Still Hanging Around- 15 Years of the Tarzan Grip

Melbourne’s tram network is one of the world’s biggest. From the severly-70’s Z-Class , the vintage W-Class, and the modern E-Class, trams play a lead role in Melbourne being named the world’s most liveable city for a record 7 consecutive years. What’s more, the iconic ‘Tarzan Grip,’ designed by Cobalt, has cemented itself as an iconic part of the network that keeps Melbourne moving.

Most people will never have thought about the green ‘anchors’ dangling from the roof of most Melbourne’s trams. We don’t blame them; thinking about handles and the passenger experience is a particular job and one that we at Cobalt relish. In the case of these distinctive handles, they started from a thought had hatched almost 20 years ago…

In 1999, Yarra Trams engaged Cobalt to redesign the interiors of the then newly privatised tram network. At this time, passengers had sturdy brown Bakelite handles, or actual leather straps to hang onto during peak hours. Not content with just a different look or colour, we knew we could design something that improved passenger convenience and safety.

As usual we started by observing real users to discover unmet needs. At peak hours or after popular events like MCG football finals or concerts, there were simply not enough places for all of the standing passengers to safely hold onto, causing an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation.  This was our inspiration – a handle that can be held by two passengers at once, doubling passenger safety and convenience in one iconic stroke.

Before being introduced into refurbished trams in 2002, the ‘Tarzan Grip’ went through rigorous design and engineering to make the concept a real and reliable product. We reviewed and refined everything from the grip’s size, shape and strength – we even built a load test rig, applying weights to replicate the most reckless schoolboys acting out their very own ‘Tarzan’ scenes, and twisting it over 10,000 times to mechanically simulate the most extreme conditions.

It’s often difficult to see, but even something as simple as a tram handle has hours of thought, design and engineering knowhow behind it to make it the best it can be. And in the end, it’s worth it- the Tarzan Handle has become one of the most recognisable features of the Yarra Trams fleet; its success keeping it in continuous service for over 15 years.

Transcending its utility the Tarzan tram handle has become part of Melburnian’s everyday icons, being featured in major exhibitions at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and Museum Victoria.

Something to think about next time you’re hanging around on a Melbourne tram.

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