None of the pictures in this entry are mine. I got them all from google images.
Melbourne has a great public transportation system. It is a spider web of trams, trains, and buses that connect you to every corner of the city and suburbs. Trams drive in the middle lane of the road, stopping every several blocks along popular shopping/tourist areas and train stations. Trains seem to go primarily to other train stations and occational additional stops along the way. There are train stations in most suburbs. Buses appear to be used for more remote places that trains and trams don't quite reach. All of these vehicles use the same system of pay, Myki.
Myki is a green and white card, much resembling a debit card. I purchased mine from a 7/11 convenient store. You can put money on the card at 7/11 or at electronic booths near trams and train stations. I assume there are many other ways, but those are the only two I have discovered. Now, this part still completely confuses me. How much do you pay and when do you pay it? My method so far has been to go into a 7/11, explain what I'm going to use for transportation that day, and then pay what they think I should put on the card. I'm sure this isn't the best method, but it works until I can really learn the fare system. The Australian man at the hotel warned me that they have been ticketing people in St. Kilda $250.00 recently for not paying for public transportation, so I'd rather be overly cautious for now.
The method of using Myki is slightly different for each method of travel, even though they all use the same card system. Myki is not a card that you swipe, rather you lay it against a flat surface under a screen on a small machine. The machine reads your card and beeps to let you know it has done so. There are red and green lights that flash as well. From what I've gathered from a nice little brochure I read while hopelessly lost on a tram one night, a green light flashes when the card was read and normal fare was deducted, a red light flashes if it could not read the card or if there are insufficient funds, and both lights flash if you are charged additional fare for not "touching off" at the end of your last journey. The only problem is that getting on and off all forms of transportation is quite hurried. If you just see the red light, there really isn't any time to do something about it. You're already on the vehicle where you can't purchace more funds and that vehicle is already moving, so unless you want to experience flying backwards you need to find a seat or rail farther down.
From what I understand, here are the basic differences in Myki between the three vehicles. When getting on a tram you must use the Myki machine as soon as you walk into the tram. In some area of the city you have to touch off when leaving the tram as well, or you will be charged extra the next time you board, the green and red lights together. In other parts of the city you do not have to touch off and pay the same fee no matter what. I am still confused on if you are charged for two tram rides if you touch off on these. Half of the people using the trams don't touch on or off. My guess is that this is probably why police are beginning to ticket.
When using trains, you do not touch on or off in the train, but rather in the station. Some stations make you touch on before entering the station at all, and others make you touch on as you approach your specific gate. The machines at train stations block you out or in until you touch on or off. So you must always do both to use trains.
I have only ridden one bus so far, so I am still a bit unsure about them. I touched on, even thouch other people did not, and asked the bus driver if I needed to touch off as well. He said yes, so I did. Buses, like trams, have the Myki machine right as you enter and exit the vehicle.
Another great quality of the Melbourne public transportation system is the Journey Planner online. I can type in my location, destination, and desired departure time. The program will then generate instructions on all the different combinations of transporation I could use to get there, including specific times for vehicle departures and walking directions to get to and from each method of transportation.
I'm sure that there are some similar transportation systems in the states. This is just my first time ever trying to figure it all out. As you can tell, I have most of the basics worked out. Now i just need to figure out the details.