It used to be easy to get around my favorite city, Melbourne, Australia, which has the most extensive tram system in the world. There are almost 500 of them and 150 miles of track to take riders virtually everywhere in the city. There are also trains and buses, but the trams are far more fun.
When we first rode them with our Metcards, Ruth and I wondered how the system made money. We’d see travelers hop on and off never seeming to pay for their rides. Unlike in other cities, we never saw transit authorities checking for tickets. On our previous visit to Melbourne, a new system named MYKI was about to go into effect. During our 2015 visit, MYKI was fully operational. MYKI is a mess.
On our first afternoon we went to the Information Centre at Federation Square and asked about riding the trams. The agent offered to sell us MYKI tickets and load them for travel for the rest of the day. Sell? Yes, they cost $6 dollars apiece. Load? Yes, You must purchase either 2 hour increments or a full day fare. A 2 hour (Zone One only) fare was $3.58 and an all day was $7.16. Since it was already mid-day and we had no idea where we were going, 2 all-day tickets seemed both impractical and expensive. We decided to wait to buy MYKIs when we had a full-day and a plan. As we walked, and then walked some more, I figured that if we were traveling on a budget with children, we’d have a real problem. An American family of 4 (we do not qualify for Australian Concessions) that didn’t know the city would spend more than $50 for its first MYKI trip. If the destination was close, a taxi would surely be cheaper.
We headed for the Grainger Museum on the campus of Melbourne University (see June 14, 2014 blog) on foot. It was uphill and farther than it looked on the map. Suspecting we were almost there, we stopped a biking couple to ask how much further. Neither knew where the University was, but he knew where the closest tram stop was and encouraged us to hop on and not pay. He said he did it all the time and had never been stopped. Ruth and I took a taxi instead and, even though it was a short ride and the driver rather disgusted with us, we were glad we did. Had we been aboard a tram and found to be MYKIless, the fine would have been $207! Apiece!
We only bought and used MYKI tickets one day, and it didn’t seem economical. Trams seemed slower and less frequent. Passengers were solemn. We began to ask locals what they thought of MYKI and unleashed a torrent of complaints about refunds, processing delays, systematic problems, etc.
If you’re a first time Melbourne visitor and think that the free City Circle tourist tram sounds charming, be aware that it’s excruciatingly slow and you’ll spend far more time sitting than moving.
However, taking Skybus into the city from the distant Melbourne airport is an excellent idea. It’s reasonable, efficient, and will take you to your hotel if you’re staying downtown.