I am writing this with some collaboration from someone who has inside knowledge.
Once you know how to catch a Melbourne tram, they are incredibly easy to use.
The first thing to know is that, surprising to many, they move, so once you are on a tram, there is a fair to even chance that it will move, so you need to hang on. If you are a young, lithe and a supple boi or lass, you can probably dance back and forth with the motion of the tram. If you are not young and lithe, you need to read up about osteoporosis before boarding a tram and once on the tram, hang on. Having pointed this out, trams are much smoother than buses, just not quite as smooth as trains.
You need to have a ticket before you get on a tram, or coins to buy one from a machine on the tram. The tram driver never buys a ticket to travel on a tram, and probably knows less about tickets than you do, so don't expect him or her to be of much help. The ticket system is nothing to do with the tram driver and his or her pocket is not weighed down with change for those don't have any. Maybe a fellow passenger will help you with change if you are short. Best to buy a ticket before you get on. Look for the Metcard sign at small businesses such as convenience stores and newsagents. If you buy your Metcard from the machine on the tram, it is already validated, unlike when you buy a ticket from a train vending machine. You are supposed to validate your ticket each time you use a tram, but if you have done in once or bought it from an on board machine, few people do.
The new Myki ticket system for Melbourne's public transport has not yet been commissioned on trams. Don't try to use it. Your Myki ticket is not valid on trams and you can argue with a ticket checker, sorry, Revenue Protection Officer, about that point if you wish. Speaking of ticket checkers, one just checked my ticket today. I find them unfailing polite, as does R, but then we do have tickets, unless on the odd occasion the system has failed us and we take revenge by not paying. I hear reports that ticket checkers are not always so polite. While I haven't seen this, there may be some truth to it but I suspect they won't wrestle you to the ground and sit on you without some provocation on your part.
The tram driver will generally answer a question you have about directions, but remember, he or she is driving the tram, so make your question concise and not a vague query or attempt to play a game of twenty questions when one succinct question will give you the information you need. I am just guessing, but I expect the drivers get quite annoyed when you get on a tram and pester them with questions when there were customer service people standing around not doing too much where you boarded the tram.
Alerting the driver that you want the next stop in principle should be easy, however many struggle with the concept that the tram driver cannot read you mind. While Sydney's trams pretty well operated that the tram stopped at every stop, Melbourne's did not and do not. You must alert the driver that you want to get off at the next tram stop by pulling a cord or pushing a button. Which you do depends on the model of the tram. Some have cords to pull and buttons near the door and a visible indicator light at each end of the tram. Some have buttons that have indicator lights on them, and some have buttons and the indicator light is displayed in the internal destination display. Confused? I don't blame you. A cord to pull on all trams would be so useful and simple. Don't ring the next stop bell when the tram is still at the last stop. The driver will just think you want to get off where you are. Don't ring the bell just as you leave the last stop, the driver may forget by the time the tram gets to the next stop. Don't ring the bell too late, the driver may or may not be able to stop and won't be happy. Ring the next stop bell about half way between the stops or when the tram picks up a decent bit of speed.
I can't recall that it has happened to me on a tram, it certainly has on buses. You need to time you ringing of the next stop bell. Yesterday, the bus I was on stopped at the stop before Punt Road. It started off and a lass rang the bell for the next stop. The bus stopped at the Punt Road traffic lights for a couple of minutes and then took off and had some significant interaction with traffic. The driver then totally forgot that someone had rung the bell and went past her stop. She didn't react and just got off at the next stop, Prahran Market. When we first moved here and I wasn't used to buses, I did a similar thing and was carried past my stop. Coming home tonight, some stupid cow rang the bell almost as soon as the bus left the last stop. We sat through a full set of traffic lights at Toorak Road and then the driver almost did not stop, only realising at the last moment that someone had rung the bell and she made a dramatic stop.
As for the internal displays and automated announcements on trams, they are so unreliable for anything more than the ultimate destination, so just ignore them.
Exterior route numbers and destinations should display clearly on the outside of the tram, front and rear and on each side of the tram and sometimes inside. To get on the tram and ask what the destination is or what the route number is must be very annoying to the driver. Sometimes different destinations can be displayed for the same route, especially the very popular route 16 to Kew via St Kilda. Don't ask me why. I don't know but it is the case. Route numbers are usually a better indicator.
My source tells me that the most complaints received about trams is that they don't stop to pick the complainant up. In spite of the tram having people on it, indicating a general willingness by the driver to pick people up, the tram has left this person behind. Why are they being so victimised?
From my observations, when walking past a tram stop and suddenly flinging your hand up as the tram sails by will not stop a tram. You need to be ready to catch the tram at a stop. Sitting on a seat at a tram stop is not a clear indication that you want the tram either. You may be comfortable and engrossed in your book, but the tram may well sail right on by. Generally I find most Melbourne tram drivers generous in their interpretation of this, unlike in Sydney where you really need to step out from the bus stop and stop the bus.
You may well to do a pirouette to attract the driver's attention to you wanting the tram, but normally a hand signal will do. This method has failed me only once, probably because I did not turn to face the tram and perhaps I signalled when the tram was too far away. I think if you eyeball the driver and put your hand out to stop the tram, it is close to fail safe.
This brings us to my local street, where the most complaints about trams not picking people up come from. The lesser number is about trams going to the city and not picking people up. The tram could be full already, or more likely, there is another tram close behind. This is called load sharing and it means that the front tram and the one behind share the load and both get to the city more quickly. The opposite is a bunch of five trams together, held up by the tram in front overloaded but still stopping at every stop. There is a very old joke that no longer works because trams now come in many colours, but it was, What is yellow and green and comes in bunches? Melbourne's trams was the answer.
Of greater concern is trams from the city bound for the suburbs and not picking up people in my street. Let me count. Yep, seven different tram routes pass by my door. How does the driver know whether you want his or her tram, or one going to another destination? He or she knows because you indicate to the tram driver that you want the tram. Do you really expect every tram passing by will stop and open the doors on the off chance that you want to get on? You could want any tram on the seven different routes. Clearly indicating to the driver that you want the tram will ensure you catch it. It may normally stop anyway to let people off, but it won't always. Indicating that you don't want the tram by a hand or head movement, or turning your back to it might a good thing to do, but not necessary. I tend to turn my back to the approaching tram if I don't want it.
As previously mentioned, there are different trams, some normal size, some long and some mega long, so to gather at the front of safety zone and single file on the tram at the narrow front door is dumb as. There are always two doors, sometimes three, sometimes five and maybe there are more on the very new trams. Spread out. Some trams are thirty plus metres long. Why gather in a one metre space to catch a tram?
Many complaints are received along the lines of the driver shut the door on me. It is more likely that the door automatically closed and this applies mainly to one type of tram. Throwing you arm between the doors will not work. They are not lift doors. There is an ankle level beam to detect passengers getting on or off the tram. This is what you need to break. Even so, I have been hit by a closing door, usually on very busy trams.
What about getting off the tram. Some tram drivers are ever so nice and wait while you stand up, walk to the door and get off the tram. Most tram drivers are not so nice and thank god they aren't because it wastes a lot of time and I sit there stewing about why is this driver waiting for these idiots to dawdle to the door and slowly alight. You need to be at the door and ready to get off the tram when it stops. It can be difficult when the tram is packed and I suggest a commanding use of your voice to clear the way. Your fellow passengers are pretty good about this if they know your intention. Another reason to be at the door and ready to get off is that people start getting on the tram as you want to get off. Politeness and impoliteness interact with a result of confusion and entanglement.
I have been using trams regularly for most of my adult life. I will do my best to answer any reasonable queries you may have.
So enjoy your tram trip. I mostly do.
Gosh, I started writing this in early April.