Turkish Daily News
The new school term means not only an end to the summer break but also an end to Istanbul's relatively open streets and highways. To help traffic run smoother, the Istanbul municipality is launching a three-day emergency plan, including free public transport on buses, ferries and metros during peak times.
With schools starting this week and 3 million students on their way back to the classroom, Istanbul's residents will wake up to a traffic nightmare Monday morning.
To help prevent a potential crisis, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, or IBB, is offering free transport to commuters for the first three days of the week.
The IBB's free services will include Istanbul Transportation Authority, or IETT, buses, private public buses, ferries, sea motor services and the metro. Commuters will be able to ride for free between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. and between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. The plan will also extend to taxis, which will offer half-price fares.
“We will start the winter season and that means we will increase the number of our buses by 800,” said Zeki Gümüş, a spokesman for IETT.
In terms of sea transport, the Istanbul Sea Transportation Authority is also launching extra sea services. Four ferryboats will start operating between Sirkeci and Harem. Service buses will be given priority boarding these ferryboats.
Istanbul's new Metrobus will start operating Sept. 8 as well. With a Metrobus leaving every 45 seconds, the traffic between Topkapı and Zincirlikuyu is expected to ease.
Cabs in doubt
The IBB announced half-price taxis during rush hour over the next three days, but taxi companies gave different answers when asked about the discount.
“We haven't received any order like that,” said an employee from Usküdar's Net Taxi.
“We will only give discounts to elementary school students,” said another from Etiler's Etap Taxi, suggesting half-price taxi fares were not a certainty.
To help ease traffic flows, 7,000 police officers who are normally assigned to the office will be working in the city to help coordinate the increase in traffic.
In preparation for potential accidents, 70 tow trucks will be on stand-by in different locations around the city and all garbage collectors will not work during daytime hours.
School buses targeted
The emergency plan especially targets the integration of school buses with traffic. To prevent temporary stop-offs, the IBB has specifically asked school bus companies to plan ahead about where to pick up and drop off students. During the three days student and teacher volunteers will help run traffic outside schools. School buses will also be allowed to park in the municipality's parking zones for 30 minutes free of charge.
“Every day we carry between 400 and 500 students in 50 different buses. Even though the schools start early, we have to wait in traffic when there is an accident. And that might happen any time,” said Ilknur Çetin, from the Sima Turizm bus company, when asked what he thought of the new measure.
The next morning
It remains uncertain just how effective the plan will be and what will happen Thursday once the temporary new measures end.
“This is a nice gesture for the students and their families. But we can't solve the traffic problem with three-day aid plans. It will take a long-term plan to help ease Istanbul's traffic. And we are too late for that,” said Cengiz Yıldızcı, a professor in Istanbul Technical University's urban and regional planning department. “It is good they are promoting the use of public transportation but it requires much better planning.”
Yıldızcı proposed an alternative solution to the traffic problem. “The municipality should invest in sea transportation. Istanbul has unbelievable potential for that. This will take more than launching four new ferryboats for use; they should handle it systematically. Otherwise it won't help anything even if those ferries work for 24 hours.”