Thursday, September 13, 2012

Local transport in all shapes and sizes


Local transport in all shapes and sizes

Many visitors to İstanbul are impressed with the different options for local transport, but not with the overcrowding they may experience.
Minibus travel is straightforward. There is a set minibus route. The difference between a bus and minibus is that the latter you can hail and ride; the minibus does not have defined stops, so you can hop on and off where you like along the route. The first time you ride a minibus you may wonder what is going on as the people behind you say something and pass money through you to the front. On a minibus you pay by passing your fare up the row of passengers. Your change will dutifully come back to you from the driver in the same way. Minibus drivers are experts at multi-tasking; you will be amazed at their ability to drive, smoke, take your fare, give change, talk on the phone and fiddle with the radio all at once, while still having a free hand to honk the horn. Be prepared for a bumpy ride.

Letting the driver know where you want to get off is simple. When it comes time for you to disembark all you need to do is say, loudly enough for the driver to hear you, “İnecek var” (I want to get off). But beware! Don’t get confused like some have and say, “İnek var” (There is a cow).

Dolmuş is another way to get around the city. A dolmuş is a special shared taxi. It has a fixed route that it follows, and it departs once full. In fact, the word “dolmuş” literally means “full.” These are a little more expensive than a minibus, but usually quicker. You can say the above phrase whenever you would like to stop.

The ferry can be a pleasant way to travel, if you can get a seat. The ferry is a common mode of transport for crossing the Bosporus in İstanbul, or crossing the bay in İzmir. Entry to the ferry station is by a turnstile; for this you can use an “akbil” digital transit pass or buy a token called a “jeton” from a booth at the entrance to the ferry station. When the ferry docks and passengers have disembarked the gate is opened and you can walk onto the quay to board the ferry.

Be careful when boarding. Experienced ferry travelers may jump the gap between the quay and the boat, but it is best to use the gangplank, even though this is usually just a narrow plank of wood.

Disembarking is similar; many Turks take their lives in their hands and leap onto the quay, sometimes even before the captain has finished his maneuvers. We recommend you obey the signs directing you not to disembark until the ship has berthed. The water is definitely not inviting, even on a hot sunny day!

İstanbul has a network of seabuses (catamaran fast ferries) linking the two shores of the Bosporus and the coast of the Marmara Sea. These run less frequently than the Turkish Maritime Lines ferries, and are more expensive, but the ride is quicker, seating is more luxurious and boarding and disembarking are definitely safer.

Taxis are everywhere. It is best to use licensed taxis rather than private ones. In major cities such as İstanbul all official taxis are yellow and have a number plate beginning with the letter T. If you know where the taxi “durak” (stand) is it is best to find a taxi there, or have the receptionist at your office, hotel or restaurant call a taxi for you. If your group consists of more than two people and is mixed gender try to arrange it so that women sit in the back and a man in the front seat. All taxis should have a “saat” (meter). There are two tariffs: “gündüz” for daytime and “gece” for night, which means midnight to 6 a.m. A light on the meter shows which tariff is being charged, but the taxi driver is able to switch between them when he sees you get in. Check that the right light is lit up. You pay by distance and by time, so the meter will tick over if you are stuck in traffic (common in big cities). If you know the route you’d like to take you can tell the taxi driver; otherwise he may choose a longer route.

Remember these two things: Face saving is an important Turkish trait. If a taxi driver is lost he may not want to admit this and ask a passerby (even if he did, he could get the wrong directions, as the passerby would not want to admit to not knowing, either). The second is that taxi drivers love to talk.

Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email:


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