I recently took a trip with my mother to Vancouver Island, both to take care of some family business out there and to do a bit of sight-seeing. The main challenge of the trip, though, was just getting around; neither my mother nor I drive, and we needed to get to multiple locations around both the island and the mainland, so just how does one get around a place like that without a car? The obvious ways are taxis, buses, rideshare, and good ol’ walking, but it took a bit of planning to make it all work.
When we arrived in Nanaimo, we needed to get to Duncan. There is a bus between them, but it was already later in the day, and I wanted to make sure we got to the hotel before check-in closed, so we just grabbed a taxi. At over $100 this was by far the most expensive option, so I didn’t want to do this too often, but I just wanted to get there ASAP.
My mom’s mobility is a bit limited these days, but fortunately Duncan itself is fairly small, so walking around was perfectly viable for the places that we needed to reach within Duncan. We also needed to get out to a business in Maple Bay though, and that was way too far to walk, but there’s a bus system within Duncan that runs out that way. I never carry exact change anymore, but we could buy tickets from local shops for the bus and use those instead, so that was no problem. We also wanted to visit Chemainus, and the buses even ran all the way up there.
We needed to get to Tofino next, and that was a bit trickier since it’s a good 3-4 hour trip, so the local bus and taxis weren’t an option. Fortunately there are a couple of other bus services that run up and down the island (the Vancouver Island Connector, and Island Link), and we could take those right to and from Tofino. There’s a gotcha, though: they don’t run every day of the week. I had already booked the hotel in Tofino before I realized that there was no bus at all coming back the day we checked out, so I had to scramble to adjust the booking to ensure we’d be leaving on a day where there would actually be a bus. Scheduling these ahead of time is essential just to make sure you can even get a seat; one of my biggest fears was something going wrong with the booking or the buses somehow and being stranded in Tofino with no easy way back.
Tofino is also a pretty small town that’s extremely walkable, with one exception. We were staying close to the ‘downtown’ section, and the beaches are actually pretty far from there. Within walking distance for me, but not for my mom. Normally there would be a free shuttle bus that would be able to take you pretty close to some of them, but our timing was bad: it stops running for the year at the start of September. So, we wound up calling a taxi to get to and from the beach. Turns out that there’s only one taxi in Tofino, just one car operated by one guy, so we got to see him both directions and chatted a bunch about the area.
We also wanted to stop in Vancouver for a bit to see some family, so we took the bus back to Nanaimo and took the ferry over to the mainland. I was initially uncertain how to handle things from there on, since the ferry drops you off at Horseshoe Bay, a ways away from the city proper, but it turned out to be easier than expected. Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver, North Vancouver, and Vancouver itself are basically one big integrated transit system, and there were buses going right from Horseshoe Bay all the way downtown, where our hotel was. The only glitch was that I didn’t want to drag our luggage through a transfer onto a second, busier bus for the final leg, so we wound up walking through downtown a bit farther than I’d liked. Dragging two pieces of luggage. Uphill. (I’d forgotten how hilly Vancouver is.) I kind of wish I’d picked a hotel a little bit closer to the ‘main’ bus routes, but I didn’t book as early as I should have so my options were limited.
Getting around Vancouver to see the family was also fairly painless. Again, no exact change, but I was able to use my contactless debit card on any bus, and I bought a pre-loaded ‘Compass card’ for my mom so she just needed to swipe it. Way easier than what we’re trying to roll out in Calgary, where you have to manage and activate virtual ‘tickets’ in a mobile app. Figuring out the routes to take was easy enough through Google Maps, which had a surprising amount of detail about exactly where the buses were. And there wasn’t too much waiting at any point, even though we wound up getting dragged across both West and North Vancouver to chase some of the family down (don’t ask)…
And then on the last day we could simply take the SkyTrain all the way from downtown right out to the airport, where we flew home. So, in the end we only needed to take taxis three times, and managed to bus it the rest of the time. Going into the trip I had a lot of anxiety about successfully navigating all of this, but in the end it was actually a lot easier than expected.