In a city as large as Delhi, it can often feel like the city’s entire populace is trying to commute at the same time. As a result, expats will find that getting around Delhi can make for a hectic and crowded experience. Cars, buses, bicycles, motorcycles, auto rickshaws and pedestrians all share the same road.
Drivers tend not to obey standard traffic laws, adding to the chaos. So we recommend that expats new to Delhi don't try to drive themselves and instead rely on other forms of private or public transport.
Public transport in Delhi
The most popular mode of public transport in Delhi is buses, transporting over half of the city's daily commuters. To reduce congestion, the city has been trying to encourage the use of public transport over private vehicles. The Delhi Transport Corporation and Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System (DIMTS) aim to improve bus networks to meet the demand of the growing population.
Unfortunately, progress has been slow; buses tend to be quite crowded and don’t always have air conditioning. That said, buses in Delhi are cheap and the network of bus routes is extensive. Once an expat is familiar with the particular route, commuting by bus can easily become part of one's daily routine.
The Delhi Metro is a fast, clean and efficient form of public transport. It serves Delhi as well as surrounding areas, including Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Noida, Bahadurgarh and Ballabhgarh. New lines and stations have continued to open over the years, making the metro an easy way to travel about the city.
There are several options for paying to use the metro. For a single journey, expats can buy a ticket, the value of which depends on the distance travelled, while travel cards are best for regular commuters. Travel cards are not only convenient and allow easy recharging of credit, but also offer regular discounts, such as cheaper costs during off-peak hours.
As India's largest and busiest metro, we recommend Delhi commuters avoid this mode of transport during rush hours when it can become quite packed.
Taxis in Delhi
Taxis are easily available in the city and are preferable if one is travelling more than a few kilometres, or on an especially hot or rainy day when an open-sided rickshaw may be uncomfortable. Taxis can be arranged either at a roadside taxi stand or by calling any of the radio taxi services in the city. Another option is making use of ride-hailing applications such as Uber.
Taxis are all equipped with meters which the driver should agree to use, otherwise, expats should negotiate and agree on a price before entering the cab.
There are two kinds of rickshaws in Delhi – cycle rickshaws and auto rickshaws.
Cycle rickshaws are powered by the driver pedalling in front while passengers ride on a covered bench behind the driver. They have been phased out in certain areas due to the strain they place on traffic, but they are an inexpensive way to travel short distances.
Auto rickshaws are partially enclosed motor vehicles that can be hailed from nearly every street corner in the city. They can comfortably fit up to three passengers, plus the driver in front. They are cheaper than taxis and, because of their smaller size, can usually negotiate heavy traffic a bit faster.
Driving in Delhi
While expats have the option to buy or rent a car in Delhi, driving conditions in the city are chaotic. Foreigners who do decide to drive need to do so defensively and pre-empt the erratic behaviour of other road users.
If an expat plans to live in Delhi for an extended period, it may be worth looking into hiring a full-time or part-time driver. Many expats and middle- to upper-class Indian families keep drivers on their payroll. Those new to the city will find having a driver especially helpful in negotiating traffic and navigating the sometimes confusing roads. If expats are working in Delhi for a company, they should see if their company can help in finding or arranging a driver.
Cycling and walking in Delhi
Expats keen on cycling in Delhi have several factors to consider. The city launched a public bicycle sharing scheme where residents can rent a SmartBike, and pay for a weekly or monthly pass. There are also some cycling tracks in North and South Delhi. However, despite plans to extend and maintain them, these ‘dedicated’ lanes often become crowded with three-wheelers, putting cyclists' safety in question.
While cycling to commute to and from work may not be altogether feasible, cycling for leisure is possible in Delhi. Cycling and walking tours are a great way for new arrivals to learn about their host city. There are some great areas for cycling, free from the chaos and pollution of vehicular traffic – the stretch from Rashtrapati Bhawan to India Gate is popular among cyclists and runners, especially in the early morning, and offers a great view.
As with cycling, expats who want to walk around Delhi must be cautious along busy roads. Though walking is a great way to experience life in the city, for quieter areas and leisurely walks, Deer Park in Hauz Khas and Buddha Garden offer more scenic routes.