Istanbul’s taxi shortage drives people mad

Text and picture by Daniël Reusink –

Istanbul is dealing with a big shortage of taxis. For some inhabitants it is a daily struggle to fight, sometimes literally, for a cab. Taxis in Istanbul are a popular mode of transportation because of their flexibility to travel through the crowded city. Despite the high demand for taxis, the taxi companies and the taxi union have been unwilling to expand their fleet since the .

When comparing the number of taxis with other big cities it becomes clear how small the number of taxis truly is in Istanbul. According to the Istanbul Municipality Planning Agency (IPA), Istanbul has one of the lowest cab densities in the world with only 1 taxi per 1000 people. Istanbul has a population of 18 million people and 18.000 taxis. Buenos Aires has a population of 15 million people and 38.000 cabs. Honk Kong has 7.5 million inhabitants and has around 18.000 cabs. The past 30 years, Istanbul’s population has doubled, meanwhile the number of cabs has not changed. Altan Bayar from the IPA said ‘’everybody sees that we need more taxis. The Istanbul Taxi Drivers Tradesmen’s Association (ITEO) has, with the support of the AKP stopped all attempts to increase the number of taxis.

The municipality has tried to raise the number of taxis for years but have so far failed. Recently the municipality proposed plans to increase the number of taxis first by 5.000, and later by a thousand but both proposals did not come to fruition. The idea was to lease those 5.000 licenses by the municipality. Which is a difference with the current system where the ITEO trades with the licenses. Other viable solutions like Uber and similar organizations have been banned in Istanbul, due to pressure from the İTEO. The ITEO is the biggest reason there have not been increases in the number of cabs. Yara who is a  spokesperson for the ITEO said, ‘’there is no shortage of cabs, the problem is that the infrastructure is not good enough and there is too much traffic.’’

Canberk (25) lives and works in Istanbul. He lives in the north of the city and works in an office building near Zorlu Center in Besiktas. According to Canberk, getting a cab is a struggle each day. Hundreds of people trying to get a taxi to get to work on time. As a result, he sees people overbidding each other for cabs and sometimes even physically fighting for a taxi. For the people who need a cab it is a daily source of frustration. Bilgi student Bahri (22) even said, “The taxi shortage is one of the biggest problems in Istanbul.”

According to multiple reports there is a big difference in accessibility if you are a native, or a tourist. The taxi drivers prefer tourists because they can ask them higher prices and take longer routes according to research by news platform the Middle Eastern Eye. The drivers are unwilling to drive short distances or to places where there are traffic issues. This unwillingness does not come from greed but is more a necessity for the drivers to make ends meet.

One sad example is the story of a mother and here baby. The young child got seriously injured and had to be taken to the hospital and according to the clinic a taxi would be the quickest mode of transport. Sadly, taxis rejected them because they lift in a street that was hard to access and the trip was not worth the money.

Despite the taxi shortage and having plenty of rides each day, the taxi drivers personally do not seem to profit that much from the shortage. The cost to buy a taxi car with correct license plate was around 2 million Turkish Lira, or around 300.000 euro, in 2020. To afford this the taxi drivers have to pay the owner of the taxi hundreds of Lira each day, this is added up to other business expenses like gas and insurance. Because of the inflation it is even harder to make ends meet each month for the taxi drivers.

During a taxi ride from Taksim square to Besiktas, taxi driver Ali said, ‘’I am always busy, I want to work more but I cannot work for more than 12 hours each day.’’  So even though the taxi drivers have enough work and earn a good amount of money with all those rides. After paying for all the cost they do not end up with that much. With most of the money going to the big taxi companies, who are protected by the ITEO.