In the man-in-the-street, Apollon Apollonovich had always suspected something mean flying by outside the glazed apertures of his carriage… And now all the spaces before him had been displaced: the life of the man-in-the-street had suddenly surrounded him with archways and walls…. Apollon Apollonovich conceived an interest in the man-in-the-street, and there was a moment when he was ready to knock on the first door, in order to find him; but then he remembered that the man-in-the-street was preparing to do him to death in a most humiliating way…. Apollon Apollonovich knew from experience that they hated him (day and night he walked enveloped in the mist of their malice). But who were they? A negligible little bunch, noisome like them all?

                                      — Andrei Bely, Petersburg, Chapter Four, “Man-in-the-Street”

 

In the first three segments of this series on the İstanbul Metrobüs, I discussed the reason why the Metrobüs was truly revolutionary experiment in mass transportation. Then I mentioned that, despite the Metrobüs’s massive and positive effect on İstanbul transportation, segments of the Turkish press have remained determined to portray it in a wholly negative light, even as a failure.

The negative evaluation of the Metrobüs seems to have two main sources. First is the opposition’s intense and implacable hatred for anything that the AKP does. The Metrobüs is, in fact, an extremely successful system that has made the lives of millions of İstanbul’s residents easier, and the Greater İstanbul Municipality, under AKP Mayor Kadir Topbaş, constructed it. But you won’t see such an admission in the opposition press.  In essence, it remains psychologically impossible for the “secular” segment of Turkish society, i.e. those who consider themselves to be in possession of “civilization” in opposition to the rest of Turkish society, to admit that Those People can accomplish great things. This is also the essence of the same groups’ opposition to infrastructure projects such as the third bridge over the Bosphorus, the Marmaray subway tunnel under the Bosphorus, the bridge over the eastern end of the Sea of Marmara, bullet trains, the new İstanbul airport, etc. I can guarantee that, if it were the CHP sponsoring all of these projects, the “secular” groups in Turkish society would have absolutely no difficulty providing lavish praise.

This leads to the ultimate reason for complaints about the Metrobüs: social class. An important reality to keep in mind is that the Metrobüs benefits the working- and middle-classes. The upper classes already have cars and generally drive them (they can afford the gasoline, too), so they look on the Metrobüs from afar, with disdain… until the buses go speeding past them when they’re sitting in traffic on the E-5: “What? How can it be possible that the unwashed masses get faster transportation than us???” Few of İstanbul’s elites venture to actually get on the buses since that would mean rubbing elbows with their social inferiors. The opposition press and social media provide them plenty of excuses to not get on, too: overcrowding, the working classes’ poor personal hygiene, harassment of women, the rare petty crime. But a solution offered by the municipality, to provide specially-designated buses for women to use as an alternative, was met with screams of “sharia law!,” an expression of one of elite Turkish society’s psychoses.

The overall result is the original stream of negative coverage, and then a continuing malicious narrative that appears anytime a Metrobüs is involved in a mishap. When real solutions are suggested for real problems, the proposal is met with derision and clichéd Kemalist talking points. In ten years this has not changed.

To wrap up this short series of articles that ended up stretching over four months, I’d like to simply encourage foreign readers to try the Metrobüs when they have the chance. During morning and evening peak hours, it’ll be crowded, but other times of the day less so. In the end, you’ll get to where you’re going fast, which is the whole point.

Adam McConnel
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