Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Public Transit

Istanbul's public transit includes busses, a metro, a trolley, ferries, and a funicular. All transit services can be paid for with an Akbil (akıllı means intelligent, and bilet means ticket), which looks like a hearing aid battery mounted on a piece of plastic the size of a key. You can pay for a number of units on the Akbil, then use these units as you travel. It is very satisfying to place the Akbil on the little Akbil socket, and it makes a fun noise as it takes your money.

In some places, the metro runs over regular roads, so traffic gets backed up at metro stops. Funiculars are half subway, half metro. Funiclars use counterweights to pull train cars up and down steep slopes. They only have two stops, one at the bottom of a hill, and the other at the top. One of the funiculars was formerly powered by horses; this funicular runs from a metro stop to the start of the trolley line. The trolley runs on Istikal Caddesi. I took the trolley once. It doesn't save a lot of time, because Istikal is a busy pedestrian street with a lot of neat shops and stands, so people are always in the way of the trolley. Istikal Caddesi ends at Taksim Square, the heart of modern Istanbul, where Paul and I went to ring in the New Year. Matthew and I saw a demonstration at Taksim when we got to Istanbul; demonstrations in Taksim are illegal.

Ferries connect the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. For 50 kuruş (about 30 cents) you can get a cup of tea in a real glass on a real saucer. The ride is about 20 minutes, which is just long enough to have a cup of tea. I think that if I were to live in a city with a ferry, and I wanted to write a book, I would sit on a ferry and drink tea all day as I write.

There are also ferries in Izmir, but they are smaller. Drinks and snacks are also served on them. For me, riding ferries was a big adventure; it was very relaxing to be able to look at the city at night from the water while drinking sahlep. I think it would be interesting to live in Izmir or Istanbul and commute by ferry every day.

Sahlep is a warm beverage, sort of like egg nog, but flavored with wild orchid. It is illegal to export authentic sahlep from Turkey, for fear of destroying the wild orchid population. It has a great flavor, but it's so sweet my teeth hurt.

In Izmir, public transit can be paid for with cash or with cards with RFID chips in them. The cool Izmiri don't even take the cards out of their wallets, they just bang their wallets on the receiver. (I learned to do this very quickly so that I would appear to be a native.) The cards are disposable, and you can buy cards holding either three or five units. This doesn't make sense to me because I normally use public transit to make round trips, so the cards should come with an even number of units.

On Ankara's public transit system, you can buy cards with a certain number of units on them; I seem to recall that they came with six or ten units. If you want to pay for several people traveling with one ticket, you punch the card into the card swipe machine, then press a button corresponding to the number of people traveling with you. The buttons are arranged vertically, and each button is on a colored stripe; I think this is so that a bus driver only needs to use his peripheral vision to see which color's button you pushed, to know how many travelers you've payed for.

The most terrifying things in Turkey are Dolmuşes, which are like minibusses; the evil turquoise thing in the picture is a Dolmuş. As I understand it, Dolmuşes are run by private companies, but their prices are set by the city government. They run set routes, often going to places that busses don't go, or on more direct routes. Dolmuş is Turkish for full; Dolmuşes are so called because they have seats for ten riders, but about twenty might crammed into one. However scary it is to cross the street in Turkey, it is more harrowing if you see a Dolmuş coming. Dolmuş rides have to be paid for in cash. Passengers enter Dolmuşes through the side, so each Dolmuş ride starts with half a dozen riders, at least, holding out handfuls of coins to the driver and telling him how many people they're paying for. The driver takes the money and makes change, while driving.

I think that Dolmuş drivers are supposed to have a helper who takes the money, instead, but what I've always seen is that the helper is buddies with the driver, and they talk together the whole time, and the driver winds up driving and taking the money. This doesn't make much of a difference, safety-wise, because even when not taking money, Dolmuş drivers do not obey any traffic laws.

1 comment:

  1. hi,
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