the bus North to downtown. Do your shopping. Get back on when the bus would continue South on the other side of the city. Then catch a East or West bus to reach back to your original location within 90 minutes.

    Today’s electronic transfer is much more fairer for the 90 minute time limit. The old transfers can yield something that was as long as 2 hours or as short as 45 minutes if the driver was lazy to readjust his tear-points.

    I think there was only 2 zones too. Was it Surrey and Delta?

  • By Eric B, November 9, 2010 @ 9:16 am

    Interesting rules. The first two are simple enough. I have figured out how rules 3 and 4 would apply based on the current network.

    @ ;-): Service to Surrey and Delta didn’t happen until 1975. And I believe the current zone system took effect in the mid-1980s.

  • By Cow, November 9, 2010 @ 9:36 am

    This is actually how Toronto still does it:

    It’s hard to put it into words–so it always sounds really complicated–when in fact it’s not so bad. Transfers show the day number of the year in big numbers (so that operators can easily identify that it’s today’s), the date, roughly the time, and what route and direction you got it on (or what subway station). As long as you’re not backtracking, you’re fine — you can get all the way from Scarborough to the airport on one transfer.

    I don’t know how hard drivers look at such things, to be honest–I have monthly passes–but that’s how it still works here.

  • By Derek Cheung CMBC, November 9, 2010 @ 9:48 am

    To address the issue that ;-) raised about traveling north to downtown, then continuing south along that same route before heading east or west essentially on one transfer, the transfers also had a “Last Section” area which was to be punched when the loop route crossed Homer Street.

    Therefore I couldn’t board the 20 Granville at Victoria and 49th Avenue to go downtown, then continue on the 20 Granville to Granville & 49th to catch an eastbound 49 Metrotown Station bus.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, November 9, 2010 @ 1:09 pm

    Cow: that list makes my head spin! Though I am sure it is probably much easier in practice. That being said, I’m certainly glad transferring is sort of a no-brainer here :)

  • By zack, November 9, 2010 @ 2:52 pm

    The paper transfer system in Toronto really sucks. Here once you pay the fare, you automatically have 90 minutes to use on the transit system (Yay!). In Toronto, while it’s free to transfer from bus-subway and subway-bus, you cannot transfer on more than 2 different surface routes. There was one rare moment though when a TTC bus driver actually allowed me to transfer on a third bus in North York.

  • By Sewing, November 9, 2010 @ 5:05 pm

    I’m pretty sure stopovers were also banned, but I was too young to game the system like that, so I’ll defer to ;-)’s wisdom.

    This is why BC Hydro had a special policy every year at property tax time, allowing City of Vancouver taxpayers to stop over at City Hall and get a special stamp, allowing them to continue on their journey with the same transfer. (Jhenifer featured such a story in the Buzzer a few months ago.)

    When the system was expanded South of Fraser in 1975, there was something like a dozen fare zones, but within a few years, they were simplified down to two zones, with a “common zone” in between. The “common zone” ensured that you didn’t have today’s situation, where a one-kilometre trip across a zone boundary results in a two-zone fare.

    Some time around 1980-ish, fare zones were briefly eliminated, and at the same time, the transfer policy was relaxed, taking on the form it still takes today (unlimited transfers within a 90-minute period). Then the in the mid 80s, the current 3-zone system was introduced.

    Anyhow, for me as a kid in the 70s, one very special treat was the “Sunday and Holiday Pass.” This was a special pink transfer only available on the buses on Sundays and holidays, allowing unlimited all-day travel for a slightly higher fare.

  • By Sewing, November 9, 2010 @ 5:14 pm

    Actually, to see what the fare system looked like when it was REALLY complicated, check out the reverse side of the November 7th, 1958 Buzzer, which I happened to stumble across one day.

    By comparison, the 1975 fare structure (see page 8) was simple and straightforward!

  • By Sewing, November 9, 2010 @ 6:23 pm

    The 2-zone fare system was introduced on November 8th, 1976. Northwest Surrey formed the “Common Area,” with the rest of Surrey, White Rock, and downtown Langley (terminus of what is now the 320) forming “Zone B.” The rest of the region consituted “Zone A.” You could travel from North Van to Newton on a 1-zone fare!

    A single fare zone and unlimited transfers were introduced on February 1st, 1981. Monthly FareCards were also introduced at this time, too. (Originally, they were in 2 parts: an annual photo ID card–I had one of those, taken at Woodward’s in Oakridge–and a monthly segment.) Interestingly, the linked Buzzer also mentions the newly introduced #70 Pat Bay Highway bus in Victoria: the route connecting Swartz Bay to Downtown Victoria. (BC Transit service to Saanich Peninsula only started up in 1981.)

    The current 3-zone system was introduced on April 1st, 1984 (no fooling!): see the March 30th Buzzer from that year. Oddly (and contrary to my hazy recollection), transfers reverted to one-way only, albeit without all the cumbersome and onerous transfer point rules! I’m pretty sure one-way transferring finally disappeared once and for all pretty soon after that, though.

  • By ;-), November 9, 2010 @ 9:24 pm

    @Sewing: Thanks for the deep research. I remember that “common zone” when I was young… It’s amazing how the Lower Mainland has grown.

  • By peter b, November 10, 2010 @ 9:59 am

    I think those old rules are from the idea that your fare pays you to get from point A to point B — if there’s a point C you’d also like to go to — then you must pay an additional fare. In Duncan (BC Transit) when the bus driver gives you a transfer, the transfer can only be used once, and the bus driver manually writes the bus number, direction and time onto the transfer. They must find it extremely tedious, but them’s the rules.

  • By Sewing, November 10, 2010 @ 11:37 am

    On South Korean city buses (and I’m sure many other places, as well), there is no such thing as a transfer. Before electronic cards came along, you would simply pay a separate cash fare each time you caught a bus.

    On the other hand, you have the phenomenon of dozens of bus routes covering every imaginable combination of termini and thoroughfares, to minimize the need to actually transfer.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, November 10, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

    Sewing: that 1958 map is CRAZY. I can’t imagine trying to introduce the concept of zones to a zone-free system. Gah!

  • By Sewing, November 10, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

    I know…it’s insane! Having a simple fare structure just seems to make so much more sense (and be more efficient) for everyone: passengers, drivers, and even budget planners.

    Actually, the 1958 fare scheme (so good, I had to link to it again) seems to have been a SIMPLIFICATION (!) of the one described in the April 1st, 1952 Buzzer: a cruel April Fool’s joke, if ever there was one. No snazzy map to summarize it all, but 10 pages just to detail all the different possible fares!

    I have read that in the old days, BC Electric had a separate transit franchise with each municipality: basically (as far as I can understand it), the exclusive right provide public transit, together with terms and conditions of service. Perhaps all these different fare structures were due to such arrangements.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, November 10, 2010 @ 5:03 pm

    Sewing: We should get someone to dig up the complaint letters from the BC Electric archives starting Sunday, November 9, 1958. That must have been must have been the worst day to be a transit rider or operator, ever. And the challenges were all self-imposed!

  • By Sewing, November 10, 2010 @ 6:32 pm

    Yeah, no kidding. This is back in the days when drivers also made change, and carried cash boxes. How did they ever have the time to do their jobs, and actually drive the bus!?

  • By Meraki, November 10, 2010 @ 11:16 pm

    @ Jhenifer

    I kept a TTC transfer from my trip down there a few years ago, they’re pretty easy to read.

    Operator just has to look at the time, and verify the day’s number is correct.

  • By zack, November 11, 2010 @ 10:47 am

    @Meraki: That’s a subway transfer, a bus transfer looks more like this.

  • By Joey Connick, November 14, 2010 @ 12:03 am

    Can I just say, having moved from Vancouver to Toronto, that the Toronto system is appalling and stupid?

  • By Ekim Ssom, November 14, 2010 @ 5:53 pm

    The description of where you can transfer is more complicated in writing that it was in person. There were route signs only at the transfer points. Nowadays there are so many route signs it’s a bit more confusing/flexible. And I’m not sure if today’s route signed stops exclusively designate transfer points.

    In the ’60’s you couldn’t use a transfer at the stops marked simply “Bus Stop”. And you had a limited time to make the transfer. Many a time I’d fool around and miss a bus or two. Usually looking in the shops near the stop. The Star Weekly news store at B’way and Granville was one such distraction. Comic books were my weakness at that age.

    Then of course after wasting all that time, the driver of the bus I’d finally board would say that I’d have to pay another dime to get home.

  • By Sewing, November 15, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

    That’s a good point regarding the bus stop signs. It’s still generally the case that “ID signs” (as they’re called) are found only at transfer points, but not exclusively.

    There are quite a few places that are either major bus stops in their own right, or served by several routes with complicated stopping policies; but are not technically transfer points per se. For example, the stops on 49th Avenue outside Langara College; or all the bus stops along St John’s in Port Moody.

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