Despite Mumbai being the nation's financial capital, public transportation here lags behind other major Indian cities. The Metro train rapid transit system is still under construction, and right now only services an isolated part of the city. Most Metro trains and buses aren't air-conditioned—and they do get very crowded and uncomfortable—so tourists who visit Mumbai usually opt for other forms of transport. However, a ride on the Mumbai Suburban Railway (better known simply as the "local train") is a quintessential experience as it's part of India's oldest railway network, which dates back to 1853. What's more, the local train is the best way to avoid Mumbai's infamous traffic jams. Here's how to navigate the city's public transit system so you can get the most from your trip.
How to Ride the Mumbai Local Train
Mumbai local trains run in a north-south direction, which is beneficial for getting from one end of the city to the other. The train system is widely used by commuters heading to work in the city center. It carries more than 8 million passengers a day, making it one of the busiest commuter rail systems in the world and "Mumbai's life-line."
- Routes: There are three lines: Western, Central, and Harbour. The Western Line, which runs from Churchgate in South Mumbai to the city's outer north, is most useful for tourists.
- Types of passes: A Mumbai Local Tourist Pass provides unlimited travel on all lines of the local train network for one, three, or five days. If you're only going to make a few journeys, opt for single or roundtrip tickets instead.
- Fares: The minimum fare is 5 rupees in Second Class, 50 rupees in First Class, and 65 rupees in Air-Conditioned Class. Tourist passes start from 75 rupees in Second Class or 275 rupees in First Class.
- How to pay: Ticket counters at railway stations accept cash. To avoid the long lines, buy a rechargeable Smart Card, which will enable you to get tickets from the Automatic Ticket Vending Machines at the stations.
- Hours of operation: From 4:15 a.m. until around 1 a.m. To be safe, only travel during the day between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., outside of rush hours.
- Important things to know: Trains are classified as "Fast" (with few stops) or "Slow" (stopping at most or all stations). Each train has designated "ladies' compartments," which are carriages solely for female passengers. Both males and females are permitted in the other "general compartments."
- Tips: Download the m-Indicator app for quick access to timetables and routes.
The Mumbai Metro Train
Mumbai's air-conditioned Metro train rapid transit system is currently limited to one operational east-west line between Ghatkopar and Versova in the suburbs. The line runs past Mumbai airport and connects to the Mumbai local train network (Western and Harbour lines) at Andheri. You can take a direct train to South Mumbai from there, making it an inexpensive way of reaching the city's tourist district.
Note that the Metro doesn't stop right at the airport. The closest station is Airport Road, about 15 minutes on foot from the international terminal (taxis and auto rickshaws are options if you don't want to walk). Also keep in mind that you'll need to buy separate tickets to travel on the Metro and local trains. The Metro fare is 20 rupees one way, between Airport Road and Andheri stations. More information is available on the Mumbai Metro website.
Riding the Bus in Mumbai
Mumbai's distinctive, lumbering red B.E.S.T buses (some of which are double-decker) go everywhere that trains don't in the city. They're not very tourist-friendly though, so expect some challenges.
- Routes: Details are available on this website or on the m-Indicator app. However, bus numbers and destinations are not always clearly displayed in English on the front of the buses. You may need to ask someone at the bus stop for assistance.
- Fare: The minimum fare is 5 rupees, and tickets can be purchased onboard.
- Important things to know: If you're keen to ride a double-decker bus, these days they only service Route 124 between Colaba Bus Station and Worli Depot via Crawford Market and Bhendi Bazaar. Route 123 is an ideal scenic route for tourists, as it runs along Marine Drive.
Taxis in Mumbai
Mumbai's iconic kaali-peeli black and yellow taxis are prevalent all over the city, particularly in South Mumbai (where auto rickshaws aren't permitted). Unlike many other cities in India, if you hail a taxi from the street in Mumbai, you won't have to argue with the driver to put the meter on—this means no inflated fixed-price fares, even for foreign tourists. Be aware that the driver may try to overcharge you by taking you the long way, though. The minimum fare is 22 rupees (30 cents).
Prepaid black and yellow taxis also remain a reliable way of getting from Mumbai airport to your hotel.
Ridesharing apps like Uber and Ola (the Indian equivalent of Uber) are popular alternatives for getting around Mumbai if you have Internet access on your phone. They're a good alternative to taxis because there's no need to explain to the driver where you want to go (as directions are often given based on landmarks rather than street names in Mumbai, this can be tricky). It's also possible to book an Uber by the hour in Mumbai, and for day trips out of the city (called "outstation" trips).
Although Uber rates have increased, and surge pricing applies when demand is high, the cost remains affordable. The minimum fare is 100 rupees (that's under $1.50). Ola tends to be a bit cheaper but the service standard is lower.
Auto Rickshaws in Mumbai
Mumbai has auto rickshaws, but they're only allowed in the suburbs—you won't find them in South Mumbai. However, they are the way to get around hip Bandra. Similar to taxis, auto rickshaws usually go by the meter in Mumbai. The minimum fare is 18 rupees (25 cents).
Ferries in Mumbai
Ferries operate during the day from the Gateway of India in Colaba to Elephanta Island and Alibaug. There are also speedboat services to Alibaug. However, both ferries and speedboats are suspended in the monsoon season from June to December.
The Mumbai Monorail
Expansion of public transportation in Mumbai included the addition of a monorail line in 2014. It is of little use to tourists, though, as its route runs between Sant Gadge Maharaj Chowk/Jacob's Circle in South Mumbai and Chembur in the eastern suburbs.
Tips for Getting Around Mumbai
- Mumbai is notorious for its traffic congestion (it's rated among the worst globally). Many parts of the city are dug up by Metro train construction works, causing further delays. Rush hours can double your travel time, so plan your sightseeing to avoid being on the road between 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 9.30 p.m.
- Sundays are relatively traffic-free and are the best days to make extended trips across the city.
- Stay close to tourist attractions in South Mumbai (Colaba is a popular neighborhood) so you don't have to travel too far.
- Taxis that wait for customers outside popular hotels will usually demand a fixed-rate tourist price if you hire them. Do negotiate.
- Uber or Ola really are your best bet for a prompt and fuss-free ride.