road transport in India

Transport in India that makes sense of the street chaos

India can be very confusing at times especially when it comes to a situation involving crowds. It’s quite challenging to get out from the station in a big city in peak hours. There are different means of transport in India: taxis, autos, cycle rickshaws. Everyone will try selling the service to you. If it is highly evident you are not local very often they might overcharge you for the lack of knowledge about local reality. In this post, I will cover different types of urban road transport in India and tips for getting better deals. I hope this will save your time and effort while traveling.

Taxi companies in India

If you are flexible with the budget, one of the best and comfortable modes of transport in India will be organized taxi companies. There are many established companies in Taxi industry, like Ola CabsUberMeru, Quick Cabs, Mega Cabs. Ola and Uber are the biggest players in the market in all India taxi service. I gave my preference initially to Ola as this is a local company with a clear knowledge about Indian market requirements. It was quite often ahead of Uber with its offerings, prices, and packages. Currently, Ola has increased its prices a bit, thus I’ve noticed in reviews many users shifted to Uber due to unbeaten customer service. In 2016 Ola came up with a new cheapest package of bike taxi, thus there is again a war for customers. Try both, it’s just the matter of preference.

Ola Cabs has offerings for different budgets: prime, lux, micro, mini, auto, share, rentals, outstation, shuttle, carpool ( updated in summer 2016 since Ola has come up with six new offerings during half of the year). You can book the cab via their app, website or through their hotline no. There are multiple payment options including cash.

Uber also offers options for different budgets: uberX, uberGO, uberMOTO, uberPOOL. You can book their services via the app. Recently Uber has also introduced cash payment in some cities.

Besides the companies in radio taxi industry, there are independent taxis on Indian city roads. In some cities like Mumbai and Kolkata you can catch them on the road, while in other places, you will have to register your cab in advance.

Taxi in India

Taxi in Kolkata. Credit: Girish Gopi

Rickshaws 

Rickshaws bring authenticity to the transport system in India and at the same time create huge traffic jams because of the unorganized moving. Currently, there the following types of rickshaws:

Hand-pulled rickshaw – when a man pulls by hands a rickshaw with one passenger. This type was widely spread in Asia in the 19th century, though even nowadays exists in Kolkata. There was an attempt to ban this rickshaw in 2006 for inhuman working conditions, though no real measure have been taken till now.

Cycle rickshaw – a 3-wheeler cycle with a driver pedaling in front. These rickshaws are helpful when you need to get somewhere inside the yards. India is a country created for cars. There are exceptions like Chandigarh, though walking is not a common way to commute in India. There is less or no space for pedestrians, thus even for short distances, people take cycle rickshaws.

Personal remark: I got to know that many rickshaw wallas became drivers by choice(if I may call it a choice): either one of their elder family members was a driver and next generation inherited the profession or they’ve chosen it by themselves. Although I feel pity for working conditions of these people, I have an immense respect for each one of them as they work hard every day to earn instead of begging, stealing and cheating on the streets.  These people come to big cities from the villages to earn more money in order to sustain their families and give basic education to their children. Most of these drivers speak only a local language of the state, where they work.   

Auto rickshaw is a noisy CNG-based three wheeler rickshaw normally of green, yellow or black color with no doors and a comfortable sitting capacity for two people (not comfortably we’ve done seven). There is a standardized rate for such rickshaws in Mumbai and according to the law, you can demand Delhi auto drivers to go by meter. Most of them speak or understand basic English. The auto rickshaw price in India can vary from 8 to 12 INR per km depending on the city. In some of the cities, the radio cab with AC will almost cost the same price as auto.

Shared Auto is a bigger CNG vehicle that normally connects cities with suburbs.  This auto has a huge passenger capacity. This is one of the cheapest yet extreme ways to commute.

Electric auto rickshaws is an electric vehicle for 6 people (as a rule). It started gaining popularity since 2014. Whenever it’s available I recommend this type for commuting to/from the station as it’s silent, eco-friendly, fast and cheap.

Auto Rickshaw

Auto rickshaw. Credit: Aaron C

Metro Rail Transport in India

Currently, there are six Indian metro cities: Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai and Jaipur. It will expand to more cities in coming years. Delhi has the best metro network of over 200 kilometers. It covers all the parts of the city as well as some of its suburbs.

Metro train in Delhi has all train coaches fully air conditioned. Indian Government has allocated the first coach for Ladies to improve women safety and comfort. If you are new to Delhi, there is a great app you might find useful DMRC app (Delhi Metro Rail Corporation).  It’s free and has all required information. For instance, the app can calculate how much time it will take you to travel from station A to station B and how much will it cost. Other than that you can find which buses you can take from the certain exit gates and where they go. There is also information about tourist spots around the metro station if any and general metro map. If you stay more than three days in Delhi, I would suggest purchasing a metro card to escape queues.

Mumbai has a good network of local trains, though they are without air conditioning and with a mad rush.  In other words, you might consider only Delhi metro as an alternate mode of transportation for visiting the attractions.

Delhi Metro train

Delhi Metro. Credit: Yusuke Kawasaki

Bus Travel

Bus transports over 90% of the population in the cities. It’s one of the cheapest ways to commute. Each metro city provides different tiers of bus services for different budget preferences: e.g. normal buses, air-conditioned buses, etc. Some of the city corporations have also launched apps for buses timings & routes, e.g. Delhi DTC bus app. Overall I wouldn’t suggest using buses in case you visit a city for a short period of time as traffic in Indian cities is often slow and the bus doesn’t have the flexibility to change the route in order to escape traffic.

Self Drive Car / Bike Rental in India

Car rental has recently become popular due to the convenience of this service. ZoomCar and Revv are the transport companies in India revolutionizing this space. At Revv you can get a hatchback car for as low as INR 59/hr. If you are a group of people who are planning to stay at least three days in the same city, the car rental will cost you INR 4250 (~65 USD) for 72 hrs (additional costs will apply for petrol). If there are long distances between the places you would like to visit, this will be a nice and comfortable option. The main question is if you dare to drive on the Indian roads.

India is a country with a left side driving system, same as UK. Before hiring a car, check up your city for the following problems: traffic jam spots and parking facility at and close to popular tourist spots. Other than that consider maddening rush that challenges driving skills of any westerner.

Bikes and Super bikes are also available in Indian cities for rent. Though bike rental was always present in India, the startups have organized the sector and standardized the prices so that you don’t feel cheated. If you are in the Northern part of India, check out Wheelstreet & Stoneheadbikes for their both normal and Superbike offerings. In the southern part of India Wickedride has stronger influence with the Superbike offerings. For people looking for two wheeler on rent in Goa, RentABike caters only for them.

Bikes in Delhi

Bikes in Delhi. Credit: Nikhil B

There are many more companies and transportation types in addition to mentioned above. For example, as a result of British colonialism, there is still functioning tram system in Kolkata. Indian Government plans to invest money in its modernisation.

What about you? How do you prefer to commute in India?

  • Excellent advice. One tip is to have Googlemaps to hand which you can use to pre-download the map of the area you are going to before hand to use offline. That way you can use it to check the taxi driver/rick shaw driver’s not taking you to the wrong place, which is sadly common in North India we found!

    • That’s a very nice tip)) Thank you for sharing! It’s true that North India sometimes implies extra payment for rides. Hope you had a nice stay there)

  • Definitively great tips for finding your way around a difficult country and hopefully these help avoid being scammed!

    • Thank you, Mar. I’m glad, you found them useful)

  • Ahhh, this is extremely helpful! Bookmarking for the future. Thanks for sharing and happy travels 🙂

    • Thank you, Carmen! Hope you get an opportunity to visit India. I will be curious to read your view on luxury traveling in India as there is a huge scope for this))

  • Melody Pittman

    This is a very settling post with you laying it all out and being able to see a plan in action. I had no idea India used Uber. Cool! I hope to visit there some day soon but finding a friend to go with has been the issue. I want to see so much of the beautiful country.

    • Thank you for feedback, Melody! Uber has few years back entered the Indian market and there are tens of local alternatives of it. Startups grow like mushrooms in India haha.
      I’ve heard from quite a few people that they would like to visit India, maybe you will agree with each other in some Indian travel group. If you decide, I will be happy to advise some))

  • Chrysoula Manika

    What an excellent post!Very helpful advice! I am bookmarking it!

    • Thank you, Chrysoula. Glad you found it useful!

  • Jenna

    Thanks for the great tips–this will come in handy when we finally get to make a trip to India! India definitely seems confusing and a bit overwhelming, but it’s great that there are posts like this to help out with the planning! 🙂

    • Thank you Jenna for feedback. India has it’s own specifics, it’s true. Whenever you decide to visit it, feel free to shoot questions! I will be more than happy to help you.

  • megan_claire

    Thanks for the extensive post! I would love to get an authentic Indian experience, so have always wanted to go for a ride in a rickshaw. I had no idea there were so many types though!

    • Thank you for feedback, Megan. Rickshaws are quite popular way of commuting especially among youth. India is more of a car country. It’s not common to walk on the streets, unless you are in the parks or mall areas, thus it’s possible to ride rickshaws quite often)

  • I had no idea that there was such a thing as e-rickshaws. That’s pretty awesome!

    • Yeah, developing countries also make steps towards using Eco-friendly transport)

  • Great article! My favourite mode of transport would have to have been train in India. My least favourite was bus!! It was scary!

    • haha. Thank you, Anita! Buses can be scary, especially in villages and small towns of Northern India, where people are literally spread all over and around the bus)

  • Thank you for feedback, Alina! You are so right, though it took me few months to come to the same conclusion you wrote))) It’s very tough to accept social inequality in India, though if we ignore the labor class, we are taking some potential income from them…. I’m happy as well that more Eco friendly transport is introduced that will make city air a bit cleaner.

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