Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, is a classic juxtaposition of old and new. The city's transportation reflects this as well, where mass rapid transit meets hand-pulled rickshaws. Indian Railways controls the Metro train system, while West Bengal Transportation Corporation (WBTC) runs buses, trams/streetcars, and ferries. WBTC recently introduced an unlimited single-day, all-in-one 100 rupee travel pass for seamless travel across these services. However, budget-conscious visitors will find the train to be most useful, particularly if traveling between the city's north and south. If you're headed across town, taxis or app-based cabs such as Uber are the most convenient option. Here's how to navigate transportation in Kolkata so you can get the most from your trip.
How to Ride the Kolkata Metro Train
The Kolkata Metro opened in 1984. It was India's first rapid transit system and first underground railway, although sections of it are aboveground. Despite not being as modern as other Metro systems in India, it's well-maintained and provides decent service. The Metro's main line is a north-south corridor. However, several new lines are being constructed, including a much-needed east-west corridor linking Howrah Maidan to Salt Lake (this will be the first underwater Metro line in India). When complete, it will connect Kolkata's two busiest railway terminals (Howrah and Sealdah), and two of its biggest business districts (BBD Bagh and Salt Lake City Sector V).
- Routes: Two Metro lines are operational right now. Line 1 (North-South) runs from Noapara in Kolkata's north near Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Airport, through Esplanade in the heart of the city, to Kavi Subhash Metro Station at New Garia in the south. Line 2 (East-West) is currently functional from Salt Lake Sector V to Phoolbagan.
- Types of passes: Tokens are convenient for single trips, while rechargeable Smart Cards are preferable for regular travelers. A Smart Card, providing unlimited rides for tourists, is also available. It costs 250 rupees for one day or 550 rupees for three days.
- Fares: Fares are based on distance traveled and range from 5 rupees to 25 rupees for a single trip, one way. A fare chart is available online.
- How to pay: Tokens and Smart Cards can be purchased at Metro stations. Smart Cards cost from 100 rupees, which includes a 60 rupee deposit. A minimum balance of 25 rupees must be maintained. Smart Cards can be recharged at ticket counters, recharging machines at the stations, or online (if you have an Indian bank card and cell phone number).
- Hours of operation: On Line 1, trains run from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday, and from 9 a.m. on Sunday. There are departures every 6 to 15 minutes, with the most frequent services between 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Trains on Line 2 run from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Schedules are subject to change and a timetable is available online.
- Important things to know: Certain sections of each carriage are reserved for women, senior citizens, and physically disabled passengers.
- Tips: Download the official Kolkata Metro railway app (Android devices only) for train information and recharging of Smart Cards.
Riding the Bus in Kolkata
Kolkata's extensive network of buses will take you anywhere you want to go in the city, and cheaply too. However, there is a steep learning curve due to the complexity of the bus routes. The buses are a mix of private and government-operated services of vastly varying quality. The best ones are the latest electric air-conditioned models but older non-air-conditioned ones are more prevalent. There are also privately-operated minibuses, many of which depart from the stand on the eastern side of BBD Bagh.
Tickets can be purchased from the conductors aboard the buses. Determining the bus routes can be challenging though. The WBTC Pathadisha app is useful but it's only available on Android devices. Alternatively, the WBTC website has some information about routes and fares. Tickets for WBTC buses start from 8 rupees for non-air-conditioned services, and 20 rupees for air-conditioned services. The fares for private buses are higher and start from 20 rupees for non-air-conditioned and 50 rupees for air-conditioned services.
Certain WBTC bus routes go via Kolkata airport. These are VS1 and VS14 Airport to Esplanade, VS2 Airport to Howrah Station, V1 Airport to Tollygunge, AC40 Airport to Howrah Maidan, and S10 Airport to Nabbana. The buses depart from in front of the terminal every 10-30 minutes between 8 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. There's also a night service, including NS1 and NS10 from Airport to Howrah Station.
Trams (Street Cars) in Kolkata
A remnant of the British colonial era, the tramway in Kolkata dates back to 1902 and is the oldest operating tramway in Asia. Taking a ride on a tram is an atmospheric, fun way of experiencing Kolkata and its heritage. The trams are slow and pass through interesting old parts of the city, making them ideal for sightseeing. Six tram routes are currently functional, running north-south: Route 5 Shayambazar-Esplanade, Route 11 Shayambazar-Howrah Bridge, Route 18 Bidhannaghar-Howrah Bridge, Route 25 Gariahat-Esplanade, Route 24/29 Tollygunge-Ballygunge, and Route 36 Khidderpur-Esplanade. Details of routes are available online. Tickets for a one-way trip cost 6 to 7 rupees.
A special Paat Rani (Jute Queen) tourist tram service also operates four daily round-trips from Esplanade Tram Depot to the Tram World museum at Gariahat Tram Depot. Jute products are displayed and sold inside the tram. The cost is 99 rupees for the ride, plus 30 rupees for museum entry.
Ferries crisscross the Hooghly River and are useful for avoiding congested roads, especially during rush hours. The ferries depart from the ghats along the river every 15 to 20 minutes from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The main ghats on the Kolkata side are Chandpal Ghat (beside Babu Ghat), Shipping Corporation Ghat, Fairlie Place Ghat (for the Dalhousie BBD Bagh business district), Armenian Ghat, Ahiritola Ghat, Sovabazar Ghat, Bagbazar Ghat (for Kumartuli, where Durga idols are handcrafted). On the Howrah side, the main ghats are Howrah Station, Golabari Ghat, Bandha Ghat, Ramkrishnapur Ghat, and Belur Ghat (for Belur Math). Expect to pay upwards of 6 rupees for a ticket.
Taxis in Kolkata
You'll come across Kolkata's iconic yellow Ambassador taxis all over the city. They can be flagged down from the roadside and should charge by the meter. Fares start at 30 rupees, and increase by 3 rupees for every 200 meters after the first 2 kilometers.
Rideshare apps such as Uber and Ola (the Indian equivalent) are popular in Kolkata. The fare comprises a 47 rupee base fare for pickup, plus a minimum fare of 63 rupees. The per kilometer rate is 8.40 rupees.
Auto Rickshaws in Kolkata
Auto rickshaws operate on fixed routes in Kolkata. They are shared with other passengers, and you can hop on and hop off anywhere along the route. The fare is around 10 rupees for the journey. However, similar to buses in Kolkata, the routes can be hard to decipher if you're not familiar with them.
In addition, Uber has started offering Uber Toto services using a fleet of 500 non-polluting electric rickshaws. The rickshaws can be booked on the app at a cost of 30 rupees base fare, plus a 15 rupee booking fee and a minimum fare of 30 rupees. They operate in Howrah, Barasat, and Madhyamgram in North Kolkata, and Rajarhat, and Salt Lake in East Kolkata.
Hand-Pulled and Cycle Rickshaws in Kolkata
Kolkata is one of the few cities in the world that still has hand-pulled rickshaws. These days, they're mostly located in areas such as New Market, College Street, and Burrabazar in central Kolkata. A fare of 20 rupees is reasonable, but tips will be appreciated.
Ubiquitous cycle rickshaws are being replaced by battery-operated e-rickshaws in several areas of the city. You'll need to negotiate the fare.
Tips for Getting Around Kolkata
- Streets in Kolkata often go by more than one name, having been renamed by successive governments as part of decolonization. You'll find that residents and taxi drivers commonly refer to streets by their better-known old names. Some examples are: Camac Street (Rabanindranath Thakur Sarani), Park Street (Mother Teresa Sarani), Elgin Road (Lala Lajpat Rai Sarani), and Ballygunge Circular Road (Promothesh Baruah Sarani).
- Keep in mind that Kolkata has numerous one-way streets that reverse direction at certain times of the day (usually morning and afternoon) to facilitate the movement of traffic to and from the central business district. This also causes bus routes to switch. Google Maps shows the one-way streets.
- Buy a 100 rupee Tram Pass for free entry into the Tram World museum, as well as unlimited travel on all trams for the day. This includes the special Paat Rani (Jute Queen) tourist tram.
- Public transportation is avoidable during rush hours as it gets really crowded and uncomfortable.
- Take the Ahiritola/Sovabazar-Howrah Ferry for a spectacular view of the Howrah Bridge. The Dakshineswar-Belur Ferry provides an outstanding view of Vivekananda Setu and Nibedita Setu bridges.