We like to give the first time traveler to Istanbul some information and tips about public transportation in Istanbul. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Istanbul has one of the best public transportation system in the world. First of all one ticket card can be used in almost all of the vehicles from the buses to the ferries and metro trains. It is called the Ak-Bil or Istanbul-card, short for smart ticket. You can purchase this card from Akbil -Gişe (Kiosks)s and keep purchasing and adding more Turkish Lira to the card as you need it. It can be used in all of the transportation vehicles except the taxis and the shared taxi, the so called Dolmuş.
Istanbul is the only city in the World situated on two continents, divided by the beautiful channel called Bosporus and the sea of Marmara. Although the two continents of Europe and Asia are connected by two suspension bridges and another bridge is in the planning stage, during rush hours sea transportation with the ferries are often preferred by Istanbulites.
ON THE SEA
VAPUR, DENİZ OTOBÜSÜ, ARABALI, MOTOR
Vapur is the ferryboat, the most commonly used vehicle carrying thousands of people everyday back and forth from Europe to Asia, to Bosporus, Golden Horn and the Prince Islands. Arabalı Vapur is the ferryboat carrying cars as well as people and the Motor is a smaller size passenger boat . Deniz Otobüsü or the sea bus is the fastest among them but it is built like an airplane; once the cabin door is closed there is no access to fresh air or scenery .To me it's best use is when my plane lands late afternoon at the Atatürk Airport and I have to cross the Bosporus bridge to go the Asian side. While it would take a good three hours with a taxi over the bridge, it will take only half the time when using the Deniz Otobüsü from the near by Ferry terminal at Bakirköy. For all of the above mentioned boats, one can use the Akbil Card or for one time fare you can buy a jeton from the ferry terminal. The ferry terminals are called Iskele. Also there is passenger bus from the Airport called Havaş which can take you to the Ferry Station or all the way to the city Center Taksim. Havaş accepts cash.
ON THE ROAD
OTOBÜS, METROBÜS, DOLMUŞ, MİNİBÜS,TAKSİ
Otobüs or the bus and Metrobüs only accept the Akbil card as payment, which you scan at the scanner located near the bus driver. If you dont have an Akbil card, relax; Show a 1TL (Turkish Lira) to the passengers at the front seats and somebody will loan their card to you and even give you the change back, GUARANTEED. Metrobüs is the faster bus and has a protected road in the middle of the Boulevard. There is a Metrobüs all the way from the Airport to the Asian side of Istanbul but it is usually very crowded. All Taksis have a taksimeter on the dashboard or by the back rear mirror where you can read the fare. The Dolmuş is the shared Minibus. While the bus only stops at bus stations(Durak) the Dolmuş stops and picks up passengers practically any where on the Dolmuş route. Dolmuş and Taksi only accept cash as payment. Dolmuş takes about 7 passengers and if you happen to be sitting in the back of the car, give the coins to the passenger in the middle seat, he will give it to the driver and give your cash back to you. Its all teamwork.
OTOBUS AND MINIBUS
TREN, METRO, TÜNEL, TRAMVAY,
There are two train stations in İstanbul, both by the sea shore: Haydarpaşa on the Asian side and Sirkeci on the European. The trains departing from these istasiyons not only travel to the suburbs of Istanbul , but one can start in Baghdat and travel to London with the Orient Express, of course hopping in and out to the Ferry in İstanbul and at Dover. Metro routes are mostly in the Historical Peninsula and the Pera area. You can take the worlds third oldest metro from Karaköy called the Tünel uphill to İstiklal Street where another nostalgic passenger vehicle, the Tramvay will take you to the Taksim Square. Across the Galata bridge from Karaköy in Eminönü is the Metro station where Metro trains travel through the Historical Peninsula over the ground. There are several Metro İstasiyonu in this part of town with trains travelling underground too. On the Asian side (Asya Yakası) an underground Metro web is under construction, however one can travel in the Kadıköy district with the historical Tramvay or an Upper- ground metro train. All train stations like the ferry docks have gates where you have to scan the Akbil card or to put the jeton ınto the slot to get in.
SEA BUS , CAR FERRY
TRAINS TO SUBURBS
TAXI RATES AND ISTANBUL MAP
ISTANBULLITE'S USEFUL INFO FOR TOURISTS
Comments from Istanbullite Readers
Here is an e-mail from Mustafa, who just returned from Istanbul yesterday .
When my older brother Cem recommended that I use the Akbil or Smart Ticket to travel throughout Istanbul, i was skeptical. I had always used the ferry system in Istanbul , but my past experience with public buses was not good. They were overcrowded and sometimes dirty, schedules were not well known, it was a hassle to pay the driver etc etc.
On my recent trip, I loaded a total of 50 TL (about $28) on the smart card and used it almost exclusively to travel throughout istanbul. I only took a cab twice; from the airport to the ferry station and back to the airport and only because I had bags.
The ferries run every 15 minutes or so between major landing points like kadikoy, Karakoy, Besiktas, Uskudar and Eminonu. This is nothing new, but what I discovered was the convenience of using the Smart Ticket and not having to fumble for change, tokens etc.
The Metro (subway) is still being built but is great...I will give a practical example. When about 4-5 inches of snow fell on Monday the 16th, traffic quickly became locked up throughout the Eurpoean side. I was unfortunately in Levent which was receiving some of the heaviest snowfall. I needed to go to Besiktas to take a ferry across but people reported that it was taking 1.5 to 2 hours to navigate the approximately 3 or 4 miles to Besiktas. I took the Metro to Taksim (twice the distance to Besiktas) in 10 minutes, transferred to the Sishane line (another 5 minutes), walked 50 yards to the "Tunnel" and in another 5 minutes (total of 20 minutes) was at the ferry station at Karakoy taking my boat across. ...20 minutes vs 2 hours.
The subway is clean and efficient...Trains run every 5 to 8 minutes. At the stations, there are electronic displays showing when the next train will arrive. Inside the subway trains, announcements of stops are made in Turkish and English. It is crowded but reasonably so. You are not packed like a can of sardines.
The buses were the biggest surprise. They are clean, efficient, less crowded than before and run very frequently between the major points (every 2 or 3 minutes to major spots like Taksim, Besiktas and Eminonu). The bus stops have the schedules printed; some are paper schedules but some have electronic displays showing in real time when the next buses are due for each line. On the bus, the announcements are in Turkish and English. The Smart Ticket works like a charm. And most of the time, you can find a seat or stand up without getting claustrophobic. There are many diffreent type of buses: the IETT official bus, the "Halk Otobusu" (or "People's Bus" which is run by private contractors as opposed to by the City directly, the "Metrobus" which is humongous and has its own dedicated lanes, the new Purple colored buses...I dont know the exact number but I bet there are thousands of buses in service every day. The good news is that they all take the Smart Ticket.
I used to be somewhat of a "snob" when it came to taking buses in Turkey. Not anymore, I am sold...They have made huge improvements. The whole transportation system is interconnected and schedules are coordinated between buses, ferries, Metro and "Sea Bus". It is inexpensive and convenient. In one busy day, I counted 12 segments that I used public transportation for. My cost was less than 20 TL (about $12). If I has taken taxis, I would have paid hundreds of liras and would not have saved much time, if at all.
Thanks Cem for a great tip about using the Akbil or Smart Ticket!!"