I have been here in Melbourne for exactly three weeks now and I gotta say, the public transport is pretty good. Even though I’m currently out in the “sticks” (except not really because I’m not in the bush living with Koalas or anything, I’m just in the suburbs, but I grew up in London so it’s basically the countryside to me), the buses are super on time, I’ve only experienced one train delay, and I took the train once from the city during rush hour and thought “where are all the people?
If this was London, I’d be getting up close and personal with about five other passengers by now”. But that is not the only reason I’m digging the public transport; it’s the passenger to train/ bus/ tram driver relationship that kind of gives me the feels.
I think that one of the best ways to get to know any place, is by observing how people, or strangers in particular, interact with each other. Like, how do they love thy neighbour, and do they even? Sorry for the biblical reference but it is Easter and I recently witnessed a much to real reenactment of Jesus being crucified so I’m still a little shook. Anyway, transport.
My first experience here on the bus involved a free ride to the train station. I didn’t have a card yet to travel on the bus, and the nearest place to get it was from the station which I needed a bus to get to. The bus driver looked at me, tipped his head and said, “get on” and that was it. I can tell you right now, if that was London I’d be hoofing it on foot for an hour and a half to the station, coughing as the dust kicked up by the bus speeding off, rapidly filled my lungs.
There is also an observed etiquette here, where you say hello to the driver when you get on the bus, and you look them in the eye, like some sort of human exchange. And you say thank you when you get off the bus too; if you don’t you’re a damn scoundrel and all the other passengers will hate on you. It’s just respect all round and I like it.
The trains didn’t win me over as quickly, but that’s mostly because it wasn’t totally clear what went where, until I realised that where I am is the end of the train line, so there is actually only one direction the trains could go. I mean, you don’t know things until you know them. But generally, they run on time, unless they don’t. A couple of weeks ago they had planned works on my section of the rail, so they ran a bus replacement service. No big deal right? WRONG. Yes it added an extra 30 minutes to my two hour journey, but when I got out of the train station at Caulfield to catch the bus the rest of the way, the transport staff were not only directing people to the designated buses, they were also offering people freshly ordered pizza. PIZZA. I’m talking just stacks and stacks of boxes and people taking a slice before they got on the rail replacement bus. That’s how you make up for a disrupted service, not with an automated apology about the inconvenience caused, but with cheese and tomato baked on bread that makes even the grumpiest traveller smile.
If we did that in London, well, I don’t think the Brits would go for it because it would remove a thing we could complain about, and everyone knows it’s our given privilege as Londoners and Brits in general, to complain about stuff when it goes wrong. I think I like pizza more than complaining though, I have to be honest.
Generally I think a tram system in any city is a good idea. They get right of way, they tend to run on time because they’re automated, and they’re a good way to see the city. In Melbourne they actually have a Free Tram Zone, which runs in the centre of the city, and I believe there’s a particular sightseeing tram that takes you to famous city monuments, which is pretty frigging great if you’re a tourist. For me though, the best thing about the tram and public transport here, are the safety signs.
The tram’s signature safety sign is a Rhino on a skateboard. Yes, I was confused too. Also, for a while I only saw the silhouette of the Rhino on the skateboard with no explanation, and I wondered if it was the city mascot? Perhaps it was a Lil Sebastian situation (shout out to Parks and Recs)? But no, I later located the accompanying text on another poster, that said the tram was like 30 Rhinos on a skateboard, so if you don’t want to die, don’t get hit by one because they don’t stop for people. I’m paraphrasing but assuming that’s what they meant. Still though, a Rhino on a skateboard is hilarious; I can see myself laughing about it as I step out into the road unwittingly, about to meet my demise at the hands of a tram because I was doubled over in laughter at it’s safety messaging trying to save my life. Ah Rhinos.
I’ve included the sign as this blog post image, so you too can have a chuckle. You’re welcome.