In two articles published in July I briefly explained what public transportation used to be like in İstanbul and then described the Metrobüs, how it works, and why it fundamentally changed transportation in İstanbul.
So now I want to discuss some of the complaints that one will encounter while looking for information on the Metrobüs. The primary criticism is of how crowded the buses are, especially during peak hours. The buses are, in fact, quite crowded at certain hours. But take into consideration some facts.
First of all, the Metrobüs runs on the E-5; as I described in the previous article, the E-5 is the most critical highway in İstanbul. Not only does it run through the entire city from one side to the other, it also provides mass transit access to the most densely populated areas of the city. In other words, demand for the buses is high, and the Metrobüs provides fast transportation to literally millions of people. Consequently, it can be crowded just like the public transportation in other global metropolises. Demand for the Metrobüs is so high that İstanbul’s mayor, Kadir Topbaş, has stated in the past that a true subway line would be constructed under the Metrobüs’ route on the E-5.
One important effect of the Metrobüs’s popularity is that much of İstanbul’s population is now more mobile and less confined to their single neighborhood. This has increased both the ability and the willingness to travel locally of, most importantly, the working classes. The working classes and the middle classes also mix far more intensely than in the past as a result. The rail systems also constructed in the past fifteen years have augmented that effect.
This leads to a second aspect of the complaints. From the moment the Metrobüs was opened, it was subjected to intense criticism from the domestic anti-AKP press. The entire project was depicted from the beginning as a massive, useless money pit that, at best, would have no effect on İstanbul’s transportation problems. After that initial reaction, a couple of trends have continued over the years. Primarily, every time any sort of problem was encountered with the Metrobüs system, the opposition press did its best to portray the entire project as a complete failure. For example the original Phileas buses were supposedly not engineered for İstanbul’s hilly topography and thus would stall from time-to-time. It remains unclear whether the problem stemmed from an engineering design or simply from bus drivers trying to get used to a different type of vehicle. I can say that I regularly see the Phileas buses on the line, so they are still being used. But the opposition press jumped on the issue at the time and only grudgingly reported that the system’s actual customers were happy to have a new option. Today even, every time a car on the E-5 runs into the Metrobüs lane, it gets broad coverage in, especially, the opposition press. And despite the naysayers in the opposition, the Metrobüs system has garnered international recognition for its success.
This tendency for the negative coverage and attitude towards the Metrobüs seems to have two bases. I’ll discuss those in the next article.