Kolkata Public Transit Guide

Travelling within most major Indian cities is difficult if you are not local to that city & Kolkata is not an exception. Infact with the multitude of public transit options in Kolkata, there is a higher chance of getting confused on how to get around. But if you know your way around the options available to you & how to use them, you should be able to confidently traverse the city & save money doing so as Kolkata has some of the cheapest public transit in the world (6 INR / 7p / 9c fares common).

Tip: None of the options we describe take credit / debit cards so carry INR with you. 500 INR (£5/$8) is the maximum you’ll need for a single public transit ride (for upto 4 people in an AC taxi for 10+ km).

Tip: Always use GPS + location enabled Google Maps if you are new to this city. Bus conductors should shout the major stops before they arrive but we tend to follow the blue dot on a pre-fed public transit route to get near the exit of buses / trains a minute before we arrive (this is needed as your ride may be full of people).

Tip: If traveling from Kolkata Airport / Howrah Railway Station / Sealdah Railway Station, get a pre-paid taxi (follow signs / ask to get to ticket booth) which takes a fare BEFORE you ride based on distance only. This shields the user from potential circuitious routes & traffic jams. Always get a feel for directions & routes using Google maps even in a taxi in the very off chance you get a fleecing cabbie.

Tip: Ask a local for help if you feel you need it. Most young people in Kolkata (recognized by t shirt, jeans & smartphones) are fluent in English & will not hesitate to help you out.

Summary Table: Click on the mode of transport to read full details about it.

Mode Cost Availability Has AC?
Blue/White Buses $ Very frequent No
Red Mini-Buses $ Frequent No
S-Series Buses $ Infrequent No
AC Buses $$$ Infrequent Yes
Yellow Taxis $$ Highly available No
White AC Taxis $$$ Not very available Yes
Ola / Uber $$$ On-demand availabiltiy Yes
Metro Railway $$ Frequent Sometimes
Auto-Rickshaws $$ Fairly avaiable No
Indian Rail Local Train $ Fairly frequent No
Tram $ Infrequent No

Before we provide the full details, knowing a small set of Bengali (the local language) phrases pertinent to public transit, will go a long way as English is not widely spoken on public transit.

Useful Bengali Phrases:

  • (English) Will this go to {X} = (Bengali) {X} jaabey?
    • {X} is where you need to go to, example “Park Street Jaabey?” This phrase is incredibly important if you want to use buses.
    • Usage : Many buses ply between popular tourist destinations, ask the conductor this question & if he says “Haan” or nods his head vertically, then the bus goes to {X}.
  • (English) How much? = (Bengali) Koto holo? (The ‘t’ in Koto is a soft ‘t’)
    • Usage : In an Ola cab, the fare is not openly displayed. The driver will tell you your charge but does not hurt to ask. It can be used to ask for the bus fare but the reply will be in Bengali rendering it useless for non-natives.
  • (English) From {X} to {Y} = (Bengali) {X} théké {Y}  (Again the ‘t’ is a soft t)
    • Usage : To pay the correct fare on a bus, you need to tell the conductor where you will get off followed by where you got on. Use this phrase to help you do that.

Public Transit Options

Please note that there are many different types of buses that ply in Kolkata. We will describe the most common types that are used for local transit. We have a few general bus tips to always bear in mind.

General Bus Tips

  • Avoid any bus that does not match any of our visual cues below as they may take you outside Kolkata.
  • Tickets are not bought immediately on boarding the bus, instead the conductor will come & ask you your destination & where you got on to ask for the fare. In that situation, use Phrase 3 from above.
  • Most buses are standing-room only at peak hours with no concept of personal space at all. It can get sweaty & smelly, especially on non-AC buses. It’s advised not to get on a standing-room only, packed Kolkata bus.
  • Conductors are generally good with providing change for upto 100 INR.
  • An advantage of buses is the flat fare if it gets stuck in one of Kolkata’s traffic jams

Buses

Big Blue / White Buses
  • Visual Description: Mostly blue, some of them are white. The buses are not bigger than standard bus sizes but we are calling it big as it’s bigger than most of the other options we describe. The visual cues are a number on the top – middle window on the front of the bus & a number of English / Bengali destination names around the number & on the side of the bus. The conductor is generally hanging at the door & shouting bus destinations.dscf1817c
  • Cost & How to Pay: Extremely cheap (maximum: 20 INR / 23p / 30c, minimum 5 INR / 6p / 8c). Just hand over 20 INR while using Phrase 3, if needed.
  • Frequency : Very frequent as multiple buses connect many common popular destinations (such as Park Street – Gariahat). Once rarely has to wait for more than 5-10 minutes to catch a comfy bus.
  • Convenience & Comfort: Non-AC bus so non-window seats are pretty stuffy. At peak office hours (9-11 AM & 5-7:30 PM), it’s advisable not to take this type of bus as they are choc-a-bloc full & barely standing room only.
  • Ease of getting help: Almost impossible to get help from the conductor if speaking English. 50% of buses have the destinations written on them (6-8) but reading them needs good reading speed. If you see your destination, get on it. Given how cheap it is, we really hope you try once or twice & get more confidence. It’s very cost effective.
  • Seating Gotchas: The seats on the left side of the bus is Ladies only so effectively there is a segregation of gender on these buses. Only if multiple Ladies seats are empty should a male sit in that section. Even if traveling as a couple, the ettiquete is to split up by gender to sit (it sucks, we know).
Red (or sometimes white) “Mini” Buses
  • Visual Description: Mostly magenta-red in colour & some of the newer ones are white. These buses are smaller than regular sized buses & fondly called “Mini-Bus” even by locals.dscf1818c
  • Cost & How to Pay: Just 1 or 2 INR more than the big bus (maximum: 20 INR / 23p / 30c, minimum: 6 INR / 7p / 9c). If in doubt, use the 20 INR rule.
  • Frequency: Fairly frequent on most routes (similar to the blue bus)
  • Convenience & Comfort: Same as the blue bus except that as it’s smaller, there are fewer people jostling.
  • Ease of getting help: Same as blue buses except that more mini buses have Bengali signs over English & the destination listing is more prominent on the sides of the bus.
  • Seating Gotchas: The first 2 seats on the left are for the elderly & the next 2 seats on the left are for Ladies. Hence on this bus, there is more non-segregated seating than the regular buses so it’s good for couples to travel on.
S-Series Buses : Similar to the description of the blue buses except that they look like AC buses (described below) but are non-AC & the bus number starts with an S (hence S-series buses). Fares just a touch more than regular buses.
AC Bus (AC-Series Buses, V-series Buses)
  • Visual Description: The AC series buses are deep blue in colour while the V series buses are Teal or Red. These buses are clearly Air-Conditioned (sealed tinted windows, etc). The V series buses are built by the company Volvo, the preferred choice of high end AC buses in India (hence the V series).20160625_133937_hdrc
  • Cost & How to Pay: Most expensive non-car option with max fare of INR 45 (50p / 70c) for non-airport destinations & INR 70 (80p / $1) from / to the Airport. A 100 INR note is the best form of payment for a single person, you’ll be provided change.
  • Frequency: Quite infrequent compared to regular buses. That being said, a 15-20 minute wait should be maximum to hop on an AC bus for connections between popular destinations.
  • Convenience & Comfort: One of the most comfortable options if you are seated & the bus is not packed. This is generally the case in off-peak hours. However, standing in a packed AC bus is as uncomfortable as that in a non-AC bus. Entrance & exit through the front door only.
  • Ease of getting help: The signs on the bus are fully digital but they too scroll pretty fast. Additionally, as the conductor does not hang on the side door, you must wait for the front door to open to ask the conductor if this is the right bus for you.

Taxis

Yellow Taxi
  • Visual Description: An old-school gas-guzzling Ambassador-brand car that’s yellow in colour. This is the standard issue taxi a la Yellow Cabs in the US or Black Cabs in the UK.dscf1815c
  • Cost & How to Pay: Minimum fare of INR 25 (30p / 40c) making it fairly more expensive than buses. INR 250 (£2.7 / $3.5) should be enough to cross a fair bit of the city. Pay exactly what is written on the fare box. Sometimes, cab drivers ask for 20 INR extra, we tend to refuse them.
  • Frequency: Fairly freely available from most parts of the city, especially road junctions & markets. Make sure to book a “pre-paid taxi” when traveling from the Airport or from Howrah railway station. That insulates you from a crazy running meter stuck in a traffic jam.
  • Convenience & Comfort: Non-AC but definitely more comfy than buses as it’s a car. The seats are not very good as the cars are pretty old.
  • Ease of getting help: Taxi drivers are some of the most knowledgable about Kolkata & how to reach certain places. Just tell them the destination & they generally will take you by the shortest route. Use Google maps + GPS locations to confirm that a circuitous route is not being used by an odd dishonest taxi.
AC Taxi

: Description is similar to Yellow taxi except that they are white, more comfy (AC & more modern cars), look different and cost 25% more than yellow taxis if the AC is turned on.

dscf1810c

Ola Cab / Uber
  • Visual Description: Ola cabs are generally white with the Ola logo on the side of the car. Uber I believe can be any colour with the Uber logo on the side.
  • Cost & How to Pay: Fare is similar to the AC cab fare except that the AC is always on so slightly higher fares than non-AC taxi. These cabs take cash fare but I believe the app can be setup for payment too.
  • Frequency: This is the only truly on-demand transport option with no haggling with drivers over minimum distance, etc. That places it in a position of superiority over all other options on this page. This is also why Ola Cabs have almost become ubiquitious in Kolkata.
  • Convenience & Comfort: Most Ola / Uber cabs are modern, newer cars and the AC works on most just fine. Hence this is a very comfortable option.
  • Ease of getting help: Here is the drawback with this option, many drivers do not have the in-depth knowledge of Kolkata’s roads like the Yellow taxi drivers have. In our use of Ola cabs, we needed to whip out GPS-enabled Google maps and spell out the directions to the driver (ouch). They *should* know their way between important landmarks though.
Metro
  • Visual description: Nothing competes on the metro line so no description needed. The AC trains will probably be blue.
  • Cost & How to Pay: 5 INR (6p / 8c) min fare, 20 INR (23p / 30c) max fare making it competitive with buses.
  • How to Pay: Get inside a metro station & a ticket counter should be visible. Get in line & state your destination. You will be given a coin shaped token. Tap that token on the entrance turnstile to get in. Deposit that token in the turnstile slot on your way out.
  • Frequency: One in every 10 minutes typically
  • Convenience & Comfort: Again, impossible during peak hours without pushing & shoving. Off-peak hours (especially on AC metro) are quite comfy. Metro is a fast mode of transport, hnece long distances can be traversed in fewer minutes of peak hour discomfort.
  • Ease of getting help: Fairly ok at the ticket counter
Auto-rickshaws

(Tuk tuk in SE Asian countries)

  • Visual description: Generally 3 wheels with black & yellow livery. Nowadays some rural parts of the city have 4 wheeled, battery operated Totos that seat 5. Very distinctive look.dscf1816c
  • Cost & How to Pay: Between 5 & 10 INR as autos ply on a fixed number of routes & the max distance that can be traversed in an auto is not very high. State your destination & pay no more than 20 INR to the driver to avoid the “I dont have any change conversation”.
  • Frequency: Queues form for peak hour autos but they are generally easily available the rest of the day, atleast on popular routes.
  • Convenience & Comfort: An auto is the perfect last mile transit as they drop off on demand. They are pretty comfortable too relative to buses as no more than 4 people are seated. For the most fun, sit in the front next to the driver.
  • Ease of getting help: Quite high but not from people rather from design. They generally take straight line routes between 2 important points (ex Gariahat – Park Circus). The 2 ends of the auto route are written in English on the front of every auto. If you do not want to get off at the end but want to check if this auto is useful for you, feed the ends into Google maps & see if this auto helps you reach your destination.
Indian Railways Local Train
  • Visual description: Mostly white + green livery with a single destination mentioned on the face of the train. Some pictures below should help clarify.dscf1631c
  • Cost & How to Pay: The CHEAPEST option by far, 5 INR (6p, 8c) takes to a fair amount of distance across the city. This is also the minimum fare but we have never paid a Rupee more no matter how far we went.
  • How to Pay: This is a bit tricky. Once you reach the station building, look for signs to the ticket counter. Once you reach the ticket counter, find the “unreserved tickets” window (these will usually be the ones with the longest lines). Get in line & state your destination station at the counter. Voila. A paper ticket will be provided, just keep it in your wallet & board your train.
  • Frequency: On most local train lines, there is 1 train every 10 minutes. What did surprise us on this trip was that a fair amount of trains were actually trying to abide by their schedules. Use the Indiarailinfo website to find which local trains connect the 2 stations you’re interested in & what their schedule is. Allow for 5-15 min latenesss on top of scheduled times.
  • Convenience & Comfort: Impossible to get on most local trains at peak hours so no description needed 😛 BUT if you pick your times / lines correctly, the ride is almost empty & comfortably airy. Our most used local trains that match the comfort description are the infrequent but useful Howrah – Belur Math line & the Circular line that goes along the Hooghly / Ganges river.
  • Ease of getting help: Very low. The ticket counter is your best hope but finding English speaking employees will be hard.
Tram
  • Visual description: The classic Kolkata tram is easy to identify. It runs in the middle of the street mostly except in some bits (which coincidentally are also the best bits).
  • Cost & How to Pay: Similar to bus fare, it is quite cheap. There will be a conductor on your coach, buy the ticket off of him/her.
  • Frequency: Runs on a very few lines across the city now (Tollygunje – Ballygunje, Esplanade – Tollygunje, etc). Quite infrequent on this lines (1 in 15 minutes).
  • Convenience & Comfort: Trams are almost always empty because they are slower than walking & have no AC with uncomfortable wooden seats. Trams are a vestige of a romantic past & that romance is the reason you should board one. It’s a dying breed of heritage public transit.
  • Ease of getting help: Asking a local is the best way about.

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