DOUCET: Istanbul transit is for the dogs

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The Istanbul transit system is probably impossible for an Ottawa transitway planner to ever imagine, but as I hear the tram bell ring from my hotel room, I can’t help giving it the old college try.

Imagine this. The Ottawa O train has a dedicated rail line and one train arrives at the station every 20 minutes, that’s about 300 people max every 20 minutes.  The Istanbul I line goes through the centre of Istanbul is not on a dedicated line.  It shares the roadway with other vehicles, but the tram arrives every 60 seconds, and it is double hitched.  Double hitched means it’s the equivalent of two O trains every time it arrives at the station.  So every 60 seconds, the I line carries the same number of people as O train carries in 40 minutes.

The total number of passengers the I line carries each day is greater than Ottawa’s downtown busway – on a shared, not dedicated line.

How could that possibly be? I can hear the Ottawa transit planner bark.  As an Ottawa guy, I can’t help but agree. It can’t possibly be correct.  I have seen a dog lie down on the Istanbul tramway line in the dead centre of Istanbul and the driver be obliged to slow down and ring his bell before the dog would move.  I’ve seen a young man park his honking, black SUV in the middle of the tramway, waiting for his girlfriend, the tramway driver had to stop the tram, get out onto the street and yell at the driver, the driver still wouldn’t move, so the tram driver shrugged, got back in the tram and started to roll very slowly and very deliberately straight for the SUV.  The SUV moved.

So how can a shared surface tramway line carry so many people?  When every Ottawa Transit Planner knows you must have the tram line separate from traffic or even better a tunnel under the street.  Well, the reality is you don’t.  What you do need is frequency of service and capacity.  Both of which Istanbul has.  Every 60 seconds a double hitched Bombardier pulls up at a station it’s the equivalent of ten Ottawa buses.  How many buses is that every hour?

What you also need is efficiency of loading and unloading.  Both of which Istanbul has.  Every Istanbul tram stop has a separated platform which has turnstiles and is policed.  No one gets on an Istanbul tram that doesn’t pay and the tram stop and starts at each surface station with subway type speed.  Compare this to Ottawa bus stops.  Lots of non compliance and loading/unloading so slow that riders need a newspaper to pass the time.

The third thing you need is no parking on streets with tram lines.  Outside of the tram stop which is on a separated platform in the middle of the street, trams can share the road with buses, cars, bicycles, motorbikes, but drivers shuttling around looking for curb side  parking spots are simply too great an impediment to the flow of all traffic. Thus, there’s no curb parking on Istanbul streets with tram routes.

To Review:  Frequency.  Capacity.  Efficient stations. Policing.  No curb parking.  That’s it.  That’s all. It ain’t complicated and it works.

The idea that you could have available a six lane road through the city and not install a successful surface tramline service with greater capacity than Ottawa’s present busway when Istanbul does it with four lanes would be seem as ludicrous to an Istanbuli transit planner- as a dog lying down on the tramway line does to an Ottawa transit planner.

I’ll take the dog.


  1. Hear, hear, or should we say here, here!

  2. This piece makes a nonsense comparison to O-Train which basically runs under most of the rules that a mile-long freight train does. However, it should be required reading at the Toronto Transit Commission and the hidebound comrades at the Roads Department and Police Service who refuse to do what must be done to prioritise surface transit.

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