Megacities are usually defined as metropolitan area(s) with a total population in excess of ten million people. The terms conurbation, metropolis and metroplex are also applied to the latter.
Over the last couple of years, I have been fortunate enough to visit the following mega-cities.
2012 — Delhi, India (Urban Area: 24.9 million peope
Population density: 12,100 people per square kilometer)
2013 — Shanghai, China (Urban area: 23.41 million people
Population density: 6,100 people per square kilometer)
2014 — Seoul, South Korea (Urban area: 23.48 million people
Population density: 10,400 people per square kilometer)
2015 — Kolkata, India (Urban Area: 14.6 million people
Population density: 12,200 people per square kilometer)
2016 — Mumbai, India (Urban area: 17.7 million people
Population density: 32,400 people per square kilometer)
* Statistics as per Allianz.
In 2012, as we headed out for our first backpacking trip, a strange sense of calm enveloped me. It was because VDB was coming along. He took care of all the planning, accommodation and travel arrangements. Being someone who is tasked with this work generally, going with VDB brought a welcome relief considering the fact that our trip would be for 25 days over over various Indian states.
At Delhi, there was a feel of overwhelm. That point where a realization of the magnitude of the place occurs. Bustling with over 12,500 people per square kilometer, India has one of the highest population densities in the world. It got acclaim for being one of the most polluted cities in India recently but before that, Delhi was known as a glistening success story of the implementation of the overhead Metro Rail Project, being completed in so called “record” time.
The metro augmented Delhi’s existing transport infrastructure connecting various parts of the city through efficient, high speed, air conditioned transport for the population serving Delhi and its satellite cities of Faridabad, Gurgaon, Noida and Ghaziabad in National Capital Region in India. 12th largest in the world, 5 colored lines, 2.4 million daily users. Now that is huge!
The reason I am ranting about Delhi is to make my point about the importance of public transport in a metropolis, any metropolis. One that is continually expanding and where the roads are increasingly pressured with more vehicles day after day. In most cases it is just a function of the increase in population if you ask me. Touring via public transport will also expose us to rawness and provide insights into the daily lives of its citizens.
Getting to what I learnt, which is the most efficient way to get from one corner of the mega city to the other.
Here are the answers —
1. Delhi — Metro
2. Shanghai — Subway
3. Seoul — Subway
4. Kolkata — Metro / Tram / Bus
5. Mumbai — Local Trains
What they all have in common is the fact that they are public transport and they’re also the best, in terms of speed and cost. Which brings the obvious question, “Why doesn’t everyone do it?”. Let me take a jab, I think it is because they feel that —
a. It is only for locals (It is called “public” transport for a reason)
b. It is not worth the effort (It is totally worth the effort)
c. It is too complicated to understand in a day or a couple of days (It is not!)
While I would like to believe that I am a big climate change champion, this article is not about how much green house gases we will save or how we will make the planet a better place to live in for the future generations, it is about one thing, getting around efficiently. The above is just a positive side effect, which is good too but besides the point.
Here are the 5 things you need to master a public transport network and thrive in a mega-city.
Pick the most efficient system in the city
It could be the trains, metro, subway, bus or even a combination of the above. The best suggestions are given by the locals at the mega city that you are visiting. Ask at least 4–5 people.
Get a subway / train / bus route map
Get yourself a map of the city along with the transport infrastructure of your choice. Available at the local bus/train/metro station, hotel lobby or there is always Google. :) (_city_ + “subway”)
Buy a Smart / Prepaid Card
Mega-cities have mega populations. That means long queues, getting a prepaid card means that you can bypass them, recharge online and speed up your commute. In other places you can use the card to buy the tickets yourself. If you have the option to buy the tickets and “return” tickets are available, then you are saving yourself some more time in the line.