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Getting to the airport

A short trip coming up soon. Two nights away. Up on a Saturday at lunchtime, back on Monday evening.

Options for getting to Melbourne airport and back, for the three of us:

Train plus Skybus. About 70 minutes each way. Train fares each way $3.76 + 2 x $1.88. Skybus fares each way 3 x $18. No discount for the return leg. Skybus fares add up to $108. Return trip total $123.04

(Because my boys are now both over 16, we’re all adults now according to Skybus, even though the boys are fulltime students with the requisite concession cards, thus eligible for concession Myki fares. This seems illogical to me, and is what prompted me to look at the various options. Skybus also offers no discount to Seniors or other concession holders — it appears to aim at being a premium service.)

Train to Broadmeadows plus 901 Smartbus. About 100 minutes each way, but varying according to connection times. Frequency of Smartbus on weekends and evenings is only half-hourly. Same as the train fare only. Return trip total $15.04.

(Evening 901s from the airport arrive at Broadmeadows every half-hour: 9:08, 9:38, 10:08, 10:38. Train to city is scheduled to depart one minute later. Genius. Any little bus delay, and/or if you’re not an Olympic sprinter, and you’ll have to wait half an hour for the connection. Not very Smart.)


Taxi to airport. About 50 minutes each way. About $85 each way says the Taxi Fare Estimator. Return trip total $170.

Train to Essendon, then taxi to airport. About 70 minutes depending on train connections. Train fare as above, plus taxi fare about $32.77 each way. Return trip total $80.58. Is there a taxi rank at Essendon? All I could find on Google Streetview was a paltry one space rank.

(Moonee Ponds might have more chances of getting a taxi quickly. Other options might be staying on the train to Broadmeadows, or instead going to Footscray, which is further away, but generally doesn’t involve a change of train on weekdays.)

Train to City, then taxi to airport. About an hour. Train fare as above, plus taxi fare about $55 each way (so, about the same as Skybus, but less environmentally friendly).

UberX to airport. About 50 minutes. $71-93 says the Uber fare estimator, depending on demand. You can’t get UberX from the airport. So comparing apples for apples, the return trip would be a cab.

(UberX from Southern Cross to the airport is estimated at $46-61. Essendon Station to the airport $27-37. So pretty consistently, UberX is from 20% cheaper than a cab, to 20% more expensive than a cab.)

Private Airport bus (Frankston to Tullamarine). Pick-up point in Moorabbin, with a travel time of 80 minutes, so including getting to Moorabbin plus the bus time is about 95 minutes. Fare is $59 return per adult, so $177 total plus train fares — perhaps $20 less depending on their definition of a child. But this isn’t really an option coming back as they have no trips back from the airport after 6:55pm.

Drive to airport. About 50 minutes + perhaps 15 for the bus from the long term car park. Pre-booked parking for 2.5 days is $34, plus $7.35 in tolls (using an eTag) each way plus petrol. It’s 40 km each way. If we use say 5 litres of petrol each way (which is probably over-estimating) at $1.40/litre would be about $7 in petrol. So a return trip total of $62.70 excluding wear and tear on the car, and the fixed costs of owning it.

(The costs of owning a car are not insubstantial, but I have it already. It’s paid for. Whether it sits in the driveway or sits in the airport car park makes almost no difference. This, of course, is not an unusual consideration people make. That said, all things being equal, I’d prefer to have my car in the driveway when I’m away from home. I’m not the paranoid type, but I wonder if it helps discourage burglars.)

What options have I missed?

Car and taxi options are basically a fixed price for fewer than 5 people. Car parking obviously varies according to how long you leave your car in the carpark. But public transport options can multiply up quickly as your party gets bigger unless discounts apply for groups — Skybus has a Family option, but over 16s don’t count as kids.

Ultimately the issue is that my default choice, Train plus Skybus, a nice balance between quickest and most environmentally friendly, is a good option when 1-2 people are travelling, or with children under 17… but once you have 3 “adults” (even though for other public transport they are considered concessions) the cost is substantial.

I don’t know yet which option we’ll take, but I’m sure I’m not the only one put off by the price.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

30 replies on “Getting to the airport”

There’s also the tram + bus option, if you want to cover all the bases.

For the “hard to get a cab at Essendon” problem, there are taxi apps like Go Catch which can help.

There’s often a taxi waiting in the spot at Essendon; I’ve never seen a taxi at Moonee Ponds. You’ve forgotten the perennial favourites: Get to Essendon (drive/train) and then get a friend to give you a lift from there to the airport (12 mins). Just saying.

And if you are filthy rich or don’t mind the credit card debt there is the helicopter shuttle from the Yarra River. It’s even promoted on the airport website. They would probably pick up at Moorabbin airport for extra $$$.

For completeness, although not likely to be cheaper, consider the private parking operators around Mickleham Rd, like Jetport mad Andrews.

Another option that you could include is private hire car. For adhoc travel, it’s likely to be expensive. But as a fairly frequent traveller, I negotiated a fixed price with a “private” taxi (private hire, like Uber Black), that is competitive with regular taxis, and hasn’t changed since 2011. Advantages: driver knows my name and where I want to go; always arrives earlier than my booking time; is always waiting in baggage hall to collect me when I get back; car is always a clean, “luxury” end of the market, Lexus hybrid (emissions conscious); comfort; price certainty; confidence in the driver and the service. (Mine is a business expensed fare, which obviously influences my choice.)

A friend providing a lift from Essendon presumably requires a friend who lives in that general area. I suspect a majority people in Melbourne do not have a friend in the Essendon area as there are so many people in Melbourne that the people of the Essendon area would need to have a lot of friends each (and be willing to give them lifts) for most of Melbourne o have a friend in Essendon.

We recently used a private car park near to the airport. From arrival at the place to leaving the transport minibus took not much longer than you would allow to park in the long term car park. I was surprised how popular the service is, and that was just one lesser known company. It was about 35% cheaper than the long term car park, although we did not look at the long term until the day before travel. It all really depends on much time you want to spend travelling to get somewhere to do more travelling, cost and convenience. I’m afraid I can only see two practical and reasonable options for you and it disappoints me to say, taxi or take your own car and park. Friends always use a private hire car, one of the VHA/B/C and it doesn’t cost much more than a taxi.

Everyone always highlights getting the bus from Broadmeadows as though Broadmeadows is as safe as any other suburb. I wouldn’t like to hang around there for half an hour at night waiting for a train. Especially if I had kids or visitors to Melbourne!

Another option my Dad likes to use from Parkdale: hire a car locally, return it at the airport, and vice-versa. Convenience depends on how close you live to a car hire office.

I’ve been commuting interstate the past couple of months on a weekly basis from Parkdale or Dandenong to the airport. Given I’m always needing to get the airport in peak hour I’ve not been willing to attempt the Skybus route (timetable blows out) or a taxi (cost blows out). In a car, at least I can take a back route (rather than getting stuck on the Monash or Tulla) and I’m also not stuck on the way home trying to get from the airport to the southeast late on a Sunday night when frequency drops off.

The one option you’ve missed here is to pre-book parking at the new T4 car park. As it’s only recently opened, prices in advance are comparable to the long term car park; indeed, last week it was cheaper and only a 6 minute walk to the Virgin terminal from there (even less if you’re flying Tiger but more if you’re on Qantas).

My biggest gripe with MEL access is that the journey time is so variable to traffic. In peak times I’ve had the journey time from Dandenong to MEL to 1 hour 50 minutes by car; twice the flying time to Canberra. At the other end the car journey to Kingston is only 12 minutes, so it’s impossible to not drive (compared with an hourly local bus that only travels weekdays).

It’s disappointing that a private car is the cheapest and most convenient way to get to the airport, but it’s unfortunately the truth (in Melbourne). Even with the quite expensive car parking charges at the airport, Skybus has managed to make itself the more expensive option.

As you’ve demonstrated, the public transport option (buses at half-hour intervals) appears to have been set up to fail.

Driving is probably the best option and, as you’ve mentioned, you already have your car. Out-of-the-way trips like this are the time to use cars. It’s an oddity of Melbourne that the airport is an out-of-the-way trip. I think it’s legitimate to use it in this case. To avoid giving your money to the airport, which may be objectionable for a lot of people, I’d recommend the off-site carparks near the airport. Their shuttle buses will transport you to/from the terminal.

Daniel, three points to add:
* the car (and long-term carpark) option drops to around $50 if you “take the ring road” rather than pay tolls. Extra time and petrol but works out cheaper than the tolls.
* I have ALWAYS managed to park really close to the short-term carpark in the long-term carpark. So what I do is drop the family off (and luggage) at the terminal then park the car in the long-term carpark and walk (5 minutes, tops) to the terminal. This saves waiting for the bus.
* the best option, by far, that you missed out, is get a family member or friend to drop you off and (someone different perhaps) pick you up. You can return the favour to them at a later date!

Be prepared for plenty of abuse if you catch a taxi from the airport to Essendon. Those guys are absolutely ropeable if they get a short fare after waiting 2 hours in the rank at the airport. As a result I book a taxi (silver service) to pick me up in the normal pick-up area.

My parents just get a train down from the country and then Skybus to the airport. Is too much trouble to arrange lifts these days. The hotel close by the airport is meant to be not bad if you have an early flight.

I ride my folding bike to the airport and take it with me on the plane (as luggage, of course). To get out of the City I catch the train to either Pascoe Vale or Jacana (depends how lazy I am) and follow the Moonee Ponds Crk trail then a few more off-road trails to get almost to the airport’s eastern road entrance. Just a few meters of roads to ride on.
A more direct bicycle route leaves the Moonee Ponds Creek and follows Melrose Drive but the recent opening of another arterial entry to the airport has affected this and I haven’t been that way for a few years. Anyone know what entering the airport from Melrose Drive is like now?

Cost:zero, time, a bit less than 2 hours. After a long flight back to AU, it brushes the cobwebs off, wonderful way to arrive back. Arrive at destination with own transport.

Someone further up mentioned safety at Broadmeadows. It is, I grant you, one of the edgier areas of Melbourne; but I’ve never felt worried doing the train+901 bus switch there. On the way to MEL you’re only in the station for moments before reaching the bus stop, and there’s usually a bus not far away. And it is a staffed station, which helps. I might think twice late at night though.

I’ve written about this option regularly on my blog by the way, it’s the most popular post there:

Given PSOs now patrol at Broadmeadows after 6pm, I don’t have particular concerns about safety after dark. But the prospect of a 29 minute wait for the connection from the train to the bus completely rules it out for me.

Bus frequency is okay on weekdays during the day, but outside those times isn’t great.

Bit of a bummer they’ve removed the discount for return trips on Skybus…$18 one-way/$30 return was a lot more attractive. Now there’s practically no incentive.

Moreover, if my flight is at a time where there’s little to no traffic, I can even avoid the toll. For example, I recently dropped off my friend for a 3AM flight…we left home 11PM, so we took the M1-Toorak Rd-West Gate Fwy-M80-M2 route. About 10km longer than catching the M1-M2 tollways straight through, but the tolls are worth about 50km of fuel.

Mon to Fri, I would always go train to Broadmeadows then 901.

What about the option of taxi from Broadmeadows?

“Out-of-the-way trips like this are the time to use cars. ”

Multiple-passenger trips like this, are also the best time to use cars.

I wish the 901 bus would stop at Upfield! It would make it a lot more useful for me living in Brunswick to get to the airport.

Trick with UberX – Drag the pick-up location just outside the airport, book, and call the driver and tell them you are at the Airport. They will willingly come and collect ou, and a lot of uberX drivers wait around the airport expecting people to work around like that.

I just booked a return ticket with the bus and was annoyed to see the discount return ticket is no more. $36 return is way to high.

Then a few minutes later I find out I have to take an extra bag with me weighing 28kg so now I will have to drive as I cannot carry that as well as my regular suitcase and laptop.

I hope on Monday morning I can get a refund.

I use Alpha car park service and the minivan shuttle is excellent. I have never waited more then 5 minutes at either end. 3 days is $27.

I live in Warragul and would love to use the train / bus service more (I take about 8 trips a year) but even if I catch the earliest train I won’t get to the airport until 7.15am which means I can only catch flights that leave after 8am which does not suit me travel plans most times.

Of course the car option is cheaper still if you avoid the tolls (by going through Essendon or via the ring road). I tend to do that out of principle – I still loath Transurban including the $2b worth of illegal tax credits they got.

When I used to work in Sunbury, I would take the 479 bus home to Essendon (back before they cut it back to Airport West and went to Moonee Ponds)

Occasionally, some of the people who got on the bus were heading to the airport. Some of them would come from anywhere along the Bendigo line and got off at Sunbury to transfer to the 479.

I was really annoyed when they moved the airport bus stop out past Terminal 4. I wonder if they’ve moved it back closer to the airport.

@CG, Starbus — same price as Skybus one way; slightly cheaper return trip, but their last bus from Melbourne Airport is at 6pm, about 3 hours before we arrive back. No other mention of expected departure times or frequencies, but it’s unlikely to be as good as Skybus, and given Starbus is a door to door hotel service, how long would the trip take to the airport if it has to pick up at multiple locations before heading there?

@Nik Dow, the Melrose Drive bike lane (note the lane is not continuous along Melrose Drive) connects directly to the new Airport Drive Shared Path. Unfortunately, the Airport Drive Path ends at a multi-lane roundabout. Riding further to the terminals requires riding on-road, until the Melb Airport Corporation develops the paths that I hope they intend doing!

There used to be a bus from Essendon to the Airport (originating in Moonee Ponds) – the 478. However, I’ve just discovered that this route was truncated to run only from Airport West SC to the Airport in July 2014. You could still get a bus/tram from Essendon to Airport West SC and interchange but this generally wouldn’t be feasible against the Broadmeadows option. Disappointing to see a cost-effective option quietly removed!

I would like to see a shuttle bus service operate between Broadmeadows and the Airport (under Zone 2 fare) to increase the frequency of services on this route to at least 10 minutes or more frequent. As a Cragieburn Line user, it doesn’t make sense for me to head into the city (potentially changing trains to get to Southern Cross) just to get an expensive bus back out again.

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