Critics Choose Istanbul's Subway System Over San Francisco's BART

akbil transit ad istanbul photo

"Akbil knows the value of your kuruş" (the Turkish equivalent of pennies), says this ad from Istanbul's transit agency. Photo via İETT.

Besides holding more than 12 times as many inhabitants and being way, way bigger, I like to tell people, Istanbul is a lot like my hometown of San Francisco -- geographically, at least. From my neighborhood on the city's European side, I can look across the sparkling waters of the Bosphorus to the industrial shipyards and, above, the greener, more residential hills of the Asian side, a view reminiscent in many ways of that from San Francisco to the Port of Oakland and the rest of the East Bay. But when it comes to actually traversing that landscape, the differences are much starker than the similarities.In the Bay Area, if you're not lucky enough to live near a BART station, getting from San Francisco to the East Bay requires flashing your Muni pass, then pulling out a BART card, then buying a ticket on an AC Transit bus. (The TransLink system that will eventually connect them all is, as far as I know, still in trials on Muni, and nonexistent on BART.)

Poor Transit Interconnectivity in San Francisco
As a commenter on Daily Kos writes, "We are still struggling with interconnectivity in the San Francisco Bay Area. We have BART, Muni, various AC transit systems, the trolley cars in San Jose, CalTrain, the ferries, and nothing QUITE works together. Lots of counties fighting turf wars and transit agencies stove-piping decisions. Sigh."

In Istanbul, by contrast, I can take a subway train to the swanky mall up north or the airport to the south, a tram to the historic sights of the old city, a 1.5-hour ferry ride to car-free holiday islands, a funicular up a couple of the steepest hills in the neighborhood, even a gondola to a cafe with a stunning view -- all using the same little piece of plastic.

The magic tool that hangs from my key-ring was lauded recently in the second of a two-post series at Daily Kos about ways of getting around Istanbul, and the country as a whole, that compares Turkey's public transportation favorably to that of the United States.

Around Istanbul With an Akbil
Like me, blogger PAUtahDCconnection likes how you can push your Akbil -- a thumb-sized piece of plastic with a metal button at the end -- up against turnstile readers at every transit point and have it deduct the appropriate amount -- at a discount if you're making a transfer -- and tell you how much is left. Akbils can be refilled at various booths and ATM-style machines around the city, even at bread kiosks. PAUtahDCconnection especially likes how they can't become demagnetized. I like how multiple people can use the same Akbil on the same trip -- just press it twice to be charged two fares -- a feature that's great when you're showing friends around town.

In the first post of the Daily Kos series, PAUtahDCconnection cheers the Turkish government's "efforts to move its rapidly growing population around without encouraging the car dependence we've all come to know and love back in the U S of A," including an "ambitious project to link the country's major cities" with high-speed passenger rail. (Turkey debuted its first fast-train line in March.)

Turkey Working to Improve Its Trains
Currently, trains run a distant second to long-haul buses as a good way to get around Turkey without driving or flying, but the planned improvements could flop that equation. While smaller than the U.S., the blogger notes, Turkey is also a large country with "aging infrastructure, huge natural barriers and uneven population distribution." So why do transit improvements seem to be getting more, well, traction in Turkey? The Daily Kos blogger chalks it (along with the recent smoking ban) up to "Europe envy/competition."

While that seems a bit flip, PAUtahDCconnection elaborates on the comment by noting, I think correctly, "One thing that the U.S. geography does is isolate us from this competition. Americans just don't understand how great it can be. And they don't have the TGV right next door showing them up."

More about public transportation around the world:
Project Transit: Restoring the Romance of Public Transportation
Commuter Rail Returns to Baghdad
300 Hybrid Buses To Be Driving the London Streets by 2011
Public Transit: Buenos Aires Could Welcome Metrobus System next May
Toyama "Compact City" With Citizen Involvement
Bombardier ‘Green Train’ Uses 20-30% Less Fuel Than Other Trains, Sets Swedish Speed Record
Beijing's Olympic Subways Outpace US Subways
When The Sun Shines Down Under. . .It Powers a Bus

Critics Choose Istanbul's Subway System Over San Francisco's BART
Besides holding more than 12 times as many inhabitants and being way, way bigger, I like to tell people, Istanbul is

Related Content on