x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Mayor tries to ease bane of the Bosphorus

The search for solutions to traffic problems in this city of 12 million people is a race that sometimes seems impossible to win.

Traffic jams are common on Istanbul's Bosphorus Bridge, one of only two bridges linking the European and Asian shores of the city.
Traffic jams are common on Istanbul's Bosphorus Bridge, one of only two bridges linking the European and Asian shores of the city.

ISTANBUL // For Sinem Sarioglu, crossing from one continent to the next is an every day experience, as she drives from her home on Istanbul's Asian side to her job in a business district in the European part of town, only a few kilometres away. By the time she gets home at night after spending three frustrating hours in traffic, that passage over the Bosphorus waterway really does feel like an epic journey, but not a pleasant one. "I have been doing this for 10 years, and it has become worse over time," Ms Sarioglu said. "The number of cars is increasing, and there are no car pools." Ms Sarioglu, 37, works at a credit insurance company in the business quarter of Esentepe. She gets up at 6am every weekday to cross one of Istanbul's two Bosphorus bridges, and she gets home at about 8.30pm. On a normal day, she is stuck in traffic for up to 90 minutes each way. If she is lucky, she catches an hour with her little son in the evening before he goes to sleep. In an effort to relieve pressures on commuters like Ms Sarioglu, Istanbul's authorities have unveiled new initiatives, ranging from sea taxis on the Bosphorus and tunnel projects to high-speed bus services on the motorways. The search for solutions to traffic problems in this city of 12 million people is a race that sometimes seems impossible to win, given that Turkey's economic boom has put money into more people's pockets in recent years. According to one count, 600 new cars are added to Istanbul's already overloaded road system every day. For Ms Sarioglu, that means ever longer hours in traffic jams. Her husband has to leave the house even earlier and spends even more time on the road, because he works in Cerkezkoy, a town west of Istanbul's European suburbs. They have two cars and pay hundreds of lira every month for petrol and other expenditures to keep them running. "My parking fees at work alone are 200 lira [Dh446] per month," Ms Sarioglu said. The family has considered moving to Istanbul's European side, but rents there are much higher than on the Asian shore. An estimated 1.7 million cars clog Istanbul's streets every day, carrying more than 5.5m people. Almost 200km of roads and dozens of new over- and underpasses were built in the city in recent years, but things keep getting worse. "All I do is listen to music and to the news," Ms Sarioglu said about her drive to and from work. The Bosphorus Bridge that Ms Sarioglu uses for her trip from Asia to Europe and back has an official daily capacity of 90,000 cars, but actually carries more than twice that number. The situation on the second Bosphorus toll bridge, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, named after the Ottoman sultan who conquered Constantinople, today's Istanbul, in the 15th century, is not much better. There are plans by the central Turkish government in Ankara to build a third motorway bridge over the Bosphorus. Kadir Topbas, Istanbul's mayor who faces local elections next spring, has spent much of his time recently presenting new traffic projects, one of which is the Metrobus, a bus service that operates on special lanes to cut through traffic more easily and shorten commutes. The Metrobus service, which has been operating since last month on Istanbul's European side, is soon to be extended to the Asian part of the city with a connection over one of the Bosphorus bridges. Ms Sarioglu hopes the Metrobus will help her. "That could be a solution for me," she said. But she said she would have to wait and see if connections from her home to the nearest Metrobus stop would be practical enough to make her leave the car at home. Meanwhile, Mr Topbas's administration has also been trying to get some traffic off the roads and on to the Bosphorus. Dozens of ferries travel between different points of the city every day, but earlier this year, Mr Topbas introduced the sea taxi for travellers who are willing to pay higher prices to get to their destination quicker and who would otherwise have to take a taxi on land. With a sea taxi, which can carry 10 people, passengers can cross the Bosphorus in only six minutes, a journey that could take more than an hour if they had to go via one of the bridges. A ticket for that trip costs 32 lira (Dh69), much more than a regular ferry or a bus, but still less than a taxi ride over the bridge. Despite the stiff prices, the first four sea taxis were overwhelmed by demand when they were first launched in August. In the first 10 days of service, almost 1,700 requests for sea taxis were registered, but only 441 could be answered by the boats. The number of boats, which operate around the clock and are directed to one of 27 jetties in the city after passengers put in a request to a call centre, is to be increased to 25 next year. "I recommend this to everyone, both in the name of saving Istanbul from its traffic confusion and in the name of a happy and high-quality journey," Gonul Kaya, a first-time sea taxi passenger, told the Turkish news agency Anadolu. At the same time, work is continuing to connect Istanbul's Asian and European sides by rail via a tunnel under the Sea of Marmara. The "Marmaray" project is set to be completed within three years and will be able to carry 75,000 passengers an hour by the time the line reaches its full capacity in 2015. Still, Istanbul's metro system is badly underdeveloped for a city of its size. "They are trying, but there's not much they can do," Ms Sarioglu said about the efforts of the city authorities. "Planning should have started 25 years ago." tseibert@thenational.ae