Istanbul's water cabs

by Agence-France Presse, Sep 9, 2009 | Destinations: Turkey

Although they are newcomers to the transport sector in Turkey's biggest city Istanbul, water cabs have proven a big hit, especially with the upper classes, since they began ferrying on the Bosphorus Strait two months ago.

Until the water cabs, the 13 million inhabitants of Istanbul thought they had tried everything -- from buses and trams to ferries and funicular railways -- in a bid to escape the huge traffic jams in the sprawling city which has only two bridges connecting its European and Asian sides.

It was the ingenuity of a Turkish company, Teknomar, which put the cabs into service on July 26, building and operating them for the municipal maritime transport company IDO.

The 11-meter-long and 4.3-meter-wide catamarans (36 by 14 feet), built in an Istanbul shipyard, can hold up to 10 passengers each. They work as ordinary cabs with a payment for each nautical mile and a call centre to request a boat to the quay of one's choice.

"This is a unique operation in the world," said Alphan Manas, board chairman of Brightwell, a Netherlands-based Turkish company which owns Teknomar.

"To my knowledge, nowhere else in the world is there a pay-per-mile system and cabs which do not have a timetable," he added.

'This is transportation for the rich'

The operation began with only four boats, but it soon became clear they were not enough to deal with the flood of calls. The call centre received 6,250 calls in 50 days and only 1,750 of those callers were provided with a cab.

Two more cabs have since joined the fleet and IDO plans to have a dozen cabs by the end of the year and 25 by the end of 2009.

"There is a significant number demands from businessmen and women who do not want to be tied down by a timetable fixed in advance to go to the airport for example," explained Kerem Arsan, a marketing expert at IDO.

"This is a bit of a transportation for the rich. It is not cheap, but we provide quick and a la carte service," he said.

With the meter opening at 15 Turkish liras (8.3 euros, 12 dollars) and with 10 extra liras for each nautical mile, the water cab is not for every budget.

The price did not scare Ahmet Filiz and his sister Hafize, who took a cab from Ortakoy, on the city's European shore, to Kuzguncuk on the Asian side to make it to a gathering with friends.

"As we were late for our appointment, we called a sea cab. The trip will last around 10 to 15 minutes whereas it would have taken us more than one hour by road," said Ahmet, 27, who works in the management department of a holdings company.

"I might not use it everyday but, in case of need, I will definitely not look at the expense," said the young man who paid some 45 Turkish liras for the journey.

Teknomar dreams of having a fleet of 75 to 100 cabs one day and is also looking into new projects.

"We are in talks with bus companies transporting students from one side of the Bosphorus to the other," Manas said. "We are also holding discussions with big brands to run services to bring clients to their shops."

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