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Istanbul commuters skeptical of transit change

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 7/16/2010 12:00:00 AM | SEVİM SONGÜN

The key-sized electronic passes carried faithfully by Istanbul public-transit patrons are being phased out in favor of a scannable card, leaving many riders wondering why.

The key-sized electronic passes carried faithfully by Istanbul public-transit patrons are being phased out in favor of a scannable card, leaving many riders wondering why the change is being made and where the extra money is going.

“This is only being done to let some people earn money out of nothing. Nothing has changed for us,” one rider said Tuesday while waiting at a bus stop in the city’s Eminönü district, a busy transit hub. The 68-year-old retiree, who declined to give his name, said he had paid 10 Turkish Liras to get one of the new transit cards across the Golden Horn in Karaköy.

“If I give my Akbil back, I will get six liras in return, but they will be earning four liras from each of us. And for what service?” the man told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

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The price difference is due to the extra features offered by the card system, which can be used for more purposes, Hayri Baraçlı, the general manager of the municipality’s Istanbul Public Transport Authority, or İETT, said at a press conference Tuesday. According to a written statement by the municipality, the “city cards” have already been distributed to up to 750,000 of the 1 million people who previously used discount Akbils.

Like the Akbil, the new cards can be used on all of the city’s various public-transportation vehicles, including buses, the metro, the tramway, ferries and sea buses, Baraçlı said. “The contactless cards will be able to be used to pay parking-lot charges and to shop at some points, and some citizens will benefit from social and cultural services thanks to these cards,” he added.

Introduced in April 1995, Akbils are small stainless-steel “buttons” containing a computer chip and embedded in a small piece of plastic that can be attached to a key ring. Passengers can load money onto the devices for pre-paid travel. The new cards work in a similar way; riders can load them with funds that are deducted each time they pass the card in front of a machine on a bus, at a metro stop or in a ferry terminal.

Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality officials said Akbils will remain in circulation, but people using the discount versions – including students, teachers, the disabled and people over 60 years old – are being asked to turn their Akbils in and replace them with the new cards by Sept. 30. According to Baraçlı, the use of Akbils will continue until the total number of users drops into the thousands. More than 7 million Akbils have been issued in Istanbul and around 4 million of them are actively used.

Akbils can be exchanged for contactless cards at four İETT offices around the city: in Karaköy and Topkapı on the European side, and Hasanpaşa and Pendik on the Anatolian side. People over the age of 60 who apply for one of the cards online can receive them in the mail.

Riders surveyed by the Daily News were divided on whether they thought the new system was an improvement over the old, although most said they found the change to be unnecessary and a waste of money.

Istanbul resident Mehmet Yersiz, 55, said he has gotten used to the Akbil and does not want to change the way he gets around, adding that he has used a regular Akbil without it getting broken or lost for some 15 years now.

“It’s easy to carry an Akbil; I use it as my key holder and I don’t forget it at home or lose it,” said Gülsüm Beşerli, another Istanbul resident who is against the new system.

Some students, however, said they preferred the new cards, which they say are easier to carry in their wallets. Onur Karakuş, a student at Istanbul Technical University, said the new system will not create a big change for him, but added that he prefers the card over the Akbil since it is easier to carry. Student Ruşen Şeyda Çakmak, 19, agreed, saying she is accustomed to using cards for various purposes and favors the new system over the Akbil.

Berhan Şimşek, the Istanbul chairman of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, has meanwhile announced that the party will file a lawsuit against the magnetic-card system as soon as it receives the official notification of the municipality’s decision to make the switch, the Doğan news agency reported Tuesday.

Answering questions from the press following his announcement about a new metro line in Istanbul, Mayor Kadir Topbaş criticized the CHP for its plans, saying the main opposition party had opposed the Akbil when it was instituted and is now fighting the new system, daily Vatan reported Friday.

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