You understand your transport accessibility needs best

As a young person with disability, you know the importance of thinking ahead to get where you need to go and do what you need to do.

Even so, coming into Melbourne on your own for the first time can be daunting.

In the past you might have left travel plans and logistics to the adults in your life. But now that you’re ready to step out on your own or with friends, a trip into the CBD requires some adulting from you.

Plan ahead for a stress-free day out

Doing the research before leaving home makes for a more relaxed day out, says Travellers Aid’s Operations Coordinator Anthony Brooks.

“Look at where you’re going and gather as much information about the whole trip possible, even down to where the accessible toilets are,” Anthony says.

Depending on the spaces and situations that create disability for you, there are many free, low-cost and informal supports available to keep you moving.

Chief Accessibility Advocate at Victoria’s Department of Transport and Planning Tricia Malowney OAM remembers a time when Melbourne’s public transport system was not accessible to her. These days she feels comfortable and confident using public transport.
She says Melbourne rates among the world’s most accessible.

“Melbourne is doing a lot to improve accessibility, including signage, detailed mapping, and we have more Changing Places facilities than any other Australian city,” she says.

Tricia Malowney is riding a Melbourne tram. She is wearing a hi-vis vest and holding callipers.

Accessible for you might not be accessible for me

Accessibility means different things to different people. It usually refers to the design of services, vehicles, devices and environments to ensure anyone can use them. The social model of disability sees disability as being caused by a lack of accessibility, rather than any specific impairment a person might have.

Tricia Malowney says transport accessibility starts from the moment you leave home, to the moment you get home.

“It’s having a footpath that leads to the bus stop and then a bus stop that leads to the train station,” Tricia says.

“Transport should be easy to find and easy to use. It should be easy to get on and off, and you should expect acceptance from other passengers and respectful treatment from staff.”

Start planning your trip

So, what do you want to do?

Are you coming in on your own, or with friends?

Will it be during the day, the evening, or are you planning to party the night away?

The more prepared you are before leaving home, the more confident and relaxed you’ll feel. And that means more fun.

Person swipes myki card as they pass station barrier.

Travel concessions and passes

Are your travel or concession cards and passes ready? You might also be eligible for free travel. There are various passes available to improve transport accessibility and some are specific to your disability. Find details of concession and free travel passes  and on the Public Transport Victoria (PTV) website.   

  • Access Travel Pass gives free travel if you have a permanent physical disability, cognitive condition or mental illness that prevents you from tapping your myki card on and off
  • Disability Support Pension recipients may be eligible for free or discounted travel
  • Scooter and Wheelchair Travel Passes and Vision Impaired Travel Passes allow free travel
  • If you’re in a crisis, one-day, seven-day and 30-day Travel Passes may be available free through schools or community service providers.
  • Victorian Health Care Card holders receive a 50% discount on travel
  • Guide Dogs, Seeing Eye Dogs and Hearing Dogs travel free. Other assistance animals might require an Assistance Animal Pass
  • If you’re a full-time tertiary student, you may be eligible for a concession myki

If you do need to pay for your travel, don’t forget to top up your myki card before leaving home.

Public transport accessibility apps

These apps offer a convenient way to plan and enjoy your Melbourne trip. Read how they’re used throughout this guide and download them to your phone before leaving home.                  

A Travellers Aid volunteer assists a blind passenger onto a buggy connection service.

Plan your public transport connections

What connections will you need to make to get you to your destination and back? Do you need to change trains along the way, or connect to a different mode of transport?

Tricia Malowney suggests making a list of all the things you want to see or do. She says online resources make it easy to work out how to transfer from one to another. Tricia is also a fan of Google Maps, and often uses Street View to see what her destination looks like before she gets there.

PTV’s Journey Planner is a great place to start mapping things out. Type in your starting point and intended destination to find your public transport options. It also shows any walking required.

If your route brings you through Southern Cross Station and you’d like help getting around, Travellers Aid provides a free buggy connection service. Use it to navigate the station, connect to another train, or get to a taxi rank or coach service. You can tap into this handy service seven days a week from 6:30am until 9:30pm. Call or email at least 24 hours in advance to let the team know when you’re arriving so someone can meet you.

Wheelchairs and mobility scooters that fit on public transport

The PTV website can help you check that your wheelchair or mobility scooter will fit on the transport you plan to use.

If you don’t have – or choose not to bring – your own wheelchair or mobility scooter, you can hire one in town. Travellers Aid has a range of equipment for hire from its Southern Cross and Flinders Street service hubs. This includes manual and electric wheelchairs, crutches, walking frames, canes and even strollers.

All hire equipment meets PTV requirements. If you’d like some training on how to use a scooter, Travellers Aid offers scooter safety training.

A mobility scooter is parked in a reserved seating area on a tram.

Finding accessible public transport stations and stops

Every Melbourne train station – except Heyington on the Glen Waverley line – has step-free access to platforms. It still pays to check that other modes of transport you plan to use are accessible to you.

If you’re travelling from a regional area, V/Line’s website has virtual tours of its stations so you know what to expect before arriving.

The PTV website also has accessibility information about stations and stops. To find this information:

  1. Go to the PTV home page then select Departures under the Plan drop-down menu.
  2. Select your mode of transport, route, your transport stop and your intended direction, then click the Show Departures button.
  3. On the right side of the window is a map, and on the left is the departure information. To see details about the stop, click on the ‘i’ information icon.
  4. An Accessibility drop-down menu provides details to help you decide if the stop suits your needs.

Four screenshot images from PTV Journey Planner website, showing how to find accessibility information.

You can also find route and tram stop information on the Yarra Trams website. A black dot denotes level access stops.

Yarra Trams says not all its trams and stops are accessible for people who use mobility devices. If that is you, it’s safest to get on and off low floor trams from level access stops. Look for these when mapping out where you plan to get on and off trams during your trip.

When you’re at a tram stop, the tramTRACKER app can let you know if arriving services will have low or high floors.

Buses should pose few problems. Most have low floors or can be lowered closer to the kerb by the driver. To be certain, you can contact your local bus operator. Most V/Line coaches have a lift and allocated space for passengers travelling with mobility aids.

Practice using public transport ahead of time

If you’re unfamiliar with using Victoria’s public transport system, put the annual Try Before You Ride Day in your diary. This free event takes place in October and is a chance to ask questions and practice getting on and off trains, trams and buses.

Travellers Aid also runs group sessions on mobility scooter safety and travel training.

Planning for transport gaps (and calls of nature)

The PTV Journey Planner shows where you might need to walk between modes of public transport.

Some people look up their route on Google Maps to better understand what to expect.

Victoria’s Department of Transport and Planning trialled an effort-based mobility map in 2022. They invited people who use mobility devices to give feedback on the map, which covers the sports and arts precincts. The revised map is due for release in mid-2023. Find out more or sign up for project updates.

In the meantime, the City of Melbourne has an online city map with a mobility overlay. This shows surface gradients to help you pinpoint difficult spots and plan a more comfortable route. It also has an interactive CBD mobility map. Filter for details such as disabled parking, accessible toilets, mobility device charging points, public seating and drinking fountains.

Screenshot of the Melbourne CBD mobility map showing accessible toilets and mobility recharging points.

Another place to check is the directory of Changing Places. These are free, accessible toilet facilities built to meet diverse needs. They all have a ceiling track hoist system, are larger than most accessible toilets, have a height-adjustable, adult-sized change table, a privacy screen, and automatic doors. There are about 10 Changing Places within 2km of Southern Cross and Flinders Street stations. The website and app provide specific opening times and access information, so it is well worth checking out where they sit along your planned route.

Travellers Aid also has accessible toilets with ceiling hoists at its Southern Cross and Flinders Street service hubs.

Accessible bathroom at Travellers Aid service hub with toilet, ceiling hoist and adult change table.

Factor in some rest time

If you have sensory differences or like a break from the hustle and bustle, it’s handy to know some calm, quiet spaces for retreat.

Are there any parks or gardens along your route that could provide a spot of respite? The City of Melbourne Access Map shows public seating across the CBD.

At Southern Cross and Flinders Street stations, Travellers Aid’s service hubs offer safe havens. Take as long as you need to catch your breath and regroup. Grab a drink of water, use the accessible toilets, or charge up your mobility device. Travellers Aid welcomes breastfeeding mothers, weary travellers, and anyone who might be experiencing a travel emergency.

Travellers Aid’s Anthony Brooks says experienced staff can also help with information and directions.

“They can recommend places worth going to have a look, and can help you decide if particular routes or destinations will meet your specific accessibility needs,” he says.

Tricia Malowney says Travellers Aid is a valuable place of refuge that exists to make people feel confident about public transport.

“I quite like to use Travellers Aid as a place I can chill and relax,” she says.

“It’s a place where I can feel confident that I’ll get the supports I need.”

Travellers Aid’s Southern Cross station service hub. Two people stand at the information desk. Another is seated.

Support for hidden disabilities

Tricia Malowney finds most Melburnians friendly and helpful. She says her crutches and calipers make her disability visible, and fellow passengers are happy to give her a seat.

It can be different for people with hidden disability such as such as anxiety, dementia, autism, epilepsy or Crohn’s disease.

“If you’re someone with invisible disabilities, check out the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower scheme, with lanyards or wristbands indicating you might need support,” she says.

“All our transport operators are training their staff to be confident in supporting people with hidden disabilities.”

You can buy Hidden Disabilities Sunflower merchandise online, or at Travellers Aid’s information desks.

Enjoy your journey

The day has arrived. You know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. You’ve noted places on the way for a breather or toilet stop. Your concessions, travel passes or myki are ready to go. It’s time to put your knowledge into action.

Check for changes to your chosen transport route

Check for service changes, delays or disruptions before you leave home, or any time during your trip, using the PTV mobile app. This will provide travel alerts and show the location of your train or bus in real time. Metro Trains also has its own metroNotify app, and you can check for tram delays and disruptions on Yarra Trams’ website, or their tramTRACKER app.

When disruptions do occur on tram lines, Travellers Aid partners with Yarra Trams to help passengers navigate the changes.

Getting onto accessible transport with a mobility aid

Trains, trams and buses have allocated spaces to park your wheelchair, mobility scooter, walker or other aids during your trip. These spots are close to the doors and priority seating.

If your public transport journey starts at a train station and you need a hand to board, look for the wheelchair symbol marked on train platforms. This is usually where the first door of the first carriage will be. The driver or conductor will provide a ramp to help you get on once your train pulls in.

For V/Line services you can choose to wait in the Boarding Assistance Zones, which makes it easier for staff to see that you need help. At Southern Cross Station, these zones are on platforms 3A and 15A. V/Line says similar zones are available at all other platforms across its service.

Make sure to tell the person helping you where you intend to get off the train so someone is ready for you at the other end.

For tram travel, level access stops and low floor trams are your safest bet if travelling with a mobility aid. A wheelchair symbol on the outside of the tram shows the door closest to accessible seating and mobility equipment parking. This area is also marked with an accessibility symbol on the tram floor.

Reserved seating area in a tram shows disability symbols on the floor.

At bus stops, position yourself so the driver can see you, and raise your hand as the bus approaches to show you want to get on. If boarding at a coach terminal, look for the driver or service staff if you need a hand. Let the driver know where you plan to get off the bus if you think you’ll need some extra time or help to disembark.

Tactile ground surface indicators are at all train platforms and tram stops in the city. Every local bus stop in Victoria also has a tactile customer information panel with a unique stop ID number in braille and raised lettering. With the stop ID number you can get real time travel information via the PTV website, app or by calling 1800 800 007.

Getting off your transport where you need to

Tell the driver or other staff member who assists you onto your train or bus where you want to disembark so someone is ready with help if you need it.

If you’re on a tram and want to get off, press the stop request button with the accessibility symbol. This informs the driver you’re getting off and may need the doors to stay open longer.

On trams and trains a screen display, together with audio announcements, will let you know which stop is coming next so you can be ready.

Anthony Brooks suggests making note of the stations leading up to your destination. This help you be ready to disembark, especially during peak commuting times or when the footy or other major event is on.

Anthony Brooks stands on a train platform. He is wearing a Traveller’s Aid uniform.

Apps including tramTRACKER and Stop Here can also tell when you’re nearing your stop,.

If you’re on a train and you need help or you miss your stop, press the passenger intercom button to speak to the driver. The button is near the doors.

Seasoned public transport users with disability say they often allow extra time in case of service disruptions, missed stops or other unexpected events.

Navigating Melbourne’s major transport hubs

Arriving at Melbourne’s Southern Cross or Flinders Street stations for the first time can feel overwhelming. Be aware there are services to help you if you need it.

Large screens throughout the stations show information about departures and arrivals. Tactile strips also mark paths throughout the stations.

Beacon technology at Flinders Street and Southern Cross stations can help if you are blind or have low vision. Beacon technology gives navigational information via the free BlindSquare Event app. This technology is also at Flagstaff, Parliament, Melbourne Central, Richmond and Footscray stations.

Flinders Street and Southern Cross stations also have hearing loops, indicated by the universal symbol of hearing assistance.

Information on the PTV website or app is also available by calling 1800 800 007. If you are Deaf, or have a hearing or speech impairment, PTV recommends using the National Relay Service and asking to call 1800 800 007. TTY users can call PTV directly on (03) 9619 2727.

If you need help, all Metro train platforms have information points where you can speak with a customer service officer. On the information point console, the green button gives pre-recorded timetable information, while the red button connects you with a live staff member.

And don’t forget that Travellers Aid assists with free and low-cost support at Flinders Street and Southern Cross stations. You’ll find buggy connection services, information from friendly and knowledgeable staff, accessible bathrooms, a place to store your bags, equipment hire, or just somewhere to sit for a while.

Be prepared for the unexpected

Even with careful planning, Anthony Brooks advises having a back-up in case something goes wrong.

“It’s a good idea to have a plan B to avoid anxiety in case a particular service gets cancelled,” he says.

“At the very least, have a phone number you can call so that you know there’s always someone ready to help you.”

Tricia Malowney says making mistakes have often led her to memorable and unexpected discoveries.

“Don’t be afraid to get lost. It’s not the end of the world. Make traveling into the city in adventure.”

You’ve done it!

You’ve planned a trip to Melbourne using public transport and enjoyed a safe and fun day out.

Now it’s time to head home, resting in your seat with a satisfied smile on your face.

With forward planning and support available, this will be the first of many independent public transport journeys.

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