Most Indian cities have a plethora of methods of transportation to choose from, and each comes with its own advantages and stories. Here are some options you might have:
These ubiquitous three-wheeled wonders might go by the term auto, or rick. They promise a truly Indian experience, and you should not leave India without riding in one. Their small size and modest engines enable them to swerve in and out of traffic and drop you off exactly where you need to go. When it’s the best option:
- If you need to get somewhere quickly, and haven’t planned ahead
- If you are going to a place where there are no bus or train stations nearby
- If it’s pretty hot outside
- If you’ve never done it
How to get one:
- To get a running auto, make eye contact with the driver and extend your hand straight out at waist-level.
- Alternatively, you can walk to an auto stand where drivers keep their autos parked until fares come along.
- A running auto will probably give you a better rate than one at a stand. However, an auto stand has a “territory” it controls, meaning that the auto stand has the “right of first refusal” to all passengers in that area.
- Do not get in an auto without either fixing the fare or confirming the use of the meter.
- Autos can fit two people comfortably and three people uncomfortably. If you have more than three people, you will need to get two or more autos. Tell the first driver you want to travel together and pay the same rate for each auto.
- You might be able to get a lower overall rate if you arrange for a “return trip”.
- Payment can be a big headache depending on which city you are in. Each state fixes different rates for autos, and some drivers chose to use them while others do not. You should always insist that the driver use the meter. If they refuse, then go to a different driver, or flag down a nearby policeman.
- If you are in a situation where you have no choice but to haggle with them and set a non-metered price, it will be a difficult negotiation, especially if you have no idea what is a fair price. If you are unfamiliar with the location, ask them to quote a price first, and then offer about half of that and negotiate from there.
- Do not agree if your driver suggests to take you shopping somewhere you have not requested. He has an agreement with this place and gets a cut of any purchases you make. The people at the shop will use high-pressure tactics to get you to buy something.
- If a driver feels he is getting a low fare, he may complain the whole time about a very long distance or how he will not have anyone to bring back. This is not your problem. Pay him the original amount and do not give any extra.
- Do not assume the auto driver will know all the places around your city and do not show the driver a map of where you are going. They are not used to reading maps and you will only confuse the situation. If you are going somewhere new, travel with an address and phone number of the place you are going. Once the driver gets close to the area, he will stop and ask other drivers how to get to the exact place.
- Asking for more money for a “night-time” charge is legitimate. Fares can be 50% extra of the base rate after 10pm.
- Riding in an auto means you are exposed to all the air pollution and weather elements. When it rains, they have flaps that come down over the openings to keep you dry. But finding an auto when it is pouring down raining is very difficult unless you don’t care what price you pay.
Rules of the Road:
- After getting in the auto, if you only have large bills (100s or 500s) and no small bills (10s, 20s, 50s), tell the auto driver you will need change. At that point it is his responsibility to either give you change, or stop and get it from someone else.
- Once you are in the auto and have fixed the fare, the actual ride should be pleasant, but maybe a little bumpy. Your driver might want to chat with you, or he may prefer to go as fast as physically possible so he can get another fare.
- At any time, the driver may need to stop for petrol. He may also ask for some money from you. This is not extra; it is just an advance payment and will be subtracted from the original fare. Petrol bunks are a great place to get change if you need it.
Share autos are one of the best forms of intra-city travel. The share auto may either be a slightly larger and wider version of the regular autorickshaw, or it may look like a small minibus. When correctly rigged, it can “comfortably” seat 10 people. Unlike a regular auto, a share auto goes on a set route, usually along some of the major roads of the city. The only scheduled stop is the last one where everyone has to get out. The biggest advantage of the share auto is the cost. A Rs. 60-80 ride in a regular auto ride might only cost you Rs. 10 or 15 in a share auto. When it’s the best option:
- If you are going along the same route as the share auto
- If you are low on cash
- If you feel a need to be touching lots of people at the same time
How to get one:
- Stand along one of the routes and extend your hand like you do for a regular auto. If you are standing on the road, the share auto may pull over even without you signaling just to see if you want to get in.
- Tell the driver where you are going. Do not look to his face for confirmation; he will likely give you a blank expression with a casual tilt of the head. If he doesn’t pull away, he wants you to get in the auto.
- Rates are not shown, but the driver will know where you got in and will calculate the fare in his mind. Because there are so many others riding, he will not overly inflate the price to you.
- You might get stuck in a very small cabin with 9 other people, which can be pretty miserable in the summer.
- If you sit in the back, you might not be able to see the road, which will make it hard to know where to get off if you are not familiar with the route. Make sure the driver knows where you want to get off.
- If you get in a share auto at the start of a route, you will have to wait until the cabin is mostly full before the driver will start the journey. Look for an auto that already has some people waiting in it.
- Share autos go a little slower than regular autos because they stop frequently to let people out convince others to get in. The only advantage in sitting in a completely filled auto is that the driver will speed up since he cannot fill any more seats.
Rules of the Road:
- If the cabin is not full, the driver may ask you to sit in the back corner so people on the road can see there is room in the auto.
- Have your money ready when you get out of the auto as others will be waiting. Don’t use large bills to pay for a small fare.
There are many services you can call in all the major metros where a car and driver will show up in as few as 15 minutes. It will likely be the most comfortable way to travel around the city. When it’s the best option:
- If it is very hot outside
- If you are having a bad day
- If you need to look fresh when you arrive at your destination
How to get one:
- Most companies have a number to call to make a booking. Some companies allow you to book online or with a mobile app.
- A standard booking means you are paying by the meter. If you wish, you can also book a cab for a set amount of time. This is good if you are going to make many different stops and want to keep the same car the whole time. Hourly packages start at four or five hours.
- Some companies can be hit or miss in terms of quality, so if you find a good one, you should keep it.
- Most of the major companies rent out cheap cars. If you want a luxury car, you should seek out a company that specializes in this.
- When booking on the phone, they will ask you how many people are traveling and what kind of vehicle you want. Your fare will be fixed based on the vehicle type, not the number of people.
- I have had experiences ranging from being in a very dirty car with a driver I thought was drunk, to being disappointed that the ride was over because of the great conversation I was having with the driver in his squeaky clean car.
- Most of the regular and budget companies are predictably unreliable. My preferred company to work with has left me without a cab, sent the wrong cab, and sent a very dirty cab with bulging tires. They are one of the good ones.
- If you get a good driver, be sure to compliment him and consider a nice tip at the end of the ride.
Rules of the road:
- Your driver will call you somewhere between one hour and 10 minutes before the pickup time. He knows your general area, but will need specific directions to where you are. If you do not speak the local language and/or live in a difficult-to-navigate area, consider giving the phone to a neighbor.
- I once booked a cab to reach my home by 4am for a very early morning flight. My alarm was set for 3:30am. However, the driver called me a few times between 3:00 and 3:10. Since I did not take the call, he cancelled it. Thankfully, I was able to get a new cab and make it to the airport in time, but I learned my lesson and now keep my phone charged and on all night.
- Once you get into the cab, you will again need to give specific directions to the driver. As always, travel with the written address and a phone number in case you get lost.
- When you reach your final destination, pay the driver and ask for a receipt if you need it.
Most major metros have elevated trains that run around the city. Both Delhi and Mumbai have newly opened metros that bring them up to international standards. However, other cities’ transport systems are still quite old. When it’s the best option:
- If you are traveling a long distance and don’t have a lot of cash
- If it is peak traffic time (trains will also be congested at these times, but better than the roads)
- If you are a regular commuter
- If you have dropped all notions of personal space
How to get a ticket:
- You can only get a ticket from going to the station; no online options are available.
- The price of a ticket will be extremely cheap, potentially less than Rs. 10.
- You can book a one way ticket, a return, or a long-term ticket. When I was commuting in Chennai, I bought a three-month pass for Rs. 365 or US$6.
- You will need to show ID proof to get a long-term ticket.
- Metros will be incredibly crowded during high traffic times. You will likely need to push a little just to find a place to stand, let alone a seat.
- There will be some pickpockets, beggars, and all sorts of other interesting people on the train.
- Single women are not advised to travel alone past 9pm.
- The train may or may not be on time.
- Some of the newer stations are nice, but most are still pretty dirty.
Rules of the Road:
- Simply board the train when it comes; you probably won’t need to show your ticket to anyone.
- Find space wherever you can. If you are standing, be sure to grab a handhold or lean against a firm wall.
- You will be touching other people, so be alert of your body and your possessions.
- Help other passenger who are trying to get on the train.
This is the most common mode of transport for Classic Indians. Bus routes are quite extensive around most metros and can take you to nearly any part of the city. Be ready for a cultural experience before you jump on one! When it’s the best option:
- If you are up for some fun
- If you are stranded without much cash
- If it is not ridiculously hot
How to get a ticket:
- You get a ticket by boarding the bus. Once you get on, the conductor will ask where you are going. He will quote a price and give you a small slip of paper, ripped to perfection to show how much you paid.
- Fares will be very cheap, but you will not be able to predict the price. You probably will not realize it, but there are different classes of buses ranging from “normal” to “express” to “deluxe” to “AC super deluxe”. A normal bus fare starts at around Rs. 5, whereas an AC bus might start at Rs. 15. Even a cross-town trip on an AC city bus will not cost more than Rs. 100.
- It is very hard to look up bus routes ahead of time on your own. Your best option is to ask someone before you go, and then ask again when you get to the bus stop.
- If it is a peak traffic time, the bus will literally be overflowing with commuters to the extent that some buses permanently lean in one direction. Even in off-hours, the buses are usually very full.
- Travel time in a bus is very slow due to traffic and frequent stops.
- If you board a bus that is already running, you are unlikely to find a seat.
- A bus may not stop exactly at the bus stop. It will either stop just before or just after. Some buses do not fully stop at all and you must be pretty quick to jump on or off.
Rules of the road:
- Some buses have men sit on one side and women on another. Before you grab a seat, look at everyone else and make sure you are not in the wrong place.
- It is polite to offer your seat to someone elderly who is standing near you.
- Keep all your belongings close to you, especially if you are standing up.
- Single women should not ride a crowded bus, especially at night.
- If you don’t know exactly where to get off, tell the conductor, and he will help you.
These are a dying breed, so don’t pass on this experience if you get the opportunity. Cycle rickshaws will be located in the older parts of older cities and areas where most cars do not go. You get in the back and the man will pedal you wherever you want to go while ringing his bell to clear the way. When it’s the best option:
- If you have time on your hands and want the experience
How to get one:
- Just call him over and tell him where you are going.
- The price will not be much cheaper than a regular auto.
- Just good, clean, slow fun.
- You are exposed to the elements (pollution, heat, etc).
Rules of the road:
- Enjoy the experience and be respectful of your driver.
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