The Trams of Melbourne

Since I don’t really have anything new to say about living here in Australia, I thought I’d talk about a big part of Melbourne instead: trams.

There are quite a lot of them here. But, given that Melbourne has the largest tram network in the world, that is to be expected. Now, given that I haven’t taken the bus yet, I can’t say for sure, but I think there are more tram routes here than there are bus routes. I’m pretty sure there are more trams than trains too. Back in Philly, the trolley was my favorite way to get between the city and Drexel, so maybe it just makes sense that I love the trams here too (Melbourne apparently agrees with my decision).

With Melbourne’s many trams routes comes many different tramcar models too, or as they’re called here, Classes. Permitting I have my letters right, the classes are W-Class (the oldest), Z-Class, A-Class, B-Class, C-Class, D-Class, and E-Class (the newest, still in testing). The W-Class is used on the City Circle and a couple other small routes. As the name suggests, the City Circle is a line that travels [pretty much] in a circle around the edges of Melbourne. It’s intended for tourists, so it’s free, stops at the major tourist attractions (museums, theaters, some shopping centers, Parliament), and is the smallest of the trams in service. Z, A, and B seem to be the most common class of tram in service, and come in one and two car configurations (there maybe a three as well, but I’ve yet to see it). All three classes look pretty much the same, having all been built in Australia. The C and D-Class are the nicest trams in service and are on the really busy routes. They look nearly the same, but the front of the D-Class isn’t as rounded as the C. Both are low-floor (read: handicap accessible), have automated announcements, and were not built in Melbourne. In fact, Melbourne doesn’t actually own the C-2 trams (also called the Bumblebees for their yellow paint and bumblebee wrap), which are on loan from Alstrom from France. The D-Class comes from Siemens in Germany and is the class I take daily on Route 96. They’re the biggest (in service, I don’t count the E-Class yet) of the trams – although I think the C-2 comes close, which is exclusive to Route 96 – and for a very good reason.

The trams here get insanely packed during rush hour, no matter what line you’re on. The 96 also tends to be packed on Sundays as well, thanks to the St. Kilda Beach being a big tourist spot. While I wouldn’t say they’re as crazy as say, Japan’s trains at rush hour, it does become every man for himself. Never mind that every single door has a sticker that says “Please wait for passengers to get off before boarding,” you do, unfortunately, have to shove your way out of the tram to get off. Furthermore, people in Melbourne don’t seem to walk. Even if a tram has three doors, everyone will try to cram into just one of them, rather than walk to another. People will also take the tram just to go one bloody stop – and most of the time you could’ve walked faster. All that said, I can’t wait for the E-Class tram to get put into service.

Given that I’ve seen it now every day on the way to work, I think the time will be soon. YarraTrams and PTV (the tram company and transit authority, respectively) are staying quiet on a release date. But, given that it’s been delayed by months and only two have actually been delivered, I don’t blame them. I still can’t wait though. The E-Class is one sexy beast from Bombardier, made just outside of Melbourne (even if PTV and the tram itself say differently) and it seriously looks like something from the future. It is by far the most beautiful piece of public trans[port] I’ve ever seen. I’m also very happy to see that the Myki card readers aren’t placed in clusterfuck locations too.

That brings me to Myki. Myki is the fare card for all public transport here in Melbourne and all of Victoria (PTV is Public Transport Victoria). It’s a “smart” card that you buy and reload on machines that, save for the smart card reader, are the exact same machines you use to buy train tickets on NJ Transit. Now, the reason I say “smart” is because it has quite a few issues, no doubt not helped by the rampant vandalism of Myki equipment. For one, it is the slowest reading card I’ve ever used. Yes, it’s even slower than a CAC card. It’s contact-based, so you have to touch it just right to the reader for it to actually read. And even that is dependent on the reader actually working. It’s not uncommon for the readers on the trams to crash several times during the tram ride. Having now had to use the system for three weeks, sorry PTV, but I honestly don’t blame the people who never touch on. The system is way too damn slow for a system as busy as the tram networks (and placing the fucking reader right at the door is no help). The turnstiles are no better, especially when a ton of people are all trying to get through them at the same time, which overloads the computers. SEPTA, please don’t copy Melbourne when you install NPT.

Overall though, the tram network isn’t too bad. It’s on-time performance is in need of improvement, but thanks to the huge fleet of trams, during peak times there are plenty of trams if one should be full (pro tip: most people can’t be bothered to wait for the tram of the same route that’s only three minutes behind and way less crowded). When the E-Class does finally come out of testing, I suspect I’ll do a full report on it, permitting I’m lucky enough to catch one of the two for a ride. And while Myki is ungodly slow, it is way better than tokens. Oh, and breakdowns are much more rare than they are on SEPTA.