Istanbul Kart (Istanbul Card) is in essence an all-round public transportation boarding pass. To immediately answer the question raised in the title: yes it is worth getting one if you plan to use (the advantages of) public transportation multiple times during your stay in Istanbul. So, unless you prefer to do everything on foot or take a taxi to get around, please do continue reading to find out where to get it, how to use it, and the advantages it has.
What is Istanbul Kart?
The card was introduced in 2009. It’s a contact less or RFID (Radio-frequency identification) card for public transportation fare payment. It has the exact same size as a regular credit card, so it fits perfectly in your wallet. The card is pre-paid and easily rechargeable.
The Advantages of Istanbul Kart
There are quite a few advantages to getting an Istanbul Kart as opposed to buying tokens or ticket every time you’re going to use public transportation.
- Multi-Purpose — This single card enables you to pay for multiple types of transportation: buses, metros, ferries, funiculars, and tramways (yes, even the nostalgic one running on Istiklal Caddesi). Moreover, most of these transportation types no longer accept cash payments, so you’ll have to buy some kind of token or ticket before boarding anyway.
- Pre-Paid — Istanbul Kart is a prepaid and rechargeable card. This means that you don’t have to stand in line (and maybe miss the bus or tram) to get a valid boarding pass every time you plan to make use of public transportation. And uploading more credits can be done at designated machines, most of the times without a queue in front of you.
- Ease of Use — It is not necessary to bring the Istanbul Kart in contact with the reader. You can pay for your fare by ‘waving’ the smart card within 8 cm (3.1 in) of the reader. In most cases you don’t even have to take it out of your wallet, purse or light hand bag. Upon making a successful payment, the reader will make a sound and the screen will light up showing the amount left on the card. In case of insufficient funds, the screen will read Kontör Yetersiz.
- Multiple Travelers — There is no need to buy multiple cards since one Istanbul Kart can be used for up to 5 passengers. After paying the fare for the first passenger, let him or her hop on or pass through the turnpike, wait a few seconds, and again wave the card in front of the reader.
- Discounts — By using the card, you already benefit from a 10% discount over the normal fare. Instead of paying 2 TL per ride, you pay 1.95. And there is more. You can make up until five transfers/connections within a two hour period, and you’ll pay less for every transfer, already only 1.25 TL for the first transfer.
Where to Get an Istanbul Kart
The easiest way to get the Istanbul Kart is at major transit stops such as Taksim, Eminönü, Sultanahmet, Beyazıt/Kapalı Çarşı (Grand Bazaar), etc. Beware though; you can’t buy them at the airport. I know, it doesn’t make any sense at all, but it’s the way it is. The closest place to the airport where you can obtain them currently is Zeytinburnu. To buy an Istanbul Kart, you need to give a refundable 10 TL deposit, and of course an amount of your choice to load onto the card.
How to Reload the Istanbul Kart
To reload the card, you can either go to newsstands and small shops (look for the phrase Akbil Dolum Noktası) which offer this service, use self-service special purpose machines at major transit stations. The machines accept notes of 5, 10, 20, and 50 TL and have instructions in multiple languages.