Turkish Travel Tips: Public Transport and the Humble Dolmuş

The humble minibus, or dolmuş (dol-MOOSH), as it is known in Turkish is, for most tourists to Turkey, a gem hiding in plain sight.

This is a dolmuş. They always have their destinations written on the front, but if you're going somewhere in between, just ask the driver.

This is a dolmuş. They always have their destinations written on the front, but if you’re going somewhere in between, just ask the driver.

If somebody put a gun to my head and said, “you have two minutes to give people one piece of advice for travelling to Turkey!”, I would tell them how to use a dolmuş.

Public transit in Turkey is inexpensive and effective, at least compared to most cities in Canada. The country is fairly densely populated, and many people do not make enough money to own cars. Most tourists will be familiar with much of Turkey’s public transport equipment: taxis, buses, intercity buses, airplanes, subways, and even trams function the same way as they do in Western countries.

But the dolmuş. Ah, the dolmuş. Ignored by the average tourist to Turkey who simply has no idea what on earth those things are, and how one might go about using them. Maligned by . . . nobody really because nobody knows what they are. Spit on by . . . ok, never mind.

I had to do something about this lack of dolmuş-education, so without further ado, here is a crash course on dolmuş travel.

A dolmuş is a large van that goes from one place to another on a set route. Depending on the destination, they may go as frequently as every ten minutes, or as infrequently as once per hour. They may start early in the morning, and end late at night, or they may just operate during the daytime.

To get one, go to your nearest bus or dolmuş station, and look at the destinations listed on the fronts. You can also hail a passing dolmuş by flailing your hands in the air and trying to get the attention of the driver. The way most Turkish people do it is by raising their right arm in a Sex and the City style taxi hailing motion. Yelling “dolmuş!” and tottering around on stilettos is optional.

This is the dolmuş station at Fahrettin Altay in Izmir. At some stations, including this one, the destinations are printed on signs, but usually you have to ask.

This is the dolmuş terminal at Fahrettin Altay in Izmir. At some stations, including this one, the destinations are printed on signs, but usually you have to ask.

When you hail a dolmuş, it will stop and the driver will open the doors. If he passes you and isn’t going too fast, yell. “Şoför bey! Durunuz!” (Chauffeur bay! Dur-oo-nooz.) Mr. Driver, stop! It doesn’t always work, but usually the other passengers or other people on the street will see you and alert the driver.

The next step is to make sure the dolmuş is going to your destination. Do this by saying the name of the place you’re going. You can get fancier, but if you’re just a tourist, they’ll understand. If the driver says “Hah,” or “Evet,” you’re good to go. If he tuts or says “Hayir,” or “Yok,” then you’ve got the wrong one.

After you’ve made sure that the dolmuş is going to your destination, you can hop into the typically body-odour scented interior. Often the doors will stay open as you speed along the highway, having hopefully settled yourself into a chair, though if it is already full by the time it picks you up, you’re going to have to stand. Try to hold on so you don’t fall out. You’ll look very cool. Like a local!

After you get on, have a glance at the fare chart, and give some money at the driver. Even if he is driving, he will accept it and give you the right amount of change. If you cannot get to the front, just pass the money to the person in front of you, and he or she will pass it to the driver. Make sure you say your destination, otherwise the driver will say something to you in Turkish that you probably won’t understand, but which in all likelihood means “How many, and where are you going?”

Then you can say, for example, “bir, otogara gidiyorum.” One. I’m going to the bus station. Cross your fingers that he hasn’t actually said, “I’m driving a one way route to the hairiest part of Satan’s ass-crack. Welcome aboard!”

I have heard tell that, technically, dolmuşes are not supposed to carry more passengers than they have seats. I have never seen this enforced, but apparently in certain parts of cities, cops lurk in wait of dolmuş drivers who let this happen as though the arm of the law means nothing to them. When this happens, the driver will tell all the passengers to duck. Everybody who’s standing has to duck lower than the windows until the danger is past. If you notice others ducking don’t hesitate – duck with them! Don’t worry. You’re only disobeying the law, and in Turkey, nobody cares.

Dolmuşes make it easy to go anywhere in Turkey more quickly than if you rely solely on inter-city bus travel, and are easy to use. Despite the body odour, it’s a treat to have access to effective public transport. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to check for dolmuşes online, so if you are going anywhere a bit off the beaten track in Turkey, and you suspect it is only serviced by dolmuş from where you are, I would suggest consulting a Turkish person who lives in that area. If you’re worried about finding somebody who speaks English, ask at a hotel.

Bang. You just saved yourself money you could have spent on a taxi, and you managed to experience Turkey like a local for one whole ride.

Related Post

Write us your thoughts about this post. Be kind & Play nice.

Leave a reply.