Istanbul municipality has been heavily involved in managing urban rail schemes in recent years, including supporting the domestic supply chain when procuring vehicles.

TURKEY: The Ministry of Transport & Communications is seeking to become both owner and operator of new urban railways it is funding, instead of handing over operation and management of the completed assets to city municipalities as has happened in the past.

Under legislation currently passing through parliament in Ankara, the ministry would retain ownership of metro and tram routes and operate them separately from existing lines, which would remain under the control of the city authorities. This transfer of responsibility would be at the discretion of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The law also allows the government to deduct the costs of lines previously funded by the ministry and already transferred to municipalities from the annual share of national tax revenues allocated to the city governments.

Opening of the Istanbul metro M2 extension.

President Erdoğan attended the opening of the Istanbul metro M2 extension in 2014.

As the legislation would be applied only at the discretion of the President, it appears designed mainly to be applied to the opposition-controlled municipalities in Ankara and Istanbul; both have numerous rail projects currently in development.

The law would prevent municipalities benefiting from income generated by ministry-funded rail schemes, and also reduce their budgets. This in turn could limit their ability to fund new transport investment independent of Ankara. Those projects already launched by city authorities and funded independently of the ministry would be unaffected.

Erdoğan’s governing AK party lost control of the country’s four main cities in municipal elections held in 2018, in which cuts to funding for long-promised municipal transport projects were believed to have been a key factor.

Subsequently, the ministry seized control of metro projects it was funding from Istanbul municipality, announcing plans to develop them independently, and rebranding the lines it is developing with a capital ‘U’ logo in place of the ‘M’ used for municipal lines. Currently the ministry is specifying seven metro lines totalling 103 km in Istanbul, including two delayed metro corridors serving the city’s two airports, both of which are expected to open later this year.

The legislation is expected to pass through the parliamentary process without difficulty given the majority held by AK and its allies. However, questions remain over how it could be implemented in practice, especially if ticketing interavailability across routes in large and complex networks is to be maintained.