Istanbul’s Metrobüs bus rapid transit system receives international recognition from sustainable transport experts

Source: WRI Ross Center for Sustainble Cities (March 31, 2015)

Metrobüs receives BRT standard silver rating, still eyes room for improvement

Istanbul's Metrobüs bus rapid transit (BRT) system serves 800,000 people daily and reduces time spent traveling by 52 minutes for the average rider. Photo by Adriana/Flickr.
Istanbul’s Metrobüs bus rapid transit (BRT) system serves 800,000 people daily and reduces time spent traveling by 52 minutes for the average rider. Photo by Adriana/Flickr.

Istanbul’s Metrobüs bus rapid transit (BRT) system serves 800,000 people daily and reduces time spent traveling by 52 minutes for the average rider. Photo by Adriana/Flickr.

In 2007, Istanbul added the Metrobüs bus rapid transit (BRT) system to its multimodal transport network. Initially stretching 18.2 km between the city’s Avcılar and Topkapı districts, the BRT corridor has since tripled in length to 52 km and today carries more than 800,000 passengers every day according to public transport operator IETT. Currently, Metrobüs is the most used BRT system in Europe and one of the fastest, with an operating speed of 35 km/h.

At the request of IETT, EMBARQ partnered with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) to evaluate the city’s BRT system using the BRT Standard—a standardized range of metrics for assessing BRT corridors worldwide. The reviewers recognized Metrobüs as a Silver-standard BRT corridor—the second highest possible rating.

Paving the way for Metrobüs’s success

In a megacity like Istanbul, residents depend heavily on public transport. Metrobüs provides 24/7 service along a high demand corridor that connects two continents. Metrobüs saves the average user 52 minutes every day compared to other modes of transport. Furthermore, according to a 2010 IETT survey, 70.8 percent of BRT riders in Istanbul choose Metrobüs because it is fast and unaffected by traffic congestion.

In its evaluation under the BRT standard, the Metrobüs corridor received a final score of 70 points out of 100. This score indicates that the system includes most elements of international best practice and reflects the quality of the bus lane design, the number and length of routes, the information services offered, and the integration with other modes of transport like metro, light rail, conventional buses, and minibuses. One unique characteristic of Metrobüs is its long station design, which allows for five individual buses to dock simultaneously. This design feature makes Metrobüs the highest-capacity single-lane BRT in the world, serving 30,000 passengers per hour in each direction.

Room for improvement

However, challenges persist, particularly with regards to passenger overcrowding and buses docking too far from platforms to be boarded safely. Focusing on the following areas can further improve Metrobüs and support its growth into a world-leading sustainable transport system:

  • Ensure universal accessibility: IETT has made an effort to provide ramps and elevators for people with limited mobility, but there are still barriers in several stations.
  • Improve docking and safety: Buses often stop far from the platform, creating a safety risk for those boarding. Improving docking will require crowd control measures since many people often stand too close to the platform edge, putting themselves and others at risk. Furthermore, driver training, better supervision of driving practices, and additional signage in stations can improve safety.
  • Improve bicycle integration: IETT allows riders to bring bikes on buses for free during off-peak hours and at an extra fare during peak hours. However, there are very few safe bike parking facilities near BRT stations. Future development of cycling infrastructure and bike share stations near Metrobüs terminals will improve last mile connectivity.
  • Enhance operational control: IETT has an advanced control center for managing bus operations, including BRT. Despite this, buses are still dispatched manually instead of relying on more accurate, real-time monitoring.

Station connectivity and safety improvements require significant investment and reducing overcrowding may prove difficult given the current infrastructure. New metro lines currently under construction should help accomodate high user demand by providing commuters another public transport option. Still, many people will continue to rely on Metrobüs. Transport authorities may encounter difficulties in increasing BRT capacity, as doing so would require building bus lanes in areas lacking the physical space needed for expansion.

Small but critical steps to improving Metrobüs already underway

Since 2008, EMBARQ Turkey has worked with the city of Istanbul to improve safety and accessibility on the Metrobüs system. Following recommendations from EMBARQ Turkey and road safety experts at Consia Consultants, IETT finished implementing a wave of improvements for pedestrian safety and access to Metrobüs in 2012. These improvements included the separation of boarding and exiting areas, new stop and go signals, new bollards, and speed limit signs.

Although these changes to Metrobüs design and operations have been incremental, they are continuously adding and reinforcing positive outcomes. According to data obtained from IETT, for example, it is estimated that at least five fatal accidents are prevented every year as a result of the safety and accessibility focused improvements.

While Metrobüs has already received a silver rating from the BRT standard, city officials and transport operators are still eyeing potential improvements. IETT has expressed interest in enhancing the current corridor and even expanding the BRT network to more areas of the city. These improvements will reinforce Metrobüs as a sustainable mobility option and ensure safe access and connectivity within this vibrant megacity.