istanbul public transportation

Where better to start than wikipedia ;-):

Istanbul has over 15 million inhabitants (day time population is estimated at around 20 million), stretches itself out over two continents, joined by 2 bridges - both of which are unbelievably jammed, even during the most unexpected hours.

Istanbul traffic. And doesn't necessarily have to be rush hour either, I should add. Even the nighttime image on the upper left may well have been taken much later at night, since particularly on a weekend night finding roads in this state, even in the early hours of the morning is not much of a surprise around here...

Which brings me to the traffic situation in general: Be forewarned that the traffic density here will be far in excess of anything that you may expect. I travel a lot, also to some very large Far Eastern cities and the like, and I have yet to see traffic congestion at any of the places that I go to which even comes close to how bad it is over here. If you take the metro or one of the trams or a commuter ferry, things will be OK, of course. However buses, minibuses and taxis will have to share the road space with other vehicles and things often proceed at snail's pace - and not only during rush hour either...

This said, here are some things which will help you get around:

View Routes between centers on this blog in a larger map

I will start by showing you an overview of all the routes between the hubs that I am talking about on this blog, with help of the map above. Please click on the lines to get detailed info on the routes and methods of payment.

Next up are three videos which our graduate students Barbaros Gökdemir and Emre Birişmen prepared for you, and which show you what happens on three of the routes which your a likely to take:

How to get from Taksim to the conference venue

How to get from Sultanahmet to Kasa Gallery in Karaköy

How to get from Taksim to Beşiktaş

Payment for transportation 
This comes in the shape of RFID cards called Istanbulkart (good post here>>>) or 'Akbil' (good post here>>>). Both Akbil and Istanbulkart can be used on the metro, buses, trams, commuter ferries and also the Avrasya Dentur motor boats. In addition to these tokens can also be used for the commuter ferry. And please note that Dolmuş (communal taxis/minibuses) take cash only.

There will be Akbil/RFID sales points which are run by Istanbul's public transportation administration IETT at all major transit points. They will usually look like the little white kiosk above.

Newsstands located near major bus termini, ferry ports and metro stations will also sell Akbil and RFID cards, so watch for related notices.

And sometimes you will encounter an Akbil sales booth in a truly strange location, like here perched on an overpass. Poor guy...

You can get an Akbil or an Istanbulkart at all major bus termini, major metro stops such as Taksim, ferry ports and also kiosks and newsagents which are located near these places. Look for a sign which says "Akbil satış/dolum gişesi/noktası" to spot one.

Metros and trams 
First off, click here for a nice sized pdf which shows you all current rail based transportation options in Istanbul.

The underground metro runs between Şişhane and beyond 4. Levent to a neighborhood called Darüşşafaka (good post here>>>), and this will be what you will probably end up using the most during your stay since this line connects the conference venue with Taksim, where I am assuming quite a few will be staying.

The two tram (good post here>>>) lines you are likely to use are the Zeytinburnu - Kabataş tram connecting the historic peninsula with Galata and the Taksim - Tünel (the opposite end of İstiklal Avenue from Taksim) tram. And 2 other good rail based modes of transportation which are good to keep in mind are the short steep underground hill ride called Tünel (good post here>>>) (click for map here>>>), which connects İstiklal Avenue with Karaköy, and the overground Taksim - Kabataş funicular (good post here>>>) (click here for map showing the Taksim stop>>>).

A lot of buses are still green, however recently they have begun painting them into a deep purple, in honor of one of the city's flowers, the purple Erguvan bush which blooms all over the Bosphorus hills in April. (The other city flower is the tulip by the way). Buses run on both sides of the sea, and quite a few from one side to the other via either one of the two bridges. Also running over the 1st bridge is a BRT - the metrobüs, which runs along a separate track and is therefore not held up by the huge traffic jams on the bridge. City buses can be paid for either with the RFID card or an Akbil, however there are also privately owned buses, the so-called "people's buses" and they will take cash also (as far as I know).

A good post on Istanbul buses can be found here>>>. And the English translation of the main bus page, giving out information about routes, which is put out by the city can be seen here>>>.

Commuter Ferries and Dolmuş
Public transportation in Istanbul has 2 additions to what is usual in other cities. The more notable of these are the commuter ferries which crisscross the harbor between the two continents, Europe and Asia. On the European side the 3 major ferry ports are Karaköy, Eminönü and Beşiktaş. From Eminönü you can catch ferries to the Bosphorus, the Prince Islands and to Kadiköy and Üsküdar, which are of the two big ports on the Asian side. From Karaköy you can cross to Kadiköy and ferries run every 15 minutes until 23.30 (see timetable here>>>).  The third commuter ferry port on the European side is Beşiktaş, from where you can catch a ferry to Kadiköy every half hour, the last one leaving from Beşiktaş at 21.45 and from the opposite end, Kadiköy at 21.15. (The timetables for these are here>>> and here>>>). You can also catch a ferry from Beşiktaş to Üsküdar, however this I do not recommend since it is much faster and costs the same to actually take a commuter motor boat for this route. The motor boats are a privately owned enterprise named Avrasya Dentur (website here>>>) and you cannot miss the place both because of a really conspicuous awning, both in Beşiktaş and Üsküdar, as well as the big white boats lined up along the shore. The boats run from 6.10AM to 1.30AM. Avrasya Dentur also operates boats between Üsküdar and Kabataş, and this might actually be quite handy since both the Karaköy/historic peninsual tram and the Taksim funicular are located in Kabataş.

The dolmuş minibuses on Üsküdar square will take you to Beylerbeyi and beyond. On this particular route they are painted blue, however a lot of Dolmuş are also painted yellow.

The second addition are the privately owned minibuses and communal taxi cabs named 'Dolmuş'. These run on fixed routes and for a fixed fare (which is paid in cash) on both sides of the water. A good page telling you all about Dolmuş and how the system works can be found here>>>. The map of the starting points of dolmuş from Taksim square to various parts of the city was actually taken from this page ;-).

View Popular Dolmus (Dolmuş) Starting Points in Taksim in a larger map

Istanbul minibus routes. The full sized map can be purchased online here>>.

Public transportation was much neglected until the last decade, and although much has been accomplished recently Istanbul is still not an easy city to get around if you have to rely solely on public transportation, I'm afraid. Therefore local folk will often use taxis in lieu of public transportation, and this is not perceived as an extravagance in the way that it would be seen elsewhere. Visitors I would advice to be careful of taxis however, unfortunately despite the very bad press which they get, Istanbul taxi drivers will over-charge visitors, especially those which they pick up in the historic peninsula. This said, a list of taxi stands, from where you can get reliable taxis can be found here>>>.

Finally, I want to briefly talk about punctuality. Unlike a lot of southern cultures Turks are ultra punctual. Transportation, buses, planes, trains will leave on the minute, so you have to be sure to be there on time. Which in Istanbul means that you have to take the traffic into account and leave accordingly.

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