Orhan Esen

Without a driving licence. With Competence.
A performance on forms of mobility in Istanbul

Ecological and economical points of view are often contradictory and have different priorities. Yet there is at least one point where both disciplines may be relatively effortlessly reconciled. It is hard to find a more irrational method of everyday transport in dense urban centres than the regular use of one’s driving licence instead of a ticket for public transport. The type and degree to which there are alternatives to driving in a congested area seems to be communal property, as an alternative indicator for that which we like to call development. The particularities of Istanbul topography (also urbanisation and modernisation history and above all the development of institutional and social (self) organisation) gave the city an extraordinarily multi-modular transport scene. This formal variety of Istanbul mobility and the stimulus for the »ehliyetsiz performans« (EP), »performance without driving licence« or also: »performance without competence«1. The mere existence of the various possibilities is not enough in itself to describe these as actual, communally useable resources. The degree of accessibility to information about the individual transport modalities in the urban jungle; the strongly divided landscape of the institutions and public co-ordination mechanisms, who in partly merciless competition steal the ground from under each other’s feet; the different, even contrary social forms of knowledge and awareness of these mechanisms, the various forms of incorporation and use or rejection and repression of these – these are only a few of the parameters relevant in this context. A prime example is the local controversy about the »minibus«. This »main support« of the Istanbul boom decade (the 1950s to ‘90s) is a transport solution geared to the situation of the new self-governed Istanbulis, which is based on the existing urban tradition. The integration of the new self-build areas (gecekondu und postgecekondu) in the existing city grid would not have been possible without the minibus. This is rational from a business standpoint, with flexible times and optimal capacity usage; this system carries many times more people per square metre of street, compared with a car. On the one hand it is a resource-saving and (in the context of motorised traffic) »ecological« model, on the other hand through cheap fares it is a social arrangement which supports mobility. The minibus not only takes the new Istanbulis to their jobs but also to the central or highly frequented areas of the city. In this way it makes the new Istanbulis visible in public space. This is what makes the minibus at fault, in the eyes of the white Turkish middle class, the local representation of the global north: The minibus becomes the symbol of the »invasion of the civitas through the barbaric farming masses«. Travelling on the minibus becomes the distinguishing feature of the »uncivilised«, and the vehicle becomes the carrier and so-called »minibus culture« becomes the local symbol of the »other«. The Minibus including its passengers and culture should be combatted – as this is obviously impossible, they repress it. This perception is even more absurd when one considers that the minibus, (more correctly: minibus-dolmus¸) is no more than a successful adaptation of a negligibly older success story »dolmus¸« (correctly: taksi-dolmus¸)2. This model has just emerged in the middle class areas. The taxi-dolmus, (dolmus for short) and the minibus-dolmus¸ (short: minibus) vary only in the type of vehicle: The first are cars, the second allow the unthinkable standing passengers. The dolmus driver counts as a well brought up service provider, his colleague at the wheel of the minibus is however seen as a potential criminal.3 Istanbul's transport scene developed as a product of four main periods. One could call them the pre-modern, the early modern, the age of the automobile and the rehabilitation period. It is characteristic for Istanbul that each period has created new organisation modalities with accompanying institutional contexts, without completely eradicating the old ones. The old modi were pushed into a niche or neglected through investment cuts, often as a consequence of the loss in social status. They could, however, always adapt to the times and somehow hold themselves above water. All of the periods have a common feature on the one hand in the creation of new institutional contexts and new forms of social self-organisation in the place of reform and renewal of the old, and on the other hand the entrance into a merciless competition instead of support of co-operation and co-ordination.4 The settlement in Istanbul in the pre-modern was by far the largest of its kind in the world, unfailing since antiquity, at times even a conglomeration of millions. The central areas around the harbour, the Golden Horn, are marked out by the concentration of bureaucracy, overseas trade and craft production. The farming and fishing secondary settlements were to be found in the densest environment, on the shores of the Bosporous and the Marmara Sea, they were in the closest economic symbiosis with the market and the buyers of the centre. Here privately run rowboats, run as taxis or dolmus, dominated the person and goods transport between the settlements of Istanbul which are divided by water. The frequency of commution of the individual travellers reached from some times per year to some times per week. People travelled on foot or pack animal within the individual settlements. Streets suitable for carriage were an exception because of difficult topographic situations in the Medieval-seeming street network, with its many bottlenecks and dead ends. The early modern in Istanbul is marked through the introduction of mass transport means where, however, industrialisation and emigration were not the main reasons for the erection of these methods of transport in the rapidly growing European metropolises. Rather it was a question of modernising the existing city image. In the course of establishing new methods of transport for example, the rowers of the intersectoral transport area on steamers (on the Bosporus) and through the overland train lines running parallel to the coast (on the Marmara sea) were pushed into local niche markets. The new licensed transport businesses with set schedules were interested in stable income structures, in daily commuters. So they acted as developers, which had lasting consequences for the age-old settlement structure. The peripheral villages were transformed into suburban centres in everyday commuter time. At the same time the western normative oriented planners grabbed land piece by piece after every fire in the handed down »Middle Age orientalist« knots of streets and conjured up a patchwork in the central area, acceptable for carriages and trams, yet not in the form of a street network of an open city à la Paris (Berlin or Vienna): The underground got stuck after an initial success. Industrialisation and the parallel emigration first took place in large numbers after the Second World War. So the mass work migration and the invasion of the civitas through vehicles took place simultaneously. The complete abolition of the tram network in the space of a few years as well as the uncompromising rehabilitation of inner city areas to accommodate cars (with very serious, even fatal consequences for the historic building substance) formed the prelude in the 50s, similarly the almost total neglect of public transport and the overland train. Through building two motorway ring roads and intercontinental bridges and connections, the concreting of the Asian area was complete, which had up until this point been spared urban condensation. Hordes of commuters roll over the motorway in the morning to the busy European area, and back to the Asian sleeping areas in the evening. Almost all the transport is on four wheels, a water city becomes a land city, (the percent of rail traffic and water traffic went down from an original 90% to 4% in the 80s). The volume of traffic is growing exponentially; more street building does not mean less, but more traffic. Under these circumstances, the private car becomes the great ideal of every Istanbuli. Yet, not everyone can afford it. The alternatives to this are in no way exhausted with the city bus. Various sensible systems (in the right context) like the dolmus, minibus, people bus, shuttle services etc. make up a larger transport volume than all the cars put together.5 Even the taxi, in other places so grand, becomes the transport method of choice of the middle class. Individuals that are more creative do not miss using the back seat of the courier service as transport in the rush hour.

The unusual reality of the age of automobiles in Istanbul (actually relatively ecological and rational of the in the form of a »car replacement service«) did not want to question the undisputed ideological supremacy of self-driven cars. The bicycle on the contrary was not really in the equation, more a toy. The system, which rests on the exclusivity of four-wheel transport and deregulation, turned out, not surprisingly, to be a dead end. Since the middle of the 80s, measures have been taken on the one hand to raise the proportion of rail and water transport, on the other hand to rationalise the organisatory and institutional capacities, and have been partly carried out. As a symbolic prelude to the reintroduction of rail traffic 30 years after it was abolished, historic tramcars are brought from the museum and installed as tourist toys in the pedestrian area of Pera, the old city north of the Golden Horn. The extension of three different rail systems – tram, light rail transport (LRT) and conventional underground are tackled with a city construction and operator company, created especially for this purpose. The project to build a second underground system to get over the height difference from the harbour to the central inner city square Taksim, which has been running for hundreds of years, is now being put into practice. A cable car for the same purpose has already been erected. Suspended railways are in the final planning stages, the start of constructing the dream of the century, an intercontinental railway tunnel, has been set for January 2004. In the same way with water transport, the city establishes the »sea bus company« and introduces highly modern catamaran speedboats for the intercontinental traffic in the Marmara area. The archaic dolmus boat guild organised itself into co-operatives and renewed their fleets in a collective initiative, but with private investments, and so generously extended their capacities to take on the competition. Even the decaying state maritime company with their conventional ferries, the small vaporettos and the car ferries see that they need to take care of their image, in order to not completely disappear under the competition. The declared goal of the city is to raise the proportion of rail and water transport from the current 8% to 30%. Three very current subjects dominate the debate at present. One of these is taking place publicly, the second in expert and insider circles, and the third completely behind closed doors. If the third connection of the two city continents should take place with a third motorway bridge or with a rail tunnel, was already the topic of the last local elections. No mayoral candidate dared to speak out in favour of the motorway against the railway tunnel. This points to the fact that Istanbulis have learnt something from the past 50 years. a. Travelling on the underground is more comfortable than on the bus in a traffic jam. b. The underground is a good remedy against traffic problems. c. I get an empty road in my car, which I hope to own one day, if everyone else is in the underground. The question was decided on »public« due to a lot of ground level pressure, 6, but it is as yet not known if and for how long the city can hold out against motorway lobbyists from the corrupt capital city Ankara, if a third motorway ring road should not be built there anyway. The case of Erdogan seems typical: The Istanbul ex-mayor and current head of state spoke out for a third bridge, after he was introduced into government business in Ankara. The »southern tangents« of Istanbul will also be current in the future, despite successful tunnel construction. The final outcome of the »war« depends, amongst other things, on how far the citizens initiative can keep leading the discussion successfully on the point of collective traffic concept. Arnavutköy from the case of the successful motorway extension, which was the death of the historic city area on the Bosporous, but which is presented as a contrary Gallic village by the motorway lobby. The manifold problems around the creation of a traffic association or a »Metropolitan Transport Authority« to co-ordinate the many businesses and networks is a hot debate in insider circles, who don’t go public. The »initiate scene« is quite colourful and heterogeneous, because of the numbers of participants and organised agents, which is unusually high in comparison to other metropolises. The working process of the 1st General Inner city Traffic Authority (organised in 2001/2002) can be described as anything other than conflict free. Under the cover of criticism of car centred traffic concepts were established a. An extensive marginalisation of flexible forms of self organisation, e.g. minibus and sea dolmus b. a devaluation of »dated« state businesses, so that after their expected bancruptcy they can be bought cheaply by state competitors and c. despite lip service, a politically insufficient support of the water traffic. The sea dolmuses, for example did not get any new stretch concessions, even though they were only working at 27% of their fleet capacity. The comeback of the water traffic should, if at all, (after switching off the »decayed« central state and »chaotic« (but successful, self-organised) small business competition, be officially celebrated a victory of the city sea bus company. The route planning process of the new underground lines is, in contrast, a well-kept state secret of the fathers of urban bureaucracy and economy, where not even academic circles of experts are insiders. This means that in the example of the new metro city complex a new underground station pops up under a large new shopping and office complex even though, for technical transport reasons, a different location would be better. The breakthrough of the underground into the old town, through millennial and irreplaceable archaeologic layers, brought up by a few sensitive experts and citizens, makes the headlines, but doesn’t lead to civil action. The rail and underground lobby still drive an undisputed (ideological) victory train. Over three hundred more rail kilometres have been written in as a target value for the near future in city plans negotiated behind closed doors.

EP – ehliyetsiz performans

The ehliyetsiz performans is a field-ready game of ideas for the city of people without driving licences. It is simply the performance of a city. Only a test team7 observed and documented it. It is contrived to motivate the residents as well as the city rambler on a visit, to discoveries in mobile public space and to construct personal idea and experience archives in things of urban transport. The EP can simultaneously be understood as a proclamation that one should not underestimate one’s contribution to the production of collective understanding in the sense of improved public presence.

EP is at root a product of primary curiosity, what is Istanbul’s performance? What does this city offer, for those without using their own driving licence want to make their way to the factory, the office, school or home or spend their free time? The game was developed to test this, where the settlement area became the board, the rules were invented freely. In this game: a. all usual, different methods of transport may be used, with the exception of the private car; b. the maximum possible different8 transport methods may be used and may form a chain; c. in this chain of mobility every form of transport may only be used once; d. one may only change once at each point or place; e. each performance chain should be begun and ended on one and the same day; f. no tricks are allowed, e.g. all public methods of transport should be used in the usual and conventional way – on their official routes, according to their schedules, between their »legal« stations, stops and landing stages. No performance specific special trips or special stops may be invented through »relationships«. At the start there was a 15 –piece »basic chain« of perfomance without driving licence from/to Taksimplatz. This was debated and rebuilt and further developed with the participants several times, and polished through local research and on the spot samples. How can one co-ordinate timetables, and/or the behaviour of various methods harmoniously? Should one prepare a route according to the summer or winter or weekly or Sunday services? Do all the transport services have the same understanding of seasons and weeks? Where are the main traffic streams at different times and in different areas, and how do these influence the general performance? How good is access to timetables and how reliable are they? When do you have a better chance of building a longer chain? How long can a chain become, if one follows the self-imposed rules? How many methods of transport can one incorporate, how many are left out? Is it possible to carry it out within one day? The decision fell on a Sunday route in winter. The specific risk factors for each section were listed. Some risks pointed to passport offices, which would place the whole continuation of the performance in danger. The chosen performance route was tried out on the 4th of November 2001. How would a »desk product« fare in the »acid test« of the »harsh reality« of the megalopolis? The route contained surprisingly many methods of transport, even for insider Istanbulis, which would probably not be found in such numbers in other metropolises. The performance Istanbul without a driving licence was documented on the 4.11.2001. Based on this documentation, it was presented on the 24.11.2001 in project 4L, on the occasion of the exhibition »yer-les¸mek/becoming-a-place« in the format of an interactive lecture. The participants were insider into the game step by step:9 Whilst one felt one’s way along the routes of Istanbuls driving licence-less, the city displayed its performance for the incompetent. The amusing and cognitive meshed. EP as an everyday experience of every person without a driving licence is common property; as a game it can be repeated, in various versions with individually conceived »rules«. The web version has been conceived as a collective database and debate platform. The EP test proved, competent behaviour in Istanbul is, to make one’s way without a driving licence. The performance of the megalopolis without driving licence is neither perfect, nor so far away from this. This assertion may sound unbelievable, particularly in the circles of the global north, who like to operate with a city view of »chaotic and unfunctional« The EP crashed just on the interfaces, where in the planning the driving licence-less had to interact with driving licence users. If the game had been planned without these points of contact of »public incompetence« with private competence, would it maybe have worked? We will never know. If a conclusion is allowed out of the above observation, we could say: what diminishes the transport service of the metropolis, what it makes more chaotic, is none other than the car and its competent driver. The city is perceived as substantially more chaotic from behind the wheel, than it actually is: so the car driver carries over the image of chaos (which he produces as a result of his situation in traffic) onto the whole of urbanity. What actually works badly, is probably the domain of his competence. »City of Incompetence« could be more fitting.

1. »Ehliyet« is the Turkish equivalent for »driving licence« (the suffix»-siz« means »-less« or »without …«), »ehliyet« however means »competence«. Ehliyet = competence is in Turkish slang the short form of the full, official Turkish »sürücü ehliyeti« (= driver competence = driving licence). In this way everyday language use degrades those »without driving licence« to »incompetents« – fitting linguistic symbolism in the sense of the neo-liberal zeitgeist.
2. »Dolmus¸, haydi gidelim« (»full already, let’s go«) – announcement of the passengers to the driver chatting in the cafe waiting for his vehicle to fill up. In German more soberly known as »group taxi’, it describes the private system of public transport Istanbul style. Originally working on water, it always remained the favourite of the poor, risk-shy micro business. The dolmus quickly felt at home in the age of the automobile, and managed to grab considerable market shares to the detriment of mass means of transport.
3. However, it should be noted that this dichotomy has normalised somewhat in the past few years.
4. For a comparative representation of the Istanbul transport history, see: Orhan Esen, »Uzatmali Doksanlarda Istanbul ve Ulasim: Höyüg?ün Üstünde Gezinirken«, in »Istanbul« Dergisi/Zeitschrift, Nr. 41, April 2002, Publication of the Turkish Foundation for Social and Economic History.
5. In 2001, after a part rehabilitation of the mass transport methods – see the next section – the city busses carried 14,8%, the (private) folk busses 7,9%, the minibusses 19,8%, taxis 7,4%, taxi-dolmuses 0,7%, shuttle services 10,5% – so all forms of car replacement traffic together 61,1% of the whole traffic in Istanbul, with 60.219 cars altogether. The cars in contrast make up 30,7% of the whole transport with 1.628.367 vehicles registered in Istanbul. In addition there are 5,7 rail and 2,5% water transport. (Source: Preliminary report of the 1st General Inner City Traffic Authority March 2002)
6. The news about the construction competition went to the press on the 7th of August 2003.
7. Sölen Kiratli, Sedef Oran, Orhan Esen.
8. In this game vehicles count as »different«, when they are of a different typology or technology, even when they are used within the same traffic company: if the same mode of transport is used in different owner or operating conditions, when one and the same operating and owner model for different vehicle types, or different historical or spatial prerequisites have occurred, to serve different social levels.
9. On the poster the »classic« exercise (as a tear-off part) was used as a preparation for the lecture:
(a) Make a list of the modes of transport in Istanbul;
(b) make a »legal« chain with these means;
(c) compare the chain with timetables. is it possible? Is it possible to make it longer?
(d) try the theoretical chain out in the field and document...

Performance assistance, documentation, post-production for version01: Sedef Oran, S¸ölen Kiratli, Gökhan Tarcan
Graphics: Esen Karol
Work team version 02: Image editing, transcription: Cagla Ilk
Image editing: Yaman Ural, Lacin Karaöz
Sound editing: Erdem Helvacioglu
Video editing, subtitles: Seçkin Uysal
Software: Bager Akbay

Thank you for version 01: Banu Özkazanç, Berkay Köylüoglu, Bilge Barhana, Daniel Schüler, Demet Ortaköylüoglu, Emel Bilal, Elfe Uluç, Esra Sarigedik, Füsun Aydinlik, Gözde Onaran, Gülçin Ünal, Ihsan Bilgin, Kagan Gözen, Kaptan Mehmet Cakiroglu und Team, Kutlu Canlioglu, Özge Açikkol, Rasim Acar, Serhan Ada, Vasif Kortun, Yasemin Tenger, Yücel Dog?an, Zeynep Arman, Zeynep Yesimvarol Dank für Vers.02: Levent Aksu, Esen Karol, Kerem Kurdoglu, Emel Bilal, Füsun Aydinlik, Vasif Kortun, Öykü Özsoy