There was a time when the world seemed a small place. A small area, a village, a town, a city, became one’s world, self-sufficing and complete, and within that area everyone moved around on foot. But alternatives became necessary for the old, infirm and those disinclined to walk, or those who needed to move faster. For a long time then, people went on horseback.
In Kolkata, the thika, a public palanquin that could be hired, and the horse-drawn carriage were the earliest known means of public transport. In those days of the purdah system, special screened palanquins were made for women, followed by lighter, open ones more like sedan chairs, and were called tonjon. These have all disappeared from the roads, but according to the last count in 1987, 33 of these were found plying at the Maidan, Strand, Rajabazar and Kidderpore, for joyrides باربری رشت تهران.
Around 1900 A.D., the rickshaw, was introduced, initially to negotiate the flooded, waterlogged streets, but became a permanent feature on the city’s roads. By 1913, they came to be used commercially with Chinese pullers. During the 1920s, they became completely indianised.
The only form of mass public transport was by water. When the Hoara Station opened in 1854, to make it easier for people to move from one city to another by train, these passengers had to be ferried across the river on launches and country boats. It was around this time that a three-horse-pulled omnibus plied briefly between Dharamtala and Barrackpore. In 1864, horse-drawn buses were also introduced on a commercial basis, but this venture was not successful.
The transport system was transformed with the arrival of tramcars on the scene, and these were doubtlessly the most successful form of public transport. It was started on an experimental basis by the Justices of the Peace in 1873 between Sealdah Station and Armenian Ghat. However, it was soon privatized, as it was not profitable.
In 1878, a British tramway engineering company constructed an eight-route system, and sold it to the Calcutta Tramways Company. Soon, horse-driven tramcars could be seen in Sealdah, Dalhousie, Chitpur, Chourangi, Dharamtala, Strand Road, Shyam Bazaar, Khidirpur and Wellesley.
The next entrant on the transport scene was the steam-powered car followed by the use of the electric traction system for running trams. For a long time, tramcars remained the only form of public transport in Kolkata. The first motorcar was seen on the city’s roads in 1896. Commercial use of cars as taxis started in 1906, and became a popular form of transportation especially for the elite. A bus service came into operation in 1920, and it took a tram strike to give the bus service its much-needed push. Double-decker buses arrived on the scene in 1926 and by 1935 bus service operations were privatized.
As populations continued to grow the city of Kolkata was ready to burst at the seams with people. Only 6.5% of the city’s area was used for roads in contrast to 23% in Delhi. The inevitable consequence was chaotic traffic, and this kept getting worse. Kolkata became famous for its traffic jams, bottle-necked streets and reaching anywhere on time, a far-fetched dream. The masses, up in arms about trivial issues, were surprisingly complacent about the problem of traffic and mayhem on the roads.
Problems kept multiplying and soon a need was felt for a new mass transport system that could spread across the city. Thus India got its mass rapid transport system in the form of the Metro in Kolkata. This underground network is even today, the pride of Kolkata, as it is one service that has remained as clean and efficient as it was when it was started.
Used by thousands of people each day, it has somewhat resolved the traffic crisis that could have crippled Kolkata decades ago. It is the best thing to have happened to Kolkata, saving on pollution, noise, congestion and heat. Today, it is stretching across the city’s suburbs and the process of expanding its network continues.