Public transportation in Istanbul has improved for the better over the past few years. A lot of people still take taxis to commute between the various points of interest, but it’s often not the best choice. In this article I’ll point out the benefits of using public transportation, when (not) to use it, and how to pay for it. You will be amazed.
Public Transportation as the Smart Alternative
It’s an understatement to say that Istanbul traffic is a problem. Roads are always heavily used, and gridlocks are common from 07:00 till 10:30 in the morning, and again starting 16:00 until late in the evening. This makes public transportation a nice alternative.
When to Use Public Transportation or Take a Taxi?
- physical condition — By default, using public transportation requires you to walk a bit more. Some run underground, so be prepared to take stairs although most such stops have moving staircases. Decide according to your physical condition.
- fares — The fare to take public transportation is about 15 TL per person per ride with an Istanbul Kart. So, let’s take the following example. The cab fare to get from Sultanahmet to Taksim is 84 TL, regardless of the amount of people in the cab and without getting stuck in traffic. From Sultanahmet to Taksim by public transportation requires you to first take the tramway, followed by a funicular. The trip for one person costs about 30 TL thanks to the transfer discount. So, the latter is a great idea when traveling alone, as a couple or even as a party of three. Yes, even four people during rush hour because you’ll win time and money since the taxi meter also adds small amounts when standing still in traffic.
- time of the day — Most lines operate between 06:00 and 24:00 (see details below), so outside of these hours you must rely on a taxi which is safer at that time of day anyway.
Is Public Transportation in Istanbul Safe?
Yes. Metro, tram, and funicular lines in the city center are well maintained and constantly supervised by security personnel. The only thing you should watch out for is pickpockets.
Is It Comfortable?
Yes, except buses. Metro, tram, funicular and train vehicles are relatively new and air conditioned. Turks tend to leave their seat for pregnant women and senior citizens. There are also designated areas for prams and people using a wheelchair. Istanbul is making efforts to improve accessibility to platforms and vehicles for handicapped people. Major stops are equipped with elevators, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. Avoid rush hour to skip very crowded vehicles.
How to Pay for Public Transportation?
There are basically two ways to pay for the fare: either you get a token (jeton) from the sales booth or vending machines (jetonmatik), or you use the Istanbul Card (Istanbul Kart) — an electronic boarding pass. If you use a token you’ll pay 20 TL per ride, with an Istanbul Card you only pay 15 TL per ride, and get discounts for every transfer you make. So I strongly suggest you to get an Istanbul Kart. Children until the age of six travel free of charge.
Details About Common Public Transportation Lines for Tourists
I have two more articles to help you out using public transportation in Istanbul. The first one lists all essential Istanbul metro, tram and funicular lines for tourists, together with the most important stops and operating hours. The second article is basically a printable Istanbul tourist transportation map.