Istanbul runs out of public transport passes amid pandemic concerns

Istanbulites are used to buses breaking down and smothering crowds on public transport, but transport in Turkey’s most populous city, one of the country’s worst in terms of traffic jams, is facing a new crisis.

Long queues have formed outside the centers to recharge and renew public transport passes, known as Istanbulkart, as the municipality recognizes a shortage of passes. Municipality officials say the crisis is linked to the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced authorities to issue exclusive passes for each individual passenger.

Since January, it has been mandatory for Istanbulkart holders to match their Life Fits Into Home (Hayat Eve Sığar – HES) code with their cards. HES, an app developed by the Ministry of Health, provides access to an individual’s health information and whether they are infected with the deadly disease. Although an online update is available for existing cards, getting a new pass is now a challenge for those who don’t have one.

Municipal kiosks where passes can be obtained are limited in number. When people try to get a card through automated machines installed in public transport hubs, they encounter a message saying “no Istanbulkart is available”.

Yücel Karadeniz, director of a municipality’s e-payment company that oversees pass procurement, said he recently issued a tender for the purchase of 1.5 million new passes. Karadeniz told the Demirören News Agency (DHA) on Thursday that the problem stemmed from the new exclusivity rule.

“More than one person could use Istanbulkart before, but the practice of HES code has made it personalized only for one person’s use. So we have seen an increase in demand for cards,” he said.

“Our usual quantity of card supplies was 4.5 million every year, but this year we had to supply around 6.5 million new passes,” he said. Karadeniz said they also needed to limit sales of new passes to outlets rather than automated machines to prevent ‘fraud’, citing fraudsters buying cards in bulk and selling them to people without HES codes. .

Muhammet Eren Saygın, who was among those waiting to get a new pass outside a kiosk, said he had recently arrived in Istanbul and was unable to buy an Istanbulkart. “I couldn’t get around by public transport and had to take a taxi. It cost me dearly. You cannot buy Istanbulkart everywhere. Automated machines only give one pass and you can’t match your HES code,” he complained.

The shortage was particularly depressing for students at a time when education is in person. Ebrar Turan said she had to travel to Yenibosna neighborhood from Fatih district, more than 10 kilometers (6 miles) away, to get a pass from a kiosk there. “And now I have to wait in line for another half hour. There should be more places where we can get passes,” she told Ihlas News Agency (IHA).

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Melvin Z. Madore