Renfrew-Collingwood Community News

News stories from the Renfrew-Collingwood community in East Vancouver

Skytrain Rambler: The Seabus—A unique Vancouver experience

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The view from the Seabus is amazing. Photos by Julie Cheng

The scene is a familiar one: silver-grey surroundings, the echoes of footsteps on the ramp, the sign counting down to the departure time. However, the voice is new.

It’s a rare fare check. “Please have your tickets ready for inspection,” said the transit employee.

Awakened by this change of routine, I showed my transit fare and proceeded to go through the turnstiles. Even though my commute takes 45 minutes to one hour to get home to East Vancouver, I look forward to this part of my commute—the 15-minute crossing from Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver to downtown Vancouver’s Waterfront Station. It is one of Lower Mainland’s most graceful and fulfilling urban experiences.

With the sharp toot of the Seabus’ horn, the sleek catamaran slowly makes its way out of the station and into the busy waters of Burrard Inlet. Inside the modern cabins of the newest Seabuses, the scene usually starts with an audiovisual reminder of the emergency evacuation procedures, but then gives way to one of the city’s most interesting people-watching scenes.

Seabus terminal

When you reach Waterfront, it’s worth checking out the beautiful Seabus building, which was originally a Canadian Pacific Railway Station.

During the afternoon, the scene is of commuters checking their smart phones, catching a quick nap or talking to coworkers on the journey home. For a more interesting scene, I prefer a night-time commute. While the night-time trips from the North Shore are not as frequent compared to the daylight hours, the scene is compelling. Subdued shift workers share the marine vessel with the North Shore’s bright young things dressed for the city’s nightlife, and it feels more spacious.

Outside the windows yields a dramatic urban panorama. To the north, you see the stately Coast Range Mountains green and verdant in summer, snowcapped and frequently shrouded in clouds in winter. There are familiar landmarks: the yellow piles of sulphur; the spinning Q of Lonsdale Quay market, the newish condominium towers sprouting around the Seabus terminal, the stoic, muscular grain elevators well to the east. To the west, you see the green oasis that is Stanley Park and the lattice work of Lions Gate Bridge linking downtown to West Vancouver.

Personally, I like sitting at the south end of the Seabus. I enjoy seeing the glass skyscrapers of downtown Vancouver, the graceful sails of Canada Place and the buzz of the seaplanes landing and taking off from the harbour waters. There is much dignity in this part of the transit commute: civilized conditions and some interesting scenery help make the journey home worthwhile.

Fat Duck

Worth checking out are the food trucks Fat Duck and Arturo’s near the Seabus building, at the corners of Cordova and Howe.

There is no doubt that this is a highly idealized view of the transit experience. You are reminded that our transit systems has its shortcomings upon arrival at Waterfront station: the broken escalator, large crowds and the occasional Skytrain breakdowns remind us that our transit infrastructure needs to be taken care of and expanded as the city’s population grows and changes.

ArturosHowever, the Seabus part of our transit system is one of the city’s most spectacular yet relatively inexpensive experiences. It easily rivals that of other cities that use the water for their transit system, such as Hong Kong and New York City. If you haven’t yet experienced a ride on the Seabus, a mere purchase of a transit ticket affords you this most unique experience of life in Vancouver.

From East Vancouver, travel to Waterfront Station on the Expo line, then transfer at Waterfront Station and follow the signs to the Seabus. Your transit fare is good for about 90 minutes.

John Mendoza has been a long-time resident of Renfrew Collingwood. His interests include travel and books.

Copyright (c) 2015 Renfrew-Collingwood Community News

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