I love public transport system and I am a firm believer in it. The best cities in my opinion are those that enable the residents to go from anywhere to anywhere using entirely public transport. Owning a car is optional in such cities, not a necessity.
So is Vancouver such a city or not? I have done some research and in this post I will try to answer this question with my analysis.
Metro Vancouver is large area, comprising of several towns including the towns of Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Surrey, and others. Obviously the town of Vancouver is the most densely populated (loosely speaking) and as you go further from the town of Vancouver the population density decreases. So the public transport system of Metro Vancouver is designed to cater the most densely populated areas first, and provide some coverage to distant places, with at least enough options to commute to Downtown Vancouver during the rush hours, as Downtown Vancouver and surrounding areas is where many, if not most, people go to work.
So if you look at transit map for Metro Vancouver, you would notice that almost every major road of town of Vancouver is covered by either bus or skytrain. But as you move to suburbs like Richmond and Burnaby, the coverage gets thinner. There are still many options to commute to downtown Vancouver like seabus and West Coast Express, but if you want to travel say from Surrey to Richmond, then you would have to take the bus or train to Vancouver and then change for Richmond. This will easily burn a couple of hours of your time which could easily be covered in under an hour using a private car or taxi. So there aren’t many direct routes between the suburbs, unless the Skytrain line passes through the towns that are right next to each other, case in point being the Millennium Line which loops between Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam, and New Westminster.
Also if you happen to live close (less than 10 minutes walk) to a sky train station or bus station then also it would be easier for you to use the public transport as opposed to if you are living 15-20 minutes walk from the closest public transport.
So to answer the question, yes it is possible to live in Vancouver without owning a car, but it depends on where you live in Vancouver. Not all places are equally covered by public transport.
So here is my recommendation. If you want to live in Vancouver and completely rely on public transport (or in other words don’t want to purchase a car), then you can make it happen by following these recommendations:
1. Live in the town of Vancouver, ideally as close to Downtown Vancouver as possible. You can maybe get by living in Burnaby, but your commute times will be longer and might involve long walks.
2. Live as close to sky train station as possible. This is not a hard requirement, as you can still take the bus to sky train if you are in Vancouver, but it’s better to live near sky train if you daily commutes involve traveling in the sky train. Why waste time changing the buses and stuff.
3. Don’t hesitate to hop on a taxi if time or weather doesn’t permit using the public transport, or you have to go somewhere where public transport cannot reach.
4. Use car sharing services like zipcar in case you do need to drive a car for a couple of hours.
By following the above recommendations, you can easily live in Vancouver without owning a car. The money saved from buying a maintaining a car can be invested in other things to improve the quality of life.
Let me know in the comments section if you agree or disagree with my analysis.