is just one of the many elements that make traffic
in major Turkish cities
quite unbearable. Yet it's necessity
is indisputable when one considers that the supposedly social-democratic welfare state
has complacently held out in providing a better alternative.
Simply put, a dolmus is a very small bus (sometimes referred to as a minibus) which can seat up to 15 people at a time, including the driver (although the police dept. defines it as a 14 seater, at most). In accordance with traffic flow being on the right side in Turkey, a single doorway allows the entry of passengers through the right side of the vehicle. While their doors used to be hand operated almost all are now automatically opened and closed via controls on the driver's panel. The color coding for vehicles is blue in Ankara, whereas wacky old Istanbul has yet to set itself a standard, although yellow seems to be catching on with newer vehicles.
A dolmus is a privately owned vehicle, with maintenance and whatnot being incumbent on the owner. However, the drivers have to adhere to the laws laid down by the traffic authority. Dolmuses have routes, standard charges that are taxed accordingly, etc.. As mentioned above, they are preserved for lack of bus routes, their ability to exist in hordes in traffic, and, perhaps, also because they are such an inextricable part of urban Turkey's identity. They are essentially very cheap cabs that carry in bulk.
When you board a dolmus, you are not just a passenger anymore. No siree. You're part of a commune and you'll damn well have to act the part. There's a widely known story about a British tourist who holidays in Turkey and chances to board one of these oddities. He gets on and sits down, and within minutes he finds himself holding a bundle of cash, handed to him by all the passengers seated behind him. THIS is how the dolmus fare is collected. You pass on your charge to the person ahead of you and it makes its way over to the driver, who precariously also acts as a cashier. Your change is then counted out and passed back to you. You may also become a ring in this chain if you are not seated at the back. It is the done thing to not ignore what looks like a betting pool and relay the change when offered. Other responsibilities may include making small talk with the driver, giving up your seat to people with ridiculous amounts of shopping, and stopping the vehicle if the driver has failed to notice someone else trying to get on or off.
There are certain articles in a dolmus which vary only slightly from vehicle to vehicle depending on the driver's discretion. You will almost always have a plaque or a sticker that has "Masallah" written on it. This is a traditional islamic blessing. Another essential item would be the nazar boncuk for fending off malicious envy (yeah, right!). Add to this the various trucker-style bumper stickers yearning for love lost and you have the basic accessories.
Despite my fascination with the subject matter, I should not leave it out that all dolmus drivers are complete wankers!