As BoltBus starts up 4x a day bus service between Seattle and Portland, building on QuickCoach‘s 7x a day service between Seattle and Vancouver BC, it might be a good time to look at a country with inter-city bus travel that really works.  I’ve already looked at Istanbul’s wide array of travel options, now let’s consider the best way to get between cities in Turkey.

Ankara Bus Terminal, Tomek Türkiyede

Behold the Ankara bus terminal, in the capital of Turkey.  There are dozens (hundreds?) of long-distance bus companies in Turkey, each one providing a similar service.  Every city and town in the country has a bus terminal, with a similar configuration: buses outside of small storefronts of different bus companies, each advertising destinations, departure times, and prices.  Walk past the storefronts until you find a good deal for your destination, walk in and buy a ticket, and board your bus. 

Onboard, you can generally expect clean comfortable seats, the bus equivallent of a flight attendant, a bathroom, a moist towel to clean your hands, a lemon scented perfume or hand sanitizer (I could never quite figure this out), a cellophane-wrapped biscuit, a cup of Nescafe or tea, a restroom, and a low-budget Turkish movie playing on a TV screen.  If the journey is long enough, your bus will stop at a large rest area with an inexpensive restaurant.  The bus will likely be direct routed only between city bus stations, though it will in practice stop several times in a traffic lane of a major freeway and let people off, to climb over a fence toward their destination. 

It’s not a huge mystery that Turkey has this massive long-distance bus network.  Their trains are not fast or efficient, car ownership is comparatively low (9.8M passenger cars for 74.7M people, compared to our 238M for our 313M people), and they’re not rich enough to fly very often ($14.5k/person median per-capita GDP).  The question is: can we replicate something like this here?  As the price of fuel rises and driving rates drop, maybe BoltBus and QuickCoach are signs of the future.

(note: all numbers from Wikipedia)

36 Replies to “Long Distance Buses in Turkey”

  1. Argentina has something similar (they do have trains, but they are unreliable for intercity trips, and the equipment is in bad shape). The buses are very comfortable and some of them are even sleepers for overnight journeys.

    One of the odd things (for me) was how briefly the buses stay before heading out, like 15 minutes to load all on board.

    One difference between Argentina and Turkey is the vastness of the country. A trip from Buenos Aires to Mendoza or Iguazu Falls is like 20 hours. That’s more on the scale of the distance from Seattle to LA or Chicago. I think that’s just too long for Americans. Buses could work to go from Chicago to St. Louis, but not to Seattle.

    1. Yes. I see bus networks working well for the same distance scale that will someday be real HSR. For us that’s to Portland and Vancouver, and maybe Spokane if there’s ever enough demand. Portland to Sacramento would be the big jump out of our region, but that’s a long trip (~8 hours, 400 miles) and really wouldn’t be popular enough to happen unless/until flight prices (via fuel prices) really shoot upward. HSR would really be the way to go at that point, if we could get together the political will to build it.

      Turkey is a good 500 miles across, but I’m not sure there are any buses running that whole stretch in one shot.

    2. I did both of the trips you mentioned – Mendoza and Iguazu from B.A. and They were fine because the seat reclines basically down into an almost flat bed. They also give you dinner, beverages and movies to watch. I thought the buses in Brasil were even better than Argentina – they had newer coaches at the time (2005). The roads in both countries were spotty – some nice new highways, but some almost dirt road sections – and on the way to Mendoza I noticed several highway interchanges where they had failed to actually build any interchange at all, there was just a bridge to carry one road over the other and worn dirt paths up and down the embankments where vehicles would go from one highway to the other. My longest bus trip was ~50 hours Mexico City to Tijuana. I would not recommend it if you have any other option available.

  2. No need to go that far east, Mexico works great as an example; though I now want to visit Turkey more since seeing your post. Whether one is staying Quintana Roo or Chihuahua on the opposite end of the country, it is easy to go from one part to another, and in many different class levels no less.

    Their train service was equally impressive at one time, now only one single train remains to carry common folk, the Chepe.

    1. The Vincente Fox privatization/looting of the Mexican railway system, also actively pushed by President G. W. Bush, was one of the worse things to happen to Mexico in recent decades. We can hope that other countries will take heed and see that it’s not a good model to follow.

  3. I agree with Anthony about Mexico–fabulous bus connections everywhere and it is a big country.

  4. The price of fuel in real terms is not going to keep rising. In fact, natural gas is a historically very low prices now. Buses can easily run on natural gas, as can trucks and cars.

    Bus travel is becoming much more popular very quickly in the U.S. One of the best things about it is that services like Bolt Bus require ZERO tax subsidies. In fact, these companies actually PAY TAXES!

    Hopefully, this will be one of the waves of the future, as more and more people realize the insanely expensive public transit systems we are building in this area are totally unsustainable. The close to $1.5 billion wasted on Metro and Sound Transit combined every year is an absolute travesty, and an unforgiveable waste of money.

    1. Norman, your intentional lack of truthfulness is so obnoxious. I’m all about free speech, but misinformation/innuendo/misldeading conclusions ought to be grounds for being banned. Obviously, the writers here only allow you to post because they want to show that they’re above this sort of nonsense….Anyway, you know that the very reason why natural gas prices are so low in the US is because it was a warm winter and demand was at serious lows. Additionally, the was an over-abundance of extraction in recent oil fields and other extraction points.

      Also, your tirade against transit is unsurprising, but very disgusting.

      1. The Natgas price collapse has very little to do with the warmer than average winter. The affects diesel fuel prices because of refinery capacity but even diesel is priced relatively high right now with respect to gasoline. Natgas is historically low because of huge new supply that has come on line to the point that we’re almost out of room to store the stuff. Every report I’ve read expects the price to remain low for years or until demand increases. Replacing coal powered electricity generation will happen because of enviromental regulation but coal is also cheap energy. Most people that can heat with gas already do and building out new pipelines will take years. Commercial vehicle fleets are are also going to take years to switch over because vehicles last for many years and the infrastructure is expensive. Vehicles can be retro fitted but that’s less than optimum and also expensive. Plus companies want to see long term price trends.

    2. Problem is, Norman, that buses have to run on pavement. In the case of intercity buses, specifically, they have to run on an interstate highway system that’s currently coming to the end of its design life, and falling apart.

      A highway system, incidentally, that would have been known as history’s largest piece of socialism if it weren’t, possibly legitimately, billed as a defense project.

      Given all present circumstances, our national survival might depend on rebuilding our national transportation system so that it carries trains as well as buses and cars.

      The socialism is a precedent established by Dwight Eisenhower, who also set precedent for nutcases calling him a socialist. For speed and capacity needed now, trains are probably cheaper.

      Just about every night, I ride the 511 southbound on I-5. Coming by Northgate, for years the pavement has been so bad the ride quality is below what any railroad would dare offer. First-world country deserves better.

      Mark Dublin

      1. That is because ST is wasting so much money on their little toy trains that carry almost nobody, that not enough money is being spent to maintain our highway system. Transit is destroying our roads, which are the backbone of our economy.

      2. Even you know you’re spouting bullshit, Norman. You’ve been schooled on road costs before.

    3. So far, the Bolt/chinatown buses have shown interest only in major tourist destinations the size of Seattle, Portland, SF, and LA. But not Portland-SF; I can’t think of any precedent for one that far. Seattle-Spokane is the right distance but not a big enough tourist draw. Of course, distances are further in the West, and Bolt may realize it just has to do Portland-San Francisco. But so far there’s no sign of it. And with the 10-hours-or-overnight minimum it would require, it would cost as much as a regular Greyhound.

  5. The bus station in Ankara is called Aşti (Aash-tee). The lemon “perfume” is actually alcohol, usually 80% lemon alcohol (limon kolonyasi) — hold your hands out to have it dispensed, rub your hands together, and rub your neck. :)

    In my experience, buses in Turkey are necessary because of the lack of train service. Trains have a very hard time reaching the southern coast because of the mountainous region right before the coast — they can’t navigate the grade. I know they’ve started to invest in rail, but only between Ankara and Istanbul.

    I want to type a comparison up about the train station in Madrid (both the Avenida de Americas and Principe Pio stops), but I don’t have the time right now. :( Those stops are the epitome of how to fit full bus stations into already crowded areas by putting them underground (and in many cases, underground major intersections).

    As an aside, Turkey has the unique attribute of having vehicles called dolmuş. These frequently-leaving vans serve set routes in the city, leave termini when at least half-full, and stop at arbitrary locations on the route to board and deboard passengers. It’s tough with regulation to make something like that work stateside, but these dolmuşes are very convenient (and cheapish!).

    1. I can see a parallel with Thailand. Bangkok has three major intercity bus terminals, for buses to the south, north, and east. You can find a bus that goes to every corner of the country from there and it gets really crowded during the Thai new year when everyone’s returning to their family. The train system has been really neglected by corruption and poor management. There have been talks about HSR but I’ll believe it when it opens for service.

      Bangkok also has a public van transit system. It’s a popular choice for commuters since a lot of the vans run express point-to-point. And then there’s the SongThaew, which is basically a pickup truck with two rows of seats in the back, that functions as a neighborhood circulator to transit hubs.

    2. Actually, Turkey’s built a fast Ankara-Konya line as well, and is upgrading the short Bulgaria-Istanbul line too.

      There does seem to be great difficulty getting train lines across that line of mountains around the south and west coasts. But they’re planning for a line to Izmir anyway.

      The government of Turkey has recognized that further economic development is being held back by a lack of passenger train service.

      1. FYI, I’ve been paying attention to the “Justice and Development Party” which runs Turkey — and my conclusion is that the emphasis is very much on “Development”. It’s run by genuinely competent industrialists. This business-dominant approach to government will get them into trouble eventually, but at the moment they’re still in the “industrial” phase of business and haven’t degenerated into the “financial” phase of business like so much of the “West”.

  6. I lost my taste for intercity buses in the 50s. Seeing the picture of that gawd awful bus terminal in Turkey just about makes me want to …

  7. Last year I read greyhound was being evicted from their terminal in Seattle. Is that still happening and does anyone know where they’ll go if it is?

    1. A 51(!) story hotel was planned for the site, but construction was placed on hold. The developer just bought a piece of the block yesterday, so it looks like they’re dusting off the plans and getting ready to build.

      1. Thanks for the info. It will be interesting to see how this all works out. I really hope Greyhound can find an area close to King Street Station. 51 stories! That will be something to see!

    2. The King Street stakeholders have repeatedly invited Greyhound to join a multimodal terminal but Greyhound refused up until its own site was endangered. Given that many other Greyhound stations colocate with train stations, I’m pretty sure Greyhound will move to King Street if at all possible. Although if there’s a reprieve on its current site it might wait longer.

  8. I’ve said it again and again. We need a comprehensive semi-state or public organisation to carry this out. Bus Éireann (Irish Bus) is incredibly handy and has been working better over the years with its sister organisation Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail). There’s almost no part of the country that isn’t linked into Bus Éireann and frequency is fairly good, especially in national Express routes.

      1. I’m not familiar with Thruway. But, Bus Eireann and Iarnrod Eireann are part of Coras Iompair Eireann, which includes Dublin Bus as well. The model is essentially intercity rail, intercity bus service, local/regional bus service, and select cities with city-focused bus service. Not all the timetables or perfectly timetabled, but in most instances the national Express (intercity) bus service does not compete with the train–at least in terms of time. Train is always faster. I would say that is perhaps one problem with Bus Eireann as other providers have popped up for more express intercity bus service. Bus Eireann could certainly offer competitive service to the other private companies as it is exempt from road tax and tolls (or historically was, can’t say for sure now, weird shenanigans since the insane European competition rules for public transportation–that thing needs to die).

      2. Thruway buses go where trains don’t, or fill in gaps in the frequency, so that you can transfer from a train to Vancouver BC, Port Angeles, Walla Walla, Cannon Beach OR, Corvallis OR, and between the Bay Area and SoCal regional trains. (Amtrak timetables with thruway connections.)

  9. Honest, not sarcastic question: What is Greyhound doing still in business? It’s not like they act like they want to be running passenger service. Is somebody making them do it? Or are they getting some really lucrative privilege in return for doing it?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Greyhound has an absolute lock on the low-cost long-distance travel market, and they have massive coverage.

      Greyhound will get you between pretty much any 2 freeway-accessible cities, for a price which is generally competitive with the fuel costs of making the same trip in a new single-occupant economy car. If you don’t own an economy car, don’t trust the elderly, low MPG car you do own, or simply aren’t comfortable driving long distances that’s a pretty compelling option.

      It’s not a huge market, but it’s a market that’s not going away. As long as people want to get from one place to another, and can’t afford to care how long it takes, Greyhound will have customers. They will never go out of business.

      1. And we are talking bottom-of-the-barrel low cost. Greyhound already went bankrupt once, in 2001 I believe. I presume they’ll have to increase their prices every time fuel prices go up, but it’ll still be cheaper than driving a car, so they’ll probably be able to avoid bankruptcy for a while by catering to the bottom of the market.

    1. We already have 160+ direct services daily (weekday) from Kent to Seattle. There’s plenty of entertainment if you’re willing to catch the 150. And you have dozens of alternatives to boot. There’s no way that Bolt Bus could compete with that. Feel free to catch one of those. It’s free if you have a PugetPass. What’s better than free?

Comments are closed.