Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, is a city that has evolved over 321 years into a megalopolitan. The city enjoys a strategic location on the banks of the mighty Ganges River. It was the national capital during the British rule, also due to its proximity to the sea shore.
A linear city, Kolkata can be clearly divided in three bands: North, Central and South. The characteristics of each zone is distinct from the other, as they evolved over time. This is a city of princes and powerful feudal lords. There was a time when the rich would move around in tangas, or horse drawn vehicles, heavily adorned in exquisite designs.
With independence, came urbanization. Electricity was introduced in the transport sector. Trams were introduced that moved on dedicated rails, drawing power from electrified wires that ran on top. Trams would connect the different parts of the city efficiently. A linear city that Kolkata was, a network of tram lines were laid movement within the city while the suburban railway also got developed to connect the suburbs to the city center.
Gradual rise in population, extensive migration, political turmoils all led to extensive development, putting the city’s infrastructure under tremendous stress. In the 1970s, the Indira Gandhi (former prime minister of India) government decided to introduce the metro rail in Kolkata, on an experimental basis. Technical assistance was sought from Japan who created a technical wonder: an underground railway. The ticketing system is also unique: it’s a paper ticket with a magnetic strip inbuilt. Ticketing is through a window and also state of the art ticket vending machines. One has to feed the ticket like an ATM card at the entry gate, and collect it from the other side after entry. During exit, the ticket gets absorbed in the machine itself. Multiple ride tickets are also available. Recently smart cards have been introduced.
Developed in phases, now the metro rail is under the purview of Indian Railways. The network forms the lifeline of Kolkata. It runs on a north – south axis from New Garia to Dum Dum. Both ends of this corridor have been integrated with the suburban railway, for seamless and comfortable interchanges. It is essentially and underground system, except the latest section, which has an elevated alignment.
The presently operational corridor connects prime residential areas like Tollygunge and Bhowanipore, educational hubs such as College Street, cultural centres like the Nandan – Rabindra Sadan complex and active business districts such as Dalhousie. What is more, the public transport system of the city is very well planned and integrated with each other. You are almost assured of a bus, tram, rickshaw or auto connectivity from any metro station for the “last mile” of your journey, depending on your destination and the distance to be covered.
The metro rail in Kolkata carries lakhs of passengers per day, with trains packed to its crush capacity in the peak hours. Its ridership rising steeply, there is a crying need for expansion of the network as well as upgradation of technology. Five additional corridors have been planned, of which the east – west corridor is under construction. The possibilities of overhauling the technology of paper tickets are being explored.
A remarkable aspect about this system is its nominal fare structure. It is affordable by one and all. In no way, can the fare box revenue of Kolkata metro be compared to that of any transport mode of any city.
New Delhi and Bangalore are the only Indian cities that have a functional metro rail. However, it would be unfair to compare both systems. The Kolkata metro belongs to another generation of urban transport. Such an extensive underground system has only air-cooled ventilation systems till date. Modernization has been planned, and it is a matter of time, when the pride of Kolkata, as well as India, re-emerges as a global landmark.
Transportation plays a key role to promote tourism (both domestic & foreign) in the city and is the most important factor in promoting tourism. It enables travelers to move more freely within the city. Tourism doesn’t mean to provide 5-star hotels and deluxe accommodation to the tourists. Transportation system is the most important factor in promoting tourism.