Figuring Out Melbourne’s Trams – Your Guide to Melbourne Public Transport

Melbourne’s Public Transport – trams will make your route faster, easier, and even free! But it can be confusing for beginners, so we’ve made it simple!

Tram in Melbourne CBD

Melbourne has been consistently ranked as one of the most liveable cities in the world, and the city’s easy access to public transport is absolutely a contributing factor. The city system is built around the world’s largest, best-connected traincar network that allows residents to move about without hassle. Fast, accessible and environmentally friendly, getting around without a car has never been so easy. However, if you’re a Melbourne newbie or just not really used to taking public transport, getting used to the ins and outs of Melbourne’s trams can be tricky. We’re here to make it easier for you, and break down everything you need to know so you can board, plug in to your Spotify playlist and essentially teleport to where you’re going.

Your Golden Ticket – What’s a Myki Card?

A Myki Card is your all-encompassing public transport ticket. Valid for trams, buses, trains, this reusable little smartcard is your pass around the city. You carry a sum of money on the card, and when you get on a tram, the money on the card pays for your boarding. When it runs out, you can refill the card. It’s essentially like a debit card, but just for public transport. You can purchase a card online, or at a 7-Eleven, a ticket office window at a train station or the pop-up Myki machines that some tram stops come stationed with, and top it up with more money at all these same locations.

If you’re a student, you’re entitled to a special student Myki card that gives you discounted rates to travel… which is why it’s a little more annoying to replace if you lose it. If you have a regular Myki, you can always buy another. As a student, you have to go through the whole purchasing process again, which you have to do every year as student Mykis expire annually.

With help from your university, you will need to obtain a Victorian public transport student card to then present at a station, where you will then receive a student Myki. It’s fairly straightforward, but does require assembling a few documents and proof of ID, and then making the trip to a station. Your university will have more information on their individual process for helping with Myki discounts, so talk to a student rep or your campus advisors about how to get a student Myki. 

tapping on Myki card

The Free Tram Zone

One of the best things about Melbourne trams is that perhaps the most significant spots around the city are free to travel between. That’s right – free! If you are travelling within the free tram zone, which includes Melbourne Central all the way to Flinders Station, you don’t even have to touch on. Isn’t that great? Everyone loves free stuff. There’s even a whole free tram route that will take you around the entire city circle. All these stops are likely already or at least connecting to your final destination, so the ease and convenience of this free travel is incredible for residents to take advantage of.

Tram Etiquette

Once you board the tram, it’s only the beginning! There are a whole lot of rules – both written and unwritten – that should be followed.

The first and foremost rule is tapping on your Myki – holding it against the card reader when you board to process the ticket fare. You should also tap off when you reach your stop so you receive an accurate fare deduction, If the machine beeps at you and informs you you have insufficient funds or asks you to tap again, you should step off the tram and immediately follow those instructions before trying to travel again, or you may incur a fine. But more on that later.

If you’re lucky and the tram isn’t too busy, there will be seating available and you can kick your feet up and relax. However, if the tram is busy, you may have to stand, or give up your seat.

Give up your seat, what do we mean?

Well, sometimes people will board the tram who do not have the privilege of being able-bodied, or they are elderly, or have a child in a pram or carrying several heavy items they need to set down. This is one of those unwritten rules. If someone like this boards the tram and there is nowhere to sit, you should offer them your seat if you can. They may need it more than you. You can use your judgement and intuition to ascertain which situation calls for it and which does not. But it’s definitely something to be mindful of when striving to look out for other passengers.

When you think you are reaching your stop, you should pull the cord above your head or press one of the stop buttons on the tram to indicate to the tram driver you wish to disembark the carriage. You should leave ample time to flag down your stop so the driver doesn’t accidentally speed past where you need to get off! Be respectful, do not shove or push, and be kind to one another – that’s the biggest unwritten rule. Wait, no. The biggest unwritten rule is hold on. The tram might stop suddenly, and you don’t want to be sent flying!

Old fashioned green tram in front of building

Knowing Where You’re Going

There’s no real quick fix for this. Especially if you’re new to Melbourne, the maps are confusing and the neighbourhoods are hard to keep track of. This all gets easier with time, establishing a routine, and iPhones. We advise using the public transport tab of Maps and Google Maps to plan your route and understand the stops you need to board at along the course of your journey. We also suggest knowing the five streets and stops closest to the one you wish to disembark from and to plan your journey meticulously.

Insider note: know which direction you want to be travelling in. Trams that follow the same route but travel in the reverse direction of one another will have the same number and look identical. Regardless of their direction. The tram number will be the same, but the destinations on the front of the tram will be different. This might not be your destination, but the final destination of the tram route. So passengers can ascertain the correct direction they need to commute in. 

For example, if it says ‘Box Hill’ on the front of the tram, and you know you’re not going to Box Hill, you might still be travelling in the direction of Box Hill. Or perhaps not! Maybe you know you’re not going towards Box Hill, but instead South Yarra… so maybe the tram travelling the same route but in the direction of South Yarra is the one to board.

Know which way you need to be heading!

Keeping It Kosher – Myki Fines

Y’know how we said that if you tap on and the tram makes a funny beeping noise that tells you that you have insufficient funds, you should get off the tram immediately and get some more of those funds? Well, you should get off for the same reason why you should tap on in the first place – Myki inspectors.

To make sure passengers are following the rules, Myki inspectors – sometimes in uniforms, sometimes undercover – will board your tram and check to see not only if you’ve tapped on but if there’s enough money on your card. There’s no point in lying, they have the technology to figure it out no matter what. If you’ve been playing by the rules, then you have nothing to worry about… but if you’ve been trying to take a ride without tapping on, or knew you didn’t have enough money on your card but still tried to board, it’s very likely you will get caught and the Myki inspectors will give you a fine. The fine can be up to $250, and for a $4 fare, it just doesn’t seem worth it to try and dodge paying it. The repercussions if you don’t are more than tenfold worse – literally.

If you do, however, receive a fine, it’s not the end of the world! You’re not a criminal, you won’t have any real record, and no one will know. It’s just frustrating to pay so much for what could be so easily avoided. If you feel though that the fine is somehow unjust, you can contest the fine with the Victorian Department of Transport. You will likely receive a notification of the fine in the mail and it will inform you how to contest it – definitely read it! A lot of the time, people will pay fines just because they can’t be bothered to contest it. But $250 is a lot of money. And for a little light reading and a quick trip to the courts, maybe you won’t have to pay it.

Everyone Else – Trains and Buses

You’re probably already familiar with trains and buses. And if you’re travelling a little further around Melbourne, you may end up teaming one or the other with a tram route in order to make up your daily commute. The awesome thing is that Mykis are also used for buses and trains, as is your student discount, linking together all of Melbourne’s public transport and making your travelling super cohesive. For trains, you tap on and off at the station and buses as you board, the way you might a tram. Trains will take you longer distances and into the suburbs whereas buses will take you down the nooks and crannies of streets that trams just might not cover, getting you as close to your destination as possible. Abide by the rules here, too! Myki inspectors can still find you on even the most obscure of bus routes.

It may seem like a lot, and your first stint at riding Melbourne’s trams might be stressful and confusing. But we promise – it’s so easy to get used to, and navigating this gorgeous city will quickly become second nature to you. It’s easy, it’s sustainable, and you don’t need to know how to drive… No wonder people love to live in Melbourne.

One last thing – every state has its own public transport system, some more similar than others. While you mightn’t find any trams in the rest of Australia, it’s worth looking into Sydney’s Opal system so you know the individual processes of each city’s transport network.