1. Themes
  2. A to Z


Melbourne owes both its location and much of the pattern of its development to the needs and limitations of 19th-century transport technology. In selecting the original settlement site, the city's founders were seeking both a sheltered anchorage for the small coastal sailing vessels in which they had arrived and access to a reliable fresh water supply. They found both on the lower reaches of the Yarra River, where six miles (10 km) upstream from the mouth a deep natural pool (later the turning basin) was located just below the rocky Yarra Falls, which prevented tides from carrying salt water further upstream.

The coastal trading vessels frequenting the Port of Melbourne in the early years of settlement were typically small one- or two-masted schooners or brigs of 25-100 tons register. In January 1839 the 274-ton barque Hope arrived with the first shipload of immigrants from Great Britain, while later the same month the 294-ton barque Thomas Lawrie was cleared for London carrying Victoria's first direct export of 400 wool bales. Too large to cross the mud bar at the Yarra's mouth or navigate up the river's meandering and shallow lower reaches, these vessels were obliged to anchor in the deep water of Hobsons Bay. Passengers and cargo were rowed ashore in shallow lighters. In October 1838 Melbourne's first steam ferry, the small paddle-steamer Firefly, began operating between the falls and Williamstown. In 1838-39 convict labour built a small stone pier at Williamstown, while Liardet built a small wooden jetty on the eastern shore of Hobsons Bay in 1841. In the same year, the government completed Queen's Wharf on the north bank of the Yarra in front of the new Customs House. Further downstream, Cole's and Dobson's private wharves followed over the next couple of years.

Early roads included Williamstown Road, which ran from Spencer Street and skirted the West Melbourne Swamp to cross the Maribyrnong River on a punt at Bunbury Street, and another road that ran from Liardet's Beach across the flats that later became South Melbourne to cross the Yarra River on a punt above the falls. By 1845 the punt had been replaced by a privately built wooden toll bridge, the first of many bridges over the Yarra. The toll bridge's monopoly lasted just six years before the graceful single stone arch of Princes Bridge spanned the river to become the first 'permanent' government bridge in Victoria and a natural conduit for all traffic passing southwards from the city.

Melbourne in its first 15 years remained very much a walking city. While horses appeared in the city from the earliest years, private carriages remained the domain of the wealthier classes, and commercial horse-drawn vehicles only came into their own once the roads were formed well enough to have a firm surface. It is perhaps a Melbourne urban myth that the 99-foot-wide (30 m) streets laid out by surveyor Robert Hoddle were designed to allow room for a bullock dray to turn about. However, during the early 1840s a bullock team, with its slow determined power, would certainly have been more useful on the city's unmade streets, where vehicles regularly sank in mud up to the axles after heavy rain.

Melbourne's transport infrastructure underwent a dramatic transformation during the gold rushes. Whereas two or three overseas ships a month visited Melbourne in the late 1840s, by late 1852 more than a dozen arrived each week. Larger clipper sailing ships and iron-hulled auxiliary steam ships first appeared in the port at this time, measuring up to 60-100 m in length and 1200-3000 tons register. Over 100 vessels could be seen at anchor in Hobsons Bay as captains desperately sought outward cargo or passengers and crew to replace those who had abandoned ship and made for the diggings. With the increased traffic, the previous system of landing passengers and goods by lighters proved both inefficient and costly.

Schemes to connect the city to the bay by a canal or railway, proposed as early as the 1830s, had always been abandoned because of the prohibitive cost. In 1854 the Melbourne & Hobson's Bay Railway Co. constructed Melbourne's first deep-water pier at Sandridge (later Port Melbourne), extending 275 m into Hobsons Bay and connected to the city by the colony's first railway. At Williamstown, the Melbourne, Mount Alexander & Murray River Railway Co. began constructing a pier, but later failed, leaving its assets to be acquired by the government in 1856 as the basis of the Victorian Railways. By 1859 the government completed its first railway from Spencer Street Station to Williamstown, and by 1864 the line had extended inland through Castlemaine and Bendigo to reach Echuca, where it tapped into the thriving Murray River paddle-steamer trade. Thus Melbourne's deep-water harbour acquired an interesting character shaped by two competing railway piers. On the eastern shore of Hobsons Bay a privately owned pier and railway served mainly the trade of passenger shipping and imports bound for Melbourne merchants and manufacturers. Meanwhile, on the western shore, the government-owned piers and railway served an export trade of rural produce such as wheat and wool, drawn from as far inland as the New South Wales Riverina, and a thriving import trade in rolling stock and materials for the government railway system and other public works. This competition continued for a quarter of a century until the government finally acquired the Hobsons Bay railway and pier in 1878.

Despite the impact of gold-rush inflation on construction costs, the Hobson's Bay Railway was an immediate success, carrying 270 000 passengers and 28 135 tons of goods in its first full year of operation. In 1857 the company opened a branch line to St Kilda, and two years later another company built an extension from St Kilda to Brighton. Other railway companies attempted to emulate their success, building lines to Geelong (1857), Richmond (1859), Windsor (1860), Hawthorn (1861) and Essendon (1860), all of which proved unprofitable. By 1865 the southern and eastern suburban railways had merged to form the Melbourne & Hobson's Bay United Railway Co., while the Essendon Railway closed, later to be reopened by the government as the first leg of the north-east railway to Wodonga, completed in 1873.

By the mid-1850s Melbourne street scenes presented a lively bustle of pedestrians, handcarts and horse-drawn vehicles. Bourke Street became the heart of Melbourne's horse transport industry, with a thriving concentration of livery stables, coach-builders and booking offices for Cobb &Co. and other companies running daily passenger and mail coaches to the goldfields and other regional centres. Throughout the city young entrepreneurs operated express parcel services using lightweight wagonettes and horse-vans, while two-wheeled Albert cars, or 'jingles', and hackney cabs offered passenger services for hire. By 1860, 28 horse-bus services ran from Bourke Street to city and suburban destinations. American immigrants such as Francis Broadman Clapp had a significant influence on both the style of horse-drawn vehicles used in Melbourne and the type of road-transport services offered. In 1869 Clapp joined forces with William McCulloch and Henry Hoyt to establish the Melbourne Omnibus Co., inaugurating Melbourne's first true public bus service with scheduled departure times; earlier operators more typically ran on demand. Beginning with a fleet of 11 omnibuses and 90 horses servicing the route from the city to Collingwood and Fitzroy, the company expanded, operating 158 omnibuses and 1700 horses by 1881, with services extending over a three-mile (5 km) radius of the city and as far afield as Moonee Ponds, Prahran and Brunswick.

By 1860, 22 main roads radiated from Melbourne, establishing much of today's arterial road pattern. The Central Roads Board, formed in 1853, offered limited funding to residents outside established municipal boundaries, who were encouraged to form district road boards that could levy tolls to pay for improvements such as macadam surfacing and drainage. Upstream from Princes Bridge, early ferries or punts and timber bridges were replaced with more permanent iron bridges at Church Street (1856), Bridge Road (1861), Johnston Street (1877) and Banksia Street, Heidelberg (1860).

While transport technologies had defined the location of Melbourne's business district and constrained initial suburban growth, the massive investment in public transport infrastructure in the 1880s played a major role in creating the land boom, establishing the pattern of city growth for much of the following century. While the development of a sophisticated cable tram network helped consolidate growth in inner suburbs, the radial spread of Melbourne's railways established a pattern of corridor growth that would persist until the 1960s.

In 1883 the Victorian Railways were reformed by the appointment of a board of three railway commissioners in an attempt to make management more independent of government. Ironically the change coincided with one of the worst periods of political interference in Victoria's railway history, with the passing of the notorious 'Octopus Act' (Railway Construction Act 1884) authorising the construction of 66 new metropolitan and country lines. In Melbourne, new lines opened in rapid succession: Frankston (1882), Lilydale (1882), Coburg (1884), Sandringham (1887), Kew (1887), Collingwood and Heidelberg via Royal Park (1888), and Preston (1889). By the decade's end, 'suburban' railways extended far beyond the urban fringe to largely rural settlements such as Mornington, Stony Point, Whittlesea, Belgrave and Healesville. Perhaps the epitome of the era's excesses was the Outer Circle railway from Fairfield to Oakleigh (1888-91). Originally proposed in 1866 as a means of linking the isolated Gippsland Railway with the rest of the government-owned railway system, its original role became redundant before construction commenced because the government had purchased the remaining private railways. Poorly patronised, it never saw a through passenger service along its entire length before sections were closed in 1895.

In 1877 Clapp's company re-formed as the Melbourne Tramway & Omnibus Co. (MTOC) to promote the development of horse trams in Melbourne, while in 1881 the competing Victorian Tramway Co. was formed to promote cable trams. The Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Company's Act 1883 gave municipal councils the power to build tramways to be operated under an exclusive 30-year franchise by the MTOC. Twelve inner-city councils elected to form the Melbourne Tramways Trust, appointing the New Zealand engineer George Duncan to design and construct Melbourne's first tramway system and adopting state-of-theart cable trams on 16 routes opened between 1885 and 1891. A further independently operated cable-tram route built by the Northcote Council along High Street opened in February 1890.

Melbourne's horse-drawn trams finally began to run after the main cable tram routes were already in operation. Between 1888 and 1890, horse-tram lines were built to service the more lightly patronised areas of Kew, Hawthorn, Coburg, Beaumaris, Fairfield Park and Royal Park (Zoological Gardens). While, with frequent services and cheap fares, Melbourne's cable trams were quickly embraced by city commuters and the working classes alike, horse-drawn vehicles continued in constant competition. The earlier Albert car horse-cabs were displaced by compact four-wheeled wagonettes by the 1860s, to be replaced 20 years later by enclosed two-wheeled hansom cabs, which would remain the most common design until horse-cabs finally faded from use in the 1950s. By the 1890s many horse-drawn passenger vehicles in Melbourne had quieter and smoother-running solid-rubber tyres fitted over the traditional iron tyres.

Velocipedes first appeared on Melbourne streets as early as 1869, but it was with the high-wheel penny-farthings of the 1880s that bicycles really came into their own. The introduction of modern-style 'safety bicycles' from the early 1890s (with chain-drive, pneumatic tyres and a triangular frame) did much to enhance the popularity of the bicycle, particularly among women in the city.

The formation of the Melbourne Harbor Trust in 1877 after decades of agitation, public debate and inquiries, provided a single authority to develop the Port of Melbourne. It immediately tackled the huge backlog of urgently needed port improvements, continuing the task of widening and deepening the lower river below the Yarra Falls begun by the Public Works Department in 1875, rebuilding the wharves along the riverbanks with more-solid stone and timber structures, and erecting additional cargo sheds. Acting on an 1879 report by the eminent British harbour engineer Sir John Coode, excavation of a channel through the mudflats of Fishermans Bend to shorten and widen the course of the Yarra River was begun. The new channel, known as Coode Canal, opened in 1887. Work on the plan then continued with the excavation of the West Melbourne Docks (later known as Victoria Dock) from the swampland to the west of the Spencer Street Railway Yards to create what was then Australia's largest artificial dock, covering 96 acres (38 ha) with a mile (1.6 km) of new wharves. The Lund Line's SS Hubbuck was the first vessel to berth at the new dock in February 1893. With the river wharves and Victoria Dock now accommodating vessels of up to 22-foot (6.7 m) draft, shipping increasingly moved upriver. Compared with 1878, when the Yarra wharves handled just 60% of Melbourne's shipping cargoes, by 1898 87% of import and 79% of export tonnages passed over the river wharves, and by 1910 their share of import cargoes had reached 90%.

Since the 1850s dredging has been necessary to keep the Port of Melbourne navigable for shipping. The Harbor Trust inherited a primitive fleet of three small dredges, with the oldest dating back to 1849. By 1880 the increasing size of overseas passenger and cargo steamers arriving in Melbourne saw ships again forced to anchor in Hobsons Bay. With the purchase of new dredging plant, the trust was able to remove 10 million yd3 (7.7 million m3) of silt from the river and Hobsons Bay in its first decade of operations, allowing the largest ships to berth at Williamstown again by 1889, and allowing Sandridge Railway Pier to regain its role as the terminus for the overseas mail steamers by 1893. In 1890 two wing piers were built near the shore end of the Sandridge Pier as the home base for the popular Port Phillip Bay excursion steamers. Until the late 1930s, the paddle-steamers Ozone (built 1885), Hygeia (built 1890) and Weeroona (built 1910) delighted three generations of Melburnian tourists, day-trippers and workers' picnickers with cruises across the bay to destinations such as Portarlington, Queenscliff and Sorrento.

The collapse of the urban land boom in the early 1890s brought this expansion to an end. Railway passenger journeys declined by a third and goods traffic by a quarter between 1890 and 1895 and took the rest of the decade to recover. The downturn in shipping was even more dramatic, with 40% fewer steamships and 82% fewer sailing vessels visiting Melbourne between 1891 and 1893. The Harbor Trust laid off 250 workers and laid up half its dredging plant.

In August 1899 a young Melbourne engineer, Herbert Thomson, announced Australia's first practical steam car, which he had designed and built in a small Armadale workshop over the previous three years. After exhibiting the car at the Royal Melbourne Show, Thomson and his cousin Edward Holmes took it by steamship to Sydney and, in an inspired publicity stunt, drove the car from Bathurst back to Melbourne on a pioneering 790-kilometre overland road trip. Shortly afterwards they formed the Thomson Motor Car Ltd with the ambition of becoming the first Australian motor car manufacturer. About ten more Thomson steam cars were built to improved designs before the enterprise succumbed to the steadily growing trade in imported motor cars around 1903. South Melbourne's Tarrant Motor Co., which produced the first Victorian petrol-powered cars, experienced similar difficulties but went on to achieve greater success building bodies for imported Ford motor car chassis. The first Motor Regulation Act came into force in 1910, and by June 1911 there were 2722 motor cars and 2122 motorcycles registered in Victoria, mostly concentrated in Melbourne, and the first motor garages selling petrol and repairing vehicles had begun to appear throughout the city.

Melbourne's main railway stations, by contrast with many suburban stations, remained somewhat neglected until 1905-10, when Flinders Street Station's grand fa├žade was built to a competition-winning design by two young railway engineers, Fawcett & Ashworth. The row of departure-time clocks beneath the prominent dome were added in 1916 and quickly became a local landmark, leading to the popular Melbourne catchphrase 'I'll meet you under the clocks'. By the 1930s Flinders Street claimed to be the world's busiest station, handling almost 300 000 passengers daily and serving all suburban lines.

At Spencer Street Station additional island platforms and the pedestrian subway serving suburban lines were built in the 1920s, but the main country booking hall remained little more than a large corrugated iron shed until a new passenger terminal was built in 1962 to coincide with the completion of the standard-gauge track from Sydney. Completion of the railway from Princes Bridge to Clifton Hill in 1901 provided a direct link from the city to the Heidelberg and Upfield (Whittlesea) lines, eliminating the previous need for trains to follow the circuitous Inner Circle Railway. The new line terminated on the eastern side of Swanston Street at Princes Bridge station, which was originally built for the Melbourne & Suburban Railway Co. in 1859 and had, since 1879, served the government's Gippsland line.

While other Australia cities began building electric tramways in the 1890s, Melbourne - with its extensive and efficiently run cable tram network - was a relatively late convert to electric trams. Although a short electric tramway from Box Hill to Doncaster had operated briefly in the early 1890s, it was the St Kilda-Brighton tramway, built somewhat curiously by the Victorian Railways, that introduced Melbourne's first real suburban electric tram service in May 1906. Later the same year, the North Melbourne Electric Tramway & Lighting Co. opened two electric tram routes from Flemington Bridge to Essendon and Maribyrnong under franchise from three local councils.

In other middle suburbs, municipal councils formed trusts to build and operate electric tramways jointly. The Prahran and Malvern Tramways Trust, which began in 1910 with a fleet of 13 electric tramcars on two routes, became Melbourne's largest municipal tram system over the next decade, with almost 100 trams operating services over six suburbs. North of the Yarra River, other municipal trusts opened electric tramways to Brunswick and Coburg in 1916, then Northcote and Preston in 1920.

By 1900 the limitations of the original Railway Pier at Port Melbourne were becoming apparent, with its narrow decking clogged by throngs of passengers, wharf workers and railway trucks every time the mail steamers came in. In 1913 control of the pier was transferred from the Railways Department to the Harbor Trust, allowing redevelopment to begin. The New Railway Pier, built to the west of the old pier, opened in 1916. Later renamed Princes Pier, it became Melbourne's main overseas passenger-shipping terminal, while Railway Pier was rebuilt as Station Pier in the 1920s. Both would play a major role during the post-World War II immigration boom.

By the 1920s a dramatic transition from 19th- to 20thcentury technologies in Melbourne's transport system was apparent. A snapshot of Swanston Street in late 1926 graphically portrays the changes: as the new electric W-class trams rumble downhill towards Princes Bridge, the older generation of cable trams still glide across the intersections at Flinders, Collins and Bourke streets with their clanging bells sounding a warning to the steady stream of pedestrians; noisy motor cars, motorcycles and motor trucks roar alongside the trams, belching petrol fumes and weaving their way around slower moving cyclists and the occasional horse-drawn delivery lorry or cab.

The railways were the first form of public transport to be modernised, with all the suburban passenger lines electrified between 1919 and 1926. Electricity was supplied by a coal-fired power station at Newport, and existing red 'swing-door' and Tait sliding-door suburban carriages were converted into the first electric trains by adding electric motors, driver's cabs and overhead pantographs at the new purpose-built Jolimont workshops. Signalling was updated on suburban lines, and the first 'wigwag' level-crossing warning devices were installed. There was an immediate surge in patronage on most lines following electrification. In 1926 the government authorised an extension of the Burnley-Darling line to Glen Waverley, but the investment came at the onset of the depression and the expected increase in patronage failed to materialise. Existing residents suffered the added hardship of having to pay a special council rate levied to cover a guarantee over operating losses on the railway.

When the MTOC's lease of the cable tram network ended in 1916, responsibility for running the system passed to the Tramways Board; it then passed to the newly formed Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board (MMTB) on 2 February 1920. During World War I, patronage on the cable trams had risen to 113 million passenger journeys annually, but the fleet of 561 'dummies' or grip cars and 576 trailer cars was ageing. The number of trams that could be run simultaneously on any route was ultimately limited by the maximum load that the wire cables could carry without stretching or breaking. Electrification commenced in 1925 but took 15 years to complete. Meanwhile, the MMTB also gained control of the municipal electric tramway trusts operating beyond the cable tram routes, inheriting a fleet of 165 electric trams built to 18 different designs. In 1923 the MMTB introduced the first new standard W-class tram and two years later opened the Preston Workshops as a centralised repair and manufacturing facility for its fleet. With a single operator and the ubiquitous W-class design, Melbourne's electric trams became a distinctive and familiar part of the city. During the interwar and immediate postwar years, they became Melbourne's most popular form of public transport. Patronage doubled from 150 to 300 million passenger journeys annually between 1928 and 1949. Trams had a major impact on the development of Melbourne's middle ring of suburbs from Essendon and Preston in the north to Camberwell and Caulfield in the south-east.

The Victorian Railways pioneered motor bus services in Melbourne when six imported Chelmsford steam buses were introduced on a route between Prahran station and the Malvern Town Hall in 1905, but the service was withdrawn after less than 12 months because of poor patronage. In the early 1920s, dozens of small private bus lines were established, offering both cross-suburban feeder services and routes in direct competition to the railways and tramways. By 1924 there were an estimated 419 private buses in Melbourne. Shortly afterwards, the MMTB moved to establish its own fleet of 45 buses, and Victorian Railways acquired a fleet of 20 'road passenger coaches' to operate feeder services mainly to and from tourist destinations on the outskirts of Melbourne. Licences and standardised route numbering were controlled by the Motor Omnibus Act 1925. The enormous increase in both commercial and private motor vehicle use during the 1920s put a major strain on Melbourne's road system. The limited number of Yarra River bridges restricted southern traffic flows in and out of the city, and the opening of the Spencer Street Bridge (1930), Church Street Bridge (1923) and MacRobertson Bridge (1934) went only part way to solving the problem.

Aviation was pioneered from 1910 by John Duigan and others, and Australia's first flying school was established at Point Cook in 1914 to train pilots for the Australian Flying Corps (later the Royal Australian Air Force), but there were no regular services until the 1930s. During the 1920s returned war pilots, flying surplus military aircraft, used sporting fields or racecourses as makeshift landing fields to offer joy-flights to all comers. Essendon Airport, established as Melbourne's first commercial aerodrome in 1930, became the operating base for interstate and regional air services. By the outbreak of World War II Melbourne had also become Australia's leading aircraft-manufacturing centre with the establishment of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) factory at Fishermans Bend, later to be joined by the Department of Aircraft Production and Aeronautical Research Laboratories. After the war Melbourne consolidated its position as the centre of Australia's domestic airline industry, housing the administrative and engineering base for Ansett-ANA and TAA (later Australian Airlines). The opening of Melbourne Airport at Tullamarine gave the city an international airport suitable for the jet age.

With the introduction of petrol-rationing from October 1940, and with increasing adult workforce participation (particularly among women), there was a significant increase in public transport patronage in Melbourne during World War II. While some commercial transport operators and private motorists fitted their vehicles with suction gas producers as an alternative fuel source, for most the extra inconvenience and engine wear and tear did not make them worthwhile. With petrol-rationing continuing until February 1950, the trends continued after the war. Despite almost two decades with limited public transport investment and increasing service interruptions from industrial strikes, tram use peaked at around 300 million journeys annually in the late 1940s, and total suburban passenger train journeys reached 173 million by 1950.

In 1950 the Victorian Railways announced 'Operation Phoenix', an £80 million reinvestment plan designed to revitalise the State's rail system over 10 years. Although much of the funding went towards upgrading country services, 30 new electric passenger train sets for suburban services were introduced from 1956 to 1959. Painted in the standard Victorian Railways royal-blue and yellow-striped livery and with wider double sliding doors, increased circulation space and fully upholstered seating, the new 'Harris' trains were a marked contrast to the old 'red rattlers'. The change coincided with the abolition of separate first- and second-class suburban fares in 1958. Apart from minor extensions to the outer limits of the suburban electric lines in the late 1950s, there would be no significant further investment in the suburban train network until excavations for the Melbourne underground rail loop commenced in July 1971.

In 1951 only 15% of journeys to work in Melbourne were made by car, compared with 26% by train, 22% by tram, 8% by bus and 10% by foot or bicycle, and only one household in three owned a car. Over the following decade car ownership would increase by 150%. Melbourne became a motor city, leading to dramatic changes in the urban landscape with the introduction of the first motels, drive-in cinemas and drive-in food outlets. In October 1960 Chadstone opened as the first drive-in shopping mall in Melbourne, beginning a trend unimagined by planners just 10 years before.

The Metropolitan Town Planning Commission had first envisaged a network of key arterial roads to ease Melbourne's traffic congestion in 1929, but in the absence of an authority with either appropriate powers or funding, little was done to implement the scheme. Given responsibility for major metropolitan bridges in 1933, the Country Roads Board (CRB) embarked on a program of building additional Yarra River crossings that continued through the postwar years, but it had no equivalent powers over metropolitan roads. In 1949 the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) was given the task of developing a Melbourne Metropolitan Planning Scheme. Its 1954 report included limited plans for public transport upgrades and an extensive scheme for 28 'controlled access' arterial roads, more like divided highways with service roads than modern freeways. Made responsible for planning and construction of major metropolitan roads in 1955, the MMBW completed the first stage of the South Eastern Freeway (1961), as well as the St Kilda Junction interchange (1968) and the initial stages of the Tullamarine (1969) and Eastern freeways, before the role was transferred to the CRB in 1974. The 1969 Melbourne Transport Plan updated elements of the old planning scheme, proposing a $2.6 billion budget, with just $355 million to be spent on public transport and the remainder on the construction of almost 500 km of freeways. Public alarm over the scope of the scheme led to the rise of the anti-freeway movement, forcing the Hamer government to announce a drastic reduction of future freeway construction in 1973.

In 1965 the Lower Yarra Crossing Authority was formed as an independent statutory authority to build a high-level bridge near the Yarra mouth. After delays caused by a partial collapse and subsequent redesign work, the West Gate Bridge opened on 15 November 1978. The toll, the first in Melbourne for over a century, proved unpopular, reducing projected use of the bridge until it was removed in the early 1980s by the Cain government.

Since the early 1960s the Port of Melbourne has undergone a dramatic transformation with the decline of overseas passenger shipping and the growth of containerisation. With the development of the North Geelong Bulk Wheat Terminal from 1939, Williamstown lost its former role as a wheat export port, and two of its piers were redeveloped as a bulk oil terminal in the 1950s to serve the Altona refinery. Construction of Appleton Dock (1958), the last with storage sheds for general cargo, was followed by the 'roll-on, roll-off' berths at Webb Dock (1959) and the first container berth at Swanston Dock (1969). Meanwhile, older wharves on the upper section of the Yarra have been progressively closed to shipping with the construction of Spencer Street Bridge (1929-30), Charles Grimes Bridge (1977-78) and the Bolte Bridge (1999).

With the dramatic rise in private car ownership in the postwar decades, the future of Melbourne's trams increasingly appeared to be under threat. The reconversion of the Bourke Street route from buses to electric trams in time for the 1956 Olympic Games was the last major investment in tramway infrastructure for almost three decades. As other Australian cities abandoned their trams, Melbourne came under pressure to follow suit, but MMTB chairman Sir Robert Risson, almost single-handedly at times, held back the tide. Ultimately the sheer size of the system, the cost of conversion and the foresight of the city's early planners and surveyors in providing such wide streets saved Melbourne trams. The introduction of the first orange Z-class trams in 1975 began the long-delayed process of renewing the ageing rolling stock. By the 1980s the future seemed more assured, with the Cain government making significant investments in new tramway infrastructure to extend the East Burwood and Plenty Road routes. In 1987 Melbourne's oldest suburban train lines to Port Melbourne and St Kilda were converted to light rail, to be used by new articulated trams. Further plans to convert the Upfield and Williamstown rail lines were later abandoned after widespread public opposition.

In 1983 the Cain government merged the operations of all suburban trains, trams and government buses under the new Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), trading as 'the MET'. A new logo and standard shamrock-green and wattle-yellow livery were introduced, and all staff were issued with dark-green uniforms. Of more practical benefit to passengers was the introduction, from August 1980, of daily Metro Cards, which allowed transfers between the three modes of public transport within a defined zone (corresponding to inner, middle and outer metropolitan regions). Relaunched as Travel Cards in February 1982, the multi-modal ticketing was also introduced for shorter two-hour periods. In anticipation of the planned phasing out of tram conductors, Met tickets, more commonly known as 'scratchies', were introduced in July 1989. These tickets, which required passengers to validate their own ticket by scratching off a patch to reveal the date and time of boarding, were unpopular with both travellers and tram conductors and led to widespread fare-evasion. Controversy over the planned removal of tram conductors finally came to a head in early 1990 when trams blockaded city streets during a strike that lasted for several weeks.

The Kennett Liberal Government accelerated public transport 'reforms', privatising the MET bus fleets and introducing a free 'city loop' tram service in 1994. The privatisation of the tram and train systems was delayed by technical difficulties with automatic ticketing. When tram conductors were finally withdrawn in May 1998, there was surprisingly little union protest, in part because the government had progressively replaced many of the former permanent staff positions with contract conductors over several years through a process of natural attrition. Split into four separate operating units, Melbourne's train and tram services were privatised in August 1999, but all of the new franchisees struggled to make a profit. By 2004 Melbourne's trains and trams were again run by single operators.

Matthew S. Churchward