As one of India's busiest, most populated commercial centres, Mumbai boasts various options for getting around. While comfort is not always guaranteed and public transport is often crowded, there is a mode of transport for any route, schedule and budget.
While expats concerned about their cost of living may opt for public transport, foreigners who can afford it usually prefer private transport. That said, driving in this bustling metropolis isn't easy so most expats hire a local driver to navigate its streets.
Public transport in Mumbai
Expats moving to Mumbai will discover that the city has several modes of public transport. Mumbai's rail system consists of the metro, the Mumbai Suburban Railway and a developing monorail system, while buses operate extensively and ferries run frequently.
The Mumbai Metro currently has one line which serves 12 stations. Several additional lines are in various stages of planning, approval and construction. Carriages are air-conditioned and comfortable.
The operating route, Line 1, connects Versova in the Western Suburbs to Ghatkopar in the Central Suburbs and substantially cuts down travel time. Mumbai Metro users won't have to wait long for a train, with one arriving every three minutes during peak hours and every eight minutes during off-peak periods.
Carrying daily commuters, trains in Mumbai are one of the most popular modes of transport for the average Mumbaikar. The Mumbai Suburban Railway extensively operates four radial routes: the Western, Central, Harbour and Trans-Harbour lines.
Note that, although first-class commuter carriages are available, they are overcrowded during rush hour and the rail network may not meet all expats' standards. Stations and passenger cars are not as well maintained as in more developed countries, and there is usually no air conditioning. While the commuter rail can become a regular means of transport, the crowds and congestion may deter expats from travelling by train.
Mumbai has also been developing a monorail system, but the progress of infrastructure developments has been slow.
Bus networks in Mumbai are quite extensive but not always easy to navigate for new arrivals. Mumbai and the surrounding areas in the state of Maharashtra are served by several different companies, including Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) and Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport (NMMT). Routes and timetables may vary according to each company.
Buses are an important part of the city's public transport network, allowing those working in Mumbai to commute, and connecting areas of Mumbai where other modes of transport are limited. However, overcrowding and vulnerability to traffic jams mean that few expats frequently use buses. Some buses are air-conditioned and are the recommended choice for expats that do decide to travel by bus.
Mumbai is a coastal city in the west of India and those keen on water travel will find a boat, ferry or catamaran suitable for their needs. Mumbai Harbour not only shows off iconic views of the stone-arch monument Gateway of India, but is also a prime waterfront location to catch a ferry. Both public and private ferry services operate, though will probably be used by new arrivals who want to explore more of what there is to see and do in Mumbai rather than part of a regular commute. A popular destination accessible by ferry is Elephanta Caves – a UNESCO World Heritage Site with cave temples mainly dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.
Taxis in Mumbai
Taxis are the most common form of transport for expats travelling short distances. They can be hailed on the street, at taxi ranks or in advance over the phone. All taxis have meters and are obligated to use them – if a driver doesn't want to use theirs, expats should insist that it be turned on or otherwise catch a different taxi.
Ride-sharing and ride-hailing services and applications, such as Uber and Ola Cabs, are another option operational in Mumbai.
Auto rickshaws are small, three-wheeled vehicles that can quickly make their way through busy traffic and are especially common across Mumbai's northern suburbs. Getting around by auto rickshaws can make for hair-raising experiences, though. On the other hand they often work out cheaper than taxis. Still, be sure to agree on a price before going anywhere.
Driving in Mumbai
Expats mostly prefer to get around using a private car in Mumbai. These can be rented through various car rental agencies where a personal driver can also be hired; employers often hire drivers for their expat employees too.
Driving can be a convenient and comfortable option, however, recent surveys have ranked Mumbai as one of the worst cities for driving in the world. While city centre parking is relatively cheap, parking spaces are hard to find, and heavy traffic means it isn't always the most efficient way of getting around.
Cycling in Mumbai
Exciting cycling initiatives have sprung up in Mumbai to tackle the relentless congestion problems. To skip the traffic, bike-sharing apps are being developed as an affordable transport alternative. Companies such as SmartBike and Yulu, whose blue bikes are becoming increasingly popular, are making riding a bicycle a more viable option.
That said, bicycle lanes are limited, although future projects for cycle paths are hopeful. Expats keen on cycling should wear a helmet and be vigilant on the roads.
We also recommend that cyclists assess their potential routes carefully. Some areas and neighbourhoods offer quieter, safer and more pleasant environments, such as along Marine Drive or further out of the city from Vasai To Virar.
Walking in Mumbai
On the one hand, walking around Mumbai can prove a challenge. There are limited footpaths and pavements are poorly maintained. Often, walking in the road is the only feasible option – though safety is highly questionable.
On the other hand, walking is one of the best ways to familiarise oneself with Mumbai and the local lifestyle, taking in the sights and visiting outdoor markets. Plus, pedestrians can avoid the frustration of standstill peak hour traffic.