This is the second in what I hope will be a series of posts that contrast Turkish and US public policy. If you missed it, the first post on Turkey's High Speed Rail design is here.
Today I shall talk about a city that I've come to love, Istanbul. In no small part this is due to the vast amount of public transportation options and especially relevant for today's post, ease of intermodal transfers.
Follow me over the jump for a brief geography lesson of Istanbul, personal pictures, and a the most wonderous invention known to man that I have yet encountered.
Istanbullers like to boast that theirs is the only city that sits astride two continents. Although I may have some thoughts of my own on the Afro-Eurasian Landmass I will give them the geopolitical benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the most striking aspect of Istanbul is its ability to move 11 million people around each day through a pretty compact area that spans one of the busiest straits in the world. In case you were wondering, that would be the Bosporous.
As an aside all photos in this diary have been taken by me so they are fine by me to go into the public domain.
Anyway, how does Istanbul do it? By creating multiple hubs for public transportation and heavily subsidizing said transportation. Almost everything, from the ferries to the bus rapid transport to the normal buses to the tram, underground metro and light rail trains that connect to the airport cost a flat fee of approximately 1 dollar. This is not to mention other more exotic means like the Funikular lines (for those big hills), gondolas and the nostalgic tram.
All of the modes I've mentioned are fully transferrable with variable discounts (depending on the fiscal needs of the city of Istanbul and the type of account, student, Sr. Citizen etc.) through the means of a wonderful device called an Akbil:
This magic little button can be put on your keychain and pressed to debit the fee per trip in less than a second. The machine readers make audible cues to inform you when your balance is low or if you get a half price transfer (or two or three - a Turkey in Turkey if you will). Money can be added to the card at vendors who are located at every tram stop, major bus depots, and newspaper sellers throughout the city. Incidentally, this device is manufactured by an American company, so if some enterprising city would care to start using it instead of magnitized cards that become demagnitized all the time (I'm looking at you DCSmartrip card) that sure would be nice. I should also mention that the initial few years of Akbil implementation offered free unlimited transfers within an hour of the first use, which highly encouraged every Istanbul to take public transportation.
The gist of these numerous options (and I didn't even go into Dolmuses - shared taxis on fixed routes) is that in a city like Seattle, say, one could board a ferry in Bremerton, get off downtown, hop on the new light rail to Westlake, and take a bus to Washington University all with the same device and quite possibly reduced fares for multiple transfers. Note that I've never been a Seattlelite and don't know that this is necessarily a realistic itinerary, but the point is that Istanbul's transport is fully integrated in a way that US cities are only barely beginning to think about.
This is not to say that all is right with the Turkish transportation scene, but controversies will need to wait for another time. As a reward for making it to the bottom of this post, you get a picture of the beautiful Golden Horn: