The Melbourne system uses a variety of rolling stock that includes quaint old street cars to the most modern tram cars and everything in between. Not only is the tram system far quieter than buses, but they emit no exhaust, and, well, they just look pretty.
The transit system in Sydney relies a lot more on buses than the system in Melbourne. It might turn out to be just as convenient, but for the visitor it is a little more difficult to navigate the buses in Sydney over the trams in Melbourne. There is one tram line in Sydney but it feels much like the one- or two-line light rail systems in North American cities. I guess it makes up for gaps in the heavy rail system that runs throughout the Sydney central business district and the suburbs, but it seems rather isolated. The heavy rail system moves a lot of people throughout the metro area but it has limited reach in some parts of town and bus use becomes a necessity. But even this doesn’t seem like much of a problem given the quantity, frequency, and quality of the buses in Sydney.
Even more isolated than the one tram line in Sydney is the monorail system. It consists of one loop that hits the core of downtown and the convention and entertainment districts. I think I saw a few Sydneysiders riding the monorail, but it seemed to be the domain of tourists. It must get a good workout when there is a convention in town but it seemed pretty sad when we were on board. An added annoyance is that the cars are broken up into small comparments that seat about 8 people with no connections between cars. No doubt this is because a monorail isn’t wide enough to have a center aisle, but the feeling was pretty confined, not to mention dated and kind of ugly.
An integral part of the commuter transit system are the ferries that move people from the Circular Quay in dowtown Sydney (right next to the Opera House) to various suburban neighborhoods outside the city core. We took a ferry one late afternoon out to Manly. Within about 35 minutes (30 minutes on the ferry and 5 minutes on foot) we were sitting on the beah. One can only imagine what it must be like to live in Manly, steps from the ocean and yet be to work in downtown Sydney in less than 45 minutes.
The trams, trains, and buses in Melbourne are really a thing to behold—or better yet, to use. The tram system alone is a marvel. Creating a comprehensive grid across the central business district and the inner suburb neighborhoods, this is not some anemic North American attempt at light rail transit. Instead of one or two lines connecting the airport and the convention center like most modern American systems, the system in Melbourne really makes it easy to get around the entire city. (This is like the kind of streetcar systems that used to be a part of most American cities before General Motors and the petroleum industry set out to systematically destroy those systems in favor of bus service.) And where the tram doesn’t go, there is commuter rail and buses to fill in the gaps.