Sunday, May 25, 2008

Istanbul Public Transport

Not so modern as Dubai, but still quite functional, Istanbul's Atat├╝rk International Airport has a few surprises. Visitors from Australia require a visa, but this consists of more of a entry charge than any sort of security check: just pay your 15 euros and you get a sticker in your passport.

There is a very fast and efficient rapid transit system (Istanbul LRT) in the basement of the airport. But to find it you have to go out the building and down a not well marked escalator. Most of the tourists did not seem to notice and got straight in a taxi or shuttle bus. I only found the LRT using the Istanbul Lonely Planet City Guide.

Unlike KL and Sydney, the LRT is part of the regular city transport system, so there is just the same flat fee (less than $2) for a trip to the city center. You can use the same electronic ticketing system (Akbil) as for the rest of the city's trams, trains, buses, ferries and even two Funicular railways. But to get an Akbil device you have to go to one of the main transport hubs, which the airport is not.

The Akbil system is what Sydney should have installed instead of their failed smart card ticket system. The key to the success of the Istanbul system is the standard flat fee for different modes of transport. You press the Akbil device (a contact smart chip in a small metal can, on a key fob or credit card) into the reader at the turn style to board the train, tram, bus or ferry. There is no need to scan it again at the other end of the trip, the same fee applies to the end of the line. In practice you pay several fees for a typical journey: one when getting on the LRT, train then another transferring to the tram, then the ferry and perhaps a bus at the other end.

Like KL, the Istanbul public transport system is overloaded at peak hours. You have to swim though the bodies to get out of the very modern trams at peak hour. There are some very old trains with rust holes in the doors (but very tidy and comfortable otherwise). The ferries are comfortable and the LRT very up to date.

Perhaps the low-floor Bombardier Flexity Swift trams could be improved by doubling their length. Currently two, two car, vehicles are used coupled (the tram stops are designed for this). As a result there are two unused driving cabs in the center of the four car unit. If the driving cabs were eliminated, about an extra twenty passengers could be accommodated. This would also be cheaper, as the driving cabs with their complex electronics cost much more than passenger seating. One pantograph could also be eliminated.

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