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Melbourne has an impressive metropolitan public transportation system. It is efficient, inexpensive, safe and extensive. The system consists of trains, trams (including two conversions of former rail lines that are now akin to 'light rail') and buses. The trams criss-cross the city and are probably what you will use most unless you head out to the suburbs; on weekdays you can expect one every 3-12 mins, on weekends about every 12-15 mins until nightfall when 20 minutes is a typical wait. The City Circle tram goes around the Central Business District, including Docklands, and is free.
The system is divided into two zones. Zone 1 covers all the inner suburbs and most of the tram network and extends approx 10-15 kms out from the CBD. The middle and outer suburbs are within Zone 2.
From 29 December 2012, Metcards (paper tickets) will no longer be available on trams or buses. They ceased being available at Melbourne's railway stations on 14 October 2012. The replacement is the much criticised myki smartcard, which has a non refundable upfront cost for the card of A$6 for adults and A$3 for concession (typically children, as overseas older visitors are not eligible for concession fares).
Unfortunately with myki's introduction, short trip Metcards are being abolished so you have no choice but to buy a non-refundable myki. It cannot be purchased on board trams or at most tram stops, but there is a network of 7-11 and other retailers along with Premium (staffed for all trains) railway stations that sell them. In the suburbs, an agent can be hard to find if you are staying at a relative's place and want to travel into Melbourne's CBD by tram or from an unstaffed railway station. Bus drivers may end up selling mykis for a while: this is unclear at present. The whole system is most unfriendly to tourists.
myki smartcards within Zone 1 can be used on any of the three types of transport (bus, tram and train) and are valid for unlimited travel within a 2-hour period , a day or week (called '7 days' in the myki brochures). Holders of Australian seniors' cards receive discounted daily travel.. Seniors' tickets are valid anywhere on the public transport system except Skybus. Also be aware that automated ticket machines on the trams accept coins only, but do dispense change, so have a few $2.00 coins handy.
While it's possible to get away without buying a ticket to ride the trams, be aware that if you get caught without a ticket when an inspector decides to do a spot check, you'll have to pay a hefty fine of $207.. Giving them the tourist excuse "did not know" probably won't get you very far. On buses, you have to validate your ticket through a green validator near the driver. After you buy a ticket (from anywhere but on the tram itself), make sure to validate it in the electronic green Metcard validators on the tram - if you don't, an inspector could still fine you, even though you have an actual ticket. Remember to validate it each time you use it again to help the transport system monitor where services are most needed. A new ticketing system called Myki is being introduced alongside the existing Metcard. Myki has been heavily criticised, is years late and massively in excess of its forecasted cost.
Here's a little tip that might help - any two hour ticket that's validated on or just after the hour remains valid for almost three hours - the two hours start from the hour after you validate. You are also legally entitled to finish your trip so for instance if you validated your ticket at 1105, it will 'expire' at 1400 but if you are on a train, tram or bus you can travel on that vehicle (provided it is within a zone for which your ticket is valid) so you may be able to use the ticket until, say, 1435. This gives three and a half hours' validity not two!
You must validate your myki at a railway station barrier or validator, or on board a tram or bus by touching on. You must touch off, except on trams for a trip wholly within Zone 1 (the vast majority of tram trips).
Be warned: your myki must have a positive balance for you to travel. myki is notorious for overcharging passengers, so check how much is deducted each trip. If you don't use a myki for 90 days, some previous topups made (through the myki telephone call centre or through online means) will be archived and unavailable for use until about 24 hours (at least) has elapsed. This is another unfriendly aspect of myki that will leave occasional travellers such as visitors from interstate fuming.
If you buy a 2 hour ticket (by touching on your loaded myki) in the evening and validate it after 1800, it is valid for the rest of the night. After midnight Sunday-Thursday, you'll have to hail a taxi, as the public transportation (except for Night Rider buses on Friday and Saturday) stops running. Hail one on the street or call ahead. myki is valid for NightRider buses.
Lots of the sights and places of interest in Melbourne are easily within walking distance of each other, so if you're looking to save money or just get a bit of exercise after a night of drinking and noshing on meat pies, get out and walk. There's really no better way to get a feel for a new place than by exploring on foot because you're in control and can stop whenever you like or check out the hidden streets and alleys.
A good thing to do is to explore Melbourne City on by using one of the free tourist transportation services. Try the Tourist Shuttle coach operating daily every 15 minutes from 10am to 4pm and visiting 15 interesting stops around Melbourne. You can get on and off at any one. Ask at the Information Centre at Federation Square for a brochure detailing the places of interest or download one online.
The City Circle free tram (route 35) does a circuit of Melbourne and also has a commentary. Here again, you can alight at any place of interest. The City Circle trams are the old W class types some more than 70 years old. The service is always busy and trams can be crowded. A brochure is also available for this, or you can look at the routes and timetables online.
For more detailed information of Public Transport in Melbourne please refer to www.ptv.vic.gov.au which may assist you in planning your journeys.