Getting around in Pune

Getting around in Pune is often a major problem due to the immense volume of traffic. Only a few decades ago Pune was famous for its peace and tranquility, attracting many retired people to the city to spend their retirement years here in the relatively mild climate and peaceful atmosphere.

Ever since India opened up its economy in the early nineties, which also gave the international automotive industry access to the subcontinent, the peace has come to an end. The number of cars has skyrocketed, with hundreds of new registrations every day. Despite many road expansions, highways and flyovers, the development has not been able to keep pace. Traffic jams, difficult roads, numerous construction sites and undisciplined road behavior of all road users (including pedestrians who, in spite of footpaths being present, often walk carelessly in groups on the roads) getting around in Pune is a challenge. In addition, there are also numerous non-human road users such as stray dogs, cows, buffaloes, monkeys, horses, donkeys and camels who often appear unexpectedly on the road.

Bulloc cart

The city desperately needs a rail-based public transportation system in order to free the roads, such as a subway or tram. This has been discussed for decades, feasibility studies with the support of the City of Bremen were also conducted, but so far there has been a lack of political will to implement these plans. As the situation on the roads becomes more and more unbearable, and meanwhile with local politicians in their cars also getting stuck in traffic, one hopes that some positive decisions will be taken finally. However, it will still take years for an urban rail network to become operational. Till then one will have to make do with the available means of transport.

By Bus

There is an extensive public bus system available in Pune. Those, who want to save money can, for a couple of cents, travel through Pune. But for that you have to put up with late connections as well as overcrowded and often corroded buses. Buses, whilst being very cheap, are, however, time-consuming and inconvenient. So avoid them if possible.

Public bus

By Rickshaw

In Pune there is a huge fleet of three-wheeled motor rickshaws found at every street corner.  Rickshaws are everywhere on the roads, easily available and agile enough to weave their way through anywhere. You can make good progress with them; however, due to their open design you are exposed to the weather and especially the exhaust fumes and dust. Rickshaws have space for three people, but one often finds them occupied by a large crowd of school children, eight or ten of them jostling together in the small vehicle.
The rickshaws are fitted with a taximeter and there are fixed rates, unlike many other Indian cities. Sometimes, however, the meter is doctored or excessive fixed rates are demanded – especially from foreigners. Even when the taximeter is used, the rickshaw drivers almost always try to get a higher fare from foreigners, since they assume that the foreigners are unaware of the exact rate calculation. The displayed fare has to be multiplied. Since not all rickshaw drivers carry a tariff card with them or are unwilling to show them, in order to avoid long arguments, it is best to carry such a card oneself.

Moreover, it is helpful to carry sufficient change with you. Rickshaw drivers in general rarely have ready change and hope for the balance amount, as only a few passengers take the trouble and time at the end of the drive, to go get change from somewhere.

Riksha with school children

By “Radio Taxi”

Normal car taxis were until recently unknown in Pune. One had to laboriously hire a car with the driver (Tourist Car). Since quite a while now, however, there is a well functioning taxi service. One has to, nevertheless, plan for a waiting period of 30 to 60 minutes – so book the taxi in time:
Tel: +91 20 – 40 100 100 Rates are naturally higher than in rickshaws but by Western standards it is still very cheap.

By Car

Rental cars in India are called “Tourist Cars” and can be rented only with a chauffeur. This should certainly be regarded as an advantage because for a foreigner it is not easy to navigate on the poorly marked roads or to cope with the chaotic traffic conditions. Moreover, the costs are not higher than that of a comparable rental car in other countries. Tourist Cars can be rented for a number of days, the driver then mostly sleeps in the car.

Those, who plan to stay in Pune for a long duration and have got used to the Indian traffic, can also get their own car. Basically, prices for a new car – such as a VW Polo, which is produced in Pune  are below the model’s prices in Germany by about 30-40%. Moreover, petrol prices are much lower, a litre costs about 1 Euro (December 2010). Most middle class car owners in India employ a driver, whose monthly wage is about 100-120 €. Few car owners sit behind the wheel themselves.

Those who want to drive the car themselves should have prior experience with Indian road transport. Even then, a car ride is always an adventure and you can be happy if you arrive at your destination without a scratch to the car. Intercity travel should be avoided whenever possible; due to speeding and risky overtaking manoeuvres by irresponsible road users there exists a real danger to life and limb. Accident statistics show alarming numbers. In city traffic, a car driver is relatively safe as one can rarely reach speeds above 50 km/h.

Traffic in Pune

By motorcycle

Motorcycles are by far the most common means of transport in Pune. Even people who own a car get on their scooters often when they want to reach their destination quickly. For with a two-wheeler you are a lot more mobile, you can weave your way in and out and escape traffic jams more easily. Wearing a helmet is still not compulsory in Pune, even though this is urgently required. Probably not a day goes by in this city when at least one motorcyclist dies. Getting on a motorcycle – even as a passenger – is absolutely inadvisable. The risk you face is enormous. Damaged roads, overcrowded roads and irresponsible behaviour by road users easily lead to accidents. Often entire families, including the dog, travel on scooters. Five or six people on a scooter is not an uncommon sight.

Family scooter

Cow on the road

By Bicycle

Cycling is healthy – but not in Pune. There are almost no bike lanes in Pune and out on the roads you are in the middle of heavy traffic exposed to exhaust fumes and chaotic traffic conditions – where the law of the jungle applies. Banish the thought of using a bicycle.

As a pedestrian

Due to constant road expansions many roads have lost their sidewalks. Be very careful here. However, even places where sidewalks are present are often paved with many obstacles – lack of fortifications, open manholes, debris and garbage. The use of these sidewalks requires absolute attention and you should always keep your eyes on the ground. Look closely where you step. Here, the legacy of the many street dogs is the smallest problem.

If you come from the continent or the US, always remember that in India, as in all Commonwealth countries, the left-hand drive rule applies. That is, when crossing the road first look to the right, then to the left. There have already been cases here of people having died, because they looked in the wrong direction. Basically, you should always keep an eye on both directions, when crossing a road. It is not at all uncommon to find vehicles travelling on the wrong side.

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