Friday 8 March 2019

The Other Cheap-Arse Way to Melbourne Airport - by Tram!

In my popular post To Melbourne Airport the Cheap-Arse Way, I describe how to travel to/from the city centre and the airport by regular public transport, aboard a train and the route 901 bus.

It's the most frequent option. However, there is a second, more obscure, way of travelling between MEL and the city: using Melbourne's favourite mode of transport, the tram.

Here's how to do it...

To Melbourne Airport

From Elizabeth Street in Melbourne's central business district, catch a route 59 tram all the way to its northern terminus at Stop 59 in the suburb of Airport West (timetable here).

You may have noticed two interesting things already. Firstly, it's a curious coincidence that route 59 happens to have 59 stops (pure chance, as it happens).

Also, that Airport West is an odd name for a suburb that's south of the airport. That's true, but it was actually named after Melbourne's original air terminal, Essendon Airport to the east, which is still in operation and which you'll pass on the tram.

When you step out of the route 59 terminus, ignore the bus stop that's immediately adjacent - that's for buses heading to the nearby shopping centre. Instead, you have to do a slightly fiddly crossing of the road intersection to reach the bus stop to the north of the terminus on the other side of the road (near the Red Rooster outlet).

Are you there? Good. Now you simply have to wait for a bus. From here, you can catch any of three bus routes to the airport:

These buses are not that frequent. Between them, the 478 and 479 buses run every half-hour from 5.45am to 7.15pm on weekdays (and hourly between 7.45am and 6.45pm at weekends), taking 15 minutes to reach the airport.

The 482 runs only eight times a day on weekdays and follows a curiously circuitous route through the industrial hinterland leading to the airport, thus taking 25 minutes. As the 482 bus is so less frequent and takes a bit longer, I'd only recommend it if it happens to show up and the next 478 or 479 bus is more than ten minutes away.

The bus terminates at the public transport interchange on Grants Road, next to Terminal 4 at Melbourne Airport. It's a convenient stop for flights aboard Jetstar and Tigerair, the budget airlines serving that terminal.

For international flights and Virgin Australia domestic flights respectively, Terminals 2 and 3 are about a 10 minute walk away. For Qantas domestic flights, Terminal 1 is a 15 minute hike.

From Melbourne Airport

You need a Myki card to travel on Melbourne's public transport, and to get hold of one of these at the airport you have three choices.

1. The easiest option is to buy a card directly from a bus driver, who can also add credit to the card. The card costs $6 to purchase, and on top of that a two-hour fare from the airport to the city centre (and onwards to anywhere in Melbourne within the time limit) is $4.40.

All buses should be equipped for this transaction, but if you strike a bus where the driver has run out of cards or the equipment isn't working, there are two other options.

2. You can buy a Myki card from one of the three Myki ticket machines located at the airport. These are located in the arrivals areas of Terminals 2, 3 and 4.

Again, the card itself costs $6 and you top it up with credit; you'll need at least $4.40 credit to reach the city centre and stay in the black.

3. You can also buy a Myki Explorer Pack from the Skybus ticket booths at the airport (Skybus is the premium departs-every-ten-minutes airport bus which heads to the city centre for $19.75).

The $15 purchase price includes the standard $6 purchase price for the card, plus $9 of travel credit on standard public transport (ie not aboard Skybus itself). That's more than enough to get to the city centre on the regular bus and tram, then travel onwards to anywhere in the Melbourne metropolitan area.

The visitor pack also includes discount vouchers to major Melbourne attractions and a decorative Myki card wallet, so that may add to the incentive to pick one up.

The standard bus stop is within the public transport interchange on Grants Road, near Terminal 4 (so allow 15 minutes walk from Terminal 1, and 10 minutes walk from Terminals 2 and 3). Look for the orange-and-white PTV sign inside the interchange.

Here you board any of these bus routes, all of which head to Airport West Shopping Centre:

"Touch on" the card (as the jargon goes) against a Myki reader on board, and take a seat.

Between them, the 478 and 479 buses run every half-hour from about 6.30am to 8pm on weekdays (and hourly between 8am and 7pm at weekends). It takes 15 minutes to reach the terminus of the 59 tram, which is next to the Dromana Ave/Matthews Ave bus stop.

Note that this is the second-last bus stop on the route; if you doze off you'll end up at the Airport West Shopping Centre, one stop further on (don't worry if this happens, it's a short walk back).

Touch off your Myki card as you leave the bus, then step onto the platform at the tram terminus right next to the bus stop - you'll recognise it by its distinctive green signage.

Trams run later and more frequently than the buses, so sit back and wait for a number 59 tram to Flinders Street Station in the city centre (timetable here).

Touch on your card again when you board the tram, and relax - you'll be in Melbourne's central business district in about 50 minutes, with plenty of interesting suburbia to view on the way (if you're a Dame Edna Everage fan, give her a wave as you pass through Moonee Ponds).


The Myki fare between the airport and city centre in either direction is a mere $4.40. This sum is automatically subtracted from the card balance when you touch off along the route.

This fare covers both of Melbourne's fare zones, so includes all public transport for the duration of the two hours. Hence you could transfer to another tram, a bus or a train when you reach the city centre, to travel onward within the same fare.

Give me credit

The catch is that you must buy a Myki card for that non-refundable $6 purchase price; though of course you'll be able to keep using it during your stay in Melbourne, and retain it for use on any future visits.

To top up the card's credit, the easiest method is to step into any of the numerous 7-Eleven outlets in the city centre and ask the person behind the counter to do it (it can also be topped up at train stations and at Myki machines at larger tram stops).

To work out how much credit you need during your visit, budget $8.80 per weekday (the capped daily fare) and $6.40 per weekend day or public holiday. If you like, the 7-Eleven staffer can alternatively add a pass to the card covering all travel over seven days for $44.

So very Melbourne

The best thing about the bus+tram option, is that it gets you straight into the "being in Melbourne" vibe – the city has the world's largest tram network, and the tram is one of its most beloved icons. There's no more civilised way of travelling in the city, if you ask me.

Note that the bus+tram option isn't really suitable for people with large amounts of luggage; but if travelling with reasonably small and portable gear, go for it.

So happy flying - and enjoy the cheap ride by tram to/from Melbourne Airport.


  1. Well there you go! I never realised one could take a tram/bus combo to Melbourne Airport. Thanks for the tip.

    1. No problem. It's a bit of a niche choice, but fun nonetheless.

  2. I'll be staying very near QVM in coming June with my family (+ a senior). On return trip to airport, do you think taking this tram+bus is preferable over Bus901?

    1. If you can time it right, that could be slightly better as the 59 tram will pick you up right from the Queen Vic Market - though also the QVM isn't far from Melbourne Central Station if you want to take the train+bus. Do your homework first with timetables and the tram+bus option would be a good option.