Chris' Original Blogbeque

A fresh, vinegar-based examination of life

Modes of transportation

Posted by Chris on September 29, 2007

Yesterday, I went into the downtown area of the city for the first time. Consequently, I learned more about the methods of transportation. Some of them would be found in any American city, but it looks and seems very different. I will briefly discuss all the types that are available (at least, to my knowledge)

(1 US dollar = 40 Rupees)
(when done reading, can click over here for pictures)

Walking: obvious. I really have no idea, but if I had to guess, I would say that walking is less important than you’d think—that people do not routinely walk long distances. Two reasons: one, most people participate in the informal economy (operating a little shop or hawking wares on the street) and therefore work near their home, and two, the relatively low cost of other forms of transportation. That being said, in America you would not see people walking to transport goods—like a large basket of something on their head, a bundle of wood. That has stuck out to me.
COST: Free

Bicycles: very popular. Are used to transport goods and people. Most have a little rack over the back tire and passengers are adept at sitting on that to one side to get a ride somewhere.
COST: Rs 2000

Rickshaws: there are three types
Foot: The “driver” is running/walking. I saw one of these in person for the first time—it is a pitiful occupation, so terribly difficult. In fact, the Human Rights Commission, an Indian governmental body that has lawmaking authority, has banned the practice. But either the West Bengal or Kolkata government explicitly allows it so that the career is not cut off. That’s a tough one, to decide the best public policy there.
COST: don’t know, don’t want to know
Cycle: a bicycle front hooked up to the carriage on the back. It is very long, maybe 12-15 feet, so it is good for getting down the road but not so much for navigating tight areas. It is like a taxi in that you get in and request a stop.
COST: Rs 5 (5 Rupees) minimum (someone told me)
Auto: This is a 3-wheeled, gas-powered vehicle. The inside is perhaps the size of a golf cart. Except that there can be 6 adults in a rickshaw (I was hanging halfway out of it though) and I’ve even seen a couple of little kids in laps in the backseat. These run on short, set routes. You can only take it so far before getting out and then hopping on the next route.
COST: Rs 4 or 5

Motor-bikes: these are good because you can zip in and out of traffic. The streets and roads, except for downtown, do not have “lanes”. Sometimes, it’s 4-wide with a auto-rickshaw, motor-bike, bicycle and car all going the same direction. Others, 2 buses in opposite directions. You go as fast as you can following whatever path you can. It’s impressive/terrifying. I would guess that this is the second fastest method, plus it’s easy to park at a market.
COST: maybe the same as in the US?

Taxis: They are yellow. They all say “Obey Traffic Rules” on the back.
COST: unknown.

Private Drivers: this was my first experience. The place I’m staying uses several drivers who operate their own vehicle to transport people.
COST: varies by distance, from airport was Rs 500 (it was 1.5hr trip one-way)

Cars: Most are smaller, foreign-made. Tata is a large Indian conglomerate and its Motors company is very common. They are smaller cars and then you also see smaller SUV-like vehicles. I have seen some nicer, full-sized cars as well. Tata is about to begin manufacturing a car that will sell for one lakh, which is 100,000 Rupees.
COST: 2 Lakh and up

Buses: I have not been told anything but to stay away from them. Since I’ve been here, a little girl was pushed off because she was accosting the driver for not stopping at her school and a blind man was getting off and got killed by another bus coming in other direction. Apparently the drivers get paid on commission so if there’s a line of buses, watch out: they will all try to maneuver themselves into the front. The blue ones are always full. The red ones look somewhat accommodating. I will never find out. Buses are a better choice for longer distances (the metropolis area is very large).
COST: Rs 5 and up

Metro: The metro is Russian-built. I had a professor who once told us that the metro system in Moscow was the best he’d ever been on and one of the only things Communist government produced that worked efficiently. West Bengal state government is dominated by a communist party. There is only one line, running north-south. So it is very clear what to do. The southern end is two auto-rickshaw rides away from me, I have no idea how many kilometers it was.
COST: Rs 4-8

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