“Transportation of the Future is on its track with us.” That’s what Istanbul Ulaşım proclaims on the internet. Sounds very promising, at first glance. But can they keep their promise? With “Transportation of the future” they certainly don’t refer to the so far non-existent modern technique of the present situation in Istanbul’s public transportation system. More likely they mean the upcoming projects, which are under construction and planned at present, such as, for example, the Marmaray project, where a tunnel connecting the European and Asian side is being built or the extension from Shishane to Yenikapi, to provide better connections for the citizens of Istanbul.
Over 13 Million people are living in Istanbul and they’re getting more populous every day. Surprisingly there are only two metro lines, four tram lines and one funicular, totalling hardly 50 km. Coming from Germany, I was very curious about how this works out. In Berlin there are nearly 330 km of metro and tram railway for only the quarter of the number of people living in Istanbul – and still you often have to squeeze in, during the rush hour.
According to my experience in Berlin, I imagined the metro of Istanbul as highly overcrowded and overloaded. All the more surprising was my first encounter with the M2: going from Taksim to Shishane on a Sunday afternoon can make you feel pretty lonely, while walking through the deserted corridors, going escalator after escalator deeper underground. But in Taksim, some more people join in and it gets a little more crowded, while everybody is waiting for the next train going to 4. Levent. Everybody means, also the passenger continuing in the same direction from Shishane, which is another surprising fact. Going directly is – nobody knows why – impossible, which means another 10 minutes more to spend underground to change trains.
Perhaps it’s just because of the desultory method Istanbul underground system has been built, there are two metro rather funicular lines with only two stations. One of them runs between Karakoy and Tunel and other, the more modern one between Kabatas and Taksim.
The old one, I was told dates back to 19th Century and it is known as the shortest underground line extant.
Then you have the nostalgic tramway, famous for its age, instead of its length. Going back to the examination of the railway map, there is another eye catcher: on the coast of Kadiköy, on the Asian part of the city there is a little circle, which appears to be a tramline, another nostalgic one.
No matter how you put it, the railway system of Istanbul has undeniably a lot of terminal stations.
Sitting on a bench in one of them, I get a little bit homesick, because even though there are fancy flat screens showing mainly commercials, trying to make us forget the bad air conditioning, there is no countdown. In Berlin, I’m used to a glowing sign announcing how long I have to wait for the next train to come. During daytime that hardly exceeds three minutes and on weekends even at night there is train service. The consequence is that your day is divided in nice little parcels of a few minutes, with which you begin to feel comfortable. It creates a feeling of security. On the other hand, it also causes a slight paranoia, an obsession to constantly organize your life, calculating with one minute more or less to be exactly on time. From this illness, you get cured here in Istanbul. You don’t know how or why, but mostly you manage to be on time, without worrying about minutes. And if you are not on timet, you got a good excuse.
Again, thinking of the orbital railway in Berlin, in which one can easily fall asleep after an exhausting night, taking a nap while going round the city, the experience here lacks all sort of proportionality.
Anyway this competitive mode of reckoning the railway system is of no use at all, because it doesn’t include the personal experience of metro life that exists around the underground systems of most of the world’s metropolises. Berlin has a kind of underground life in its labyrinth-like tube system, with lots of shops, musicians, inspectors and newspaper men, as well as homeless and poor people, in Istanbul the life is everywhere, except in the metro. Busses, Ferries, Dolmus, Mini Busses and Cabs testify great creativity in dealing on the surface with the problem of a rather insufficient system in the underground. If the hustle and bustle of the surface and the upcoming extensions in the railway system will be sufficient to cope with the increasing number of inhabitants in Istanbul remains to be seen.