Pacific Northwest Without a Car

I’m on a mixture of assignments and family vacation right now, with one of the articles being about visiting Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver—then on to Banff in the Rockies—using only public transportation. That ended up including a few taxi cab rides and a lift from a friend (with six of us in the car), but we did it.

Usually when I go on these family jaunts I end up renting a car or paying a driver when on the move a lot, but it was nice to return to a more eco-friendly mode of travel this round. There aren’t a whole lot of Seattle train travelplaces in North America where you can rely on public transportation only without incurring lots of waiting time and discomfort. The Pacific Northwest is pretty easy though.

We got all-day transport passes in Portland for $4.25 each and did the same thing in Vancouver for $9 adults, $7 kids. That amount got us all over the place in the latter, including a very long bus ride to the Anthropology Museum and up to the mountainside Capilano Suspension Bridge via sea bus and regular bus. In the city center most of the buses are electric, with trolley-style power lines. In Seattle the buses in the center are free, but except for a monorail ride to the Experience Music Project we just walked, which is easy enough.

We got from city to city by Amtrak train on the first leg. On the second leg I thought I had booked another train, but somehow ended up with a Thruway bus. The price was right though: $142 with a AAA discount for all three of us to go Portland- Seattle- Vancouver. (Seattle’s nice train station pictured here.)

We also got around Stanley Park in Vancouver by renting bikes. There are a few rental places with great equipment right outside the park. It’s not all that cheap, as in $6 to $10 an hour depending on the bike (plus helmet charge), but a great way to circle the whole park by the seawall. [UPDATE – The fine folks at Vancouver Tourism have informed me that if you visit the Tourist InfoCentre “you can buy a voucher for rental of a bike, lock and helmet for four hours for $18. You pre-pay and then just take the voucher down to Bayshore Bikes to redeem within the next two weeks, so if the weather isn’t good, you can just go another day.” Sweet deal!]

vancouver travel bicycle

Then I got into travel writer mode and we took the swanky Rocky Mountaineer train between Vancouver and Banff. But that’s not a story for this cheap travel blog…

  1. bryan in san francisco

    This is your best entry in a year; thanks so much for writing about doing the US car-free!!!

    Unfortunately, of the major cities you’re visiting I have to say it’s shameful that a city as large as Seattle has no rapid transit. There’s only a tourist monorail and a pathetic bus system.

  2. tim

    Yes, Seattle is inexplicably deficient when it comes to public transportation and the locals seem to be baffled as to why they are so far behind Portland to the south and Vancouver to the north. There was even an editorial in the local weekly when I was there about “Portland envy” when it comes to anything related to urban planning and transportation.

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