Local buses are passenger-crammed mechanical monsters hurtling along at frightening speeds wherever the chronic congestion abates. Routes can be a little confusing (eg 30B isn’t the same as 30B/1) but at least Western-script numbers are used. Some buses even have signboards in English. Conductors somehow fight through the crowds to collect fares (Rs 2 to 10).
Trams cost just Rs 3.50 per hop. The challenge is getting on, as stops aren’t marked or set. Route 24 and 29 head from Esplanade to Alipore and Kalighat; the 29 continuing south to Tollygunge, the 24 usefully cutting across town to Gariahat market. Route 22 heads north up Rabindra Sarani. Route 14 heads east from BBD Bagh along Bipin Behan Ganguly St.
It’s as crowded as any underground system at rush hour, but Kolkata’s one-line Metro (tickets Rs 4 to 8; 7am to 9.45pm Monday to Saturday, 3pm to 9.45pm Sunday) remains the city’s most stress-free form of public transport. Men beware not to sit in assigned ‘Ladies’ seats. For BBD Bagh use Central or Chandni Chowkstations, for Sudder St area use Esplanade or Park St.
Kolkata is the last bastion of human-powered ‘tana rickshaws’, with the greatest concentration around New Market. During the monsoon the high-wheeled rickshaws can be the only transport able to get through the worst-flooded streets. Although rickshaw pullers sometimes charge foreigners disproportionate fares, many are virtually destitute, sleeping on the pavements beneath their rented chariots at night. Tips are heartily appreciated.
Outside the centre and in Howrah you’ll find cycle-rickshaws.
Autorickshaws are not generally for hire but act as share taxis on fixed routes (Rs 4.50 per short hop).
Kolkata’s ubiquitous yellow Ambassador taxis are surprisingly cheap (from Rs 20 for a shorter trip). But be warned that the fare you pay will be roughly double the reading on the digital meter (or around 3.5 times the reading on now-rare old-style mechanical meters). This is official and not a scam. Exact rates for longer trips are calculated using conversion charts that every driver carries, but handing over twice the meter reading usually works without a fuss. Just make sure the meter’s switched on.
A problem of taxi travel is the one-way system. Complex to start with, around 2pm the direction of traffic flow reverses on many roads. Not surprisingly many drivers are reluctant to make journeys around this chaotic time.
Prepaid taxis from a booth in front of Howrah station cost Rs 65 to Sudder St, Rs 190 to the airport.
The fastest way from central Kolkata to Howrah train station is generally by river ferry (tickets Rs 4, 8am to 8pm Monday to Saturday). These depart every 15 minutes from Armenian, Fairlie, Bishe June and Babu Ghats. Private and public ferries cost the same. They’re packed at rush hour.