Original publication: March 2015
Author: Marc Thomas, Research Administrator
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Major Trends and Issues

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This overview of the current situation and trends in the Turkish transport sector was prepared to provide information to the Parliamentary Delegation to Turkey (7-9 April 2015).

1. Overview

The transport sector in Turkey[1] is expanding rapidly[2], in parallel with the country’s strong economic[3] and population[4] growth. Air transport perfectly illustrates this trend: Istanbul is becoming one of the major hub airports in the world, while Turkish Airlines has emerged as the most profitable European airline in some years.

However, efficiency and productivity are still far from EU standards, especially in the case of rail and port services. Above all, infrastructure has far to go to be at the right level and is unable to absorb additional traffic – despite some spectacular works, like the third ‘Bosphorus Bridge’ to be open by the end of this year[5]. The Turkish government is therefore engaged in an ambitious plan to develop transport infrastructure by 2023 (the country’s centennial year). Thus, 14 000 km new railways and 5 300 km new motorways should be built by then, not to mention the largest airport in the world and a 50 km long waterway between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, among others.

Consequently, there is a huge need for funding that cannot be answered by the national budget[6]. Law has therefore been adapted to incentivise private investment, including foreign private investment, which is to provide most of the financing.
Private companies are sought to build/operate infrastructure, and operate transport services. It is worth remembering the high dependence of the country on foreign finance which is one of its main weaknesses.

In this context, the relationship with/integration into the EU, including connexion with the trans-European transport network (TEN-T), remains a national priority. On the Union side, investments in Turkish transport infrastructure/sector are significant, be they private or public under pre-accession policy. Turkey is the largest beneficiary of EU financial support among countries that aim at becoming a member of the European Union[7].

Yet, the role of China is growing since it is investing heavily in the development of Turkish transport infrastructure. More generally, the importance of the Asian dimension should be emphasised: the new networks will connect Turkey more and more to the East, as illustrated by the Trans-Asian Railroad Network toward China.

In addition, the fact that Turkey still does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus has an impact on the transport sector/policy as a whole. In fact, Ankara imposes restrictions on direct transport links with Cyprus: vessels and aircraft that are registered in this country cannot access Turkish ports, airports, and airspace. Moreover, vessels of any nationality related to the Republic of Cyprus in terms of ownership or ship management, or whose last port of call was in Cyprus, are subject to restrictive measures and can be refused access to Turkish ports too. This infringes both international and EU law – including obligation to remove all obstacles to the free movement of goods within the Customs Union, including restrictions on means of transport.

As a consequence, until Ankara normalises their relations with the Republic of Cyprus, accession negotiations with the EU cannot succeed: eight negotiation chapters (out of the 33 acquis chapters) will not be opened (including Chapter 14 on Transport policy) and no chapter will be provisionally closed (which includes Chapter 21 on Trans-European networks)[8].

Crucially, this situation also seriously harms air safety in the Nicosia Flight Information Region.

2. Investment in transport infrastructure

2.1. A national priority

Every year, about 30% of the total government budget is dedicated to transport infrastructure. While in past the majority of investment was related to road and bridges, followed by railways, priorities are now reversed as it is the will of the government to increase rail market share.

Transport in Turkey - Major trends and issues

2.2. Privatisation

This huge share of public funding is to decrease as: (i) there is a plan to reduce the budget deficit and public debt and (ii) the infrastructure requirements/plans will require a significant amount of funds. The privatisation of the transport sector is therefore accelerating, primarily through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) and the ‘Built-Operate-Transfer’ model[10] which are more and more encouraged through new law and financial/tax incentives, especially as regards rail and maritime transport[11].

Thus, between 1986 and 2011 PPPs financed the construction of transport infrastructure of a total estimated cost of around USD 23 billion (of which 13 billion in airport sector and 8 billion in road sector). This trend is to increase: almost all of the large infrastructure projects to be completed by 2023 will be privately financed/operated – with the notable exception of Kanal İstanbul between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.

In addition, the port and airport sectors will be completely privatised (as they already are to a large degree), as well as a great part of the rail sector.

2.3. EU funding of the Turkish transport sector

Transport in Turkey - Major trends and issues


[1] Sources: Investment Support and Promotion Agency of Turkey, Infrastructure Industry (2013); Investment Support and Promotion Agency of Turkey, The logistics industry in Turkey (2013); TCDD Annual Statistics 2009-2013 (2014); ACI Europe, Europe’s airports performance in 2014 (2015); CAPA Centre for Aviation (2013); Ministry of Development of the Republic of Turkey, The Tenth Development Plan 2014-2018 (2014); The World Bank Group, Private Participation in Infrastructure Research Group, note 92 (2013); AEA Aviation Leadership Summit (2014); OECD Economic Surveys, Turkey (2014); OECD, data, indicators – transport; ITF Transport Outlook 2015; EMIS, transportation sector in Turkey (2014); European Commission, IPA II indicative strategy paper for Turkey (2014); Ministry of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications, Maritime policy developments in Turkey (2013); Maritime by Holland, Maritime Turkey (2013); Turkish Statistical Institute, Transportation statistics.

[2] In 2013 the Turkish transportation and storage sector grew by 3.4% year on year and accounted for 12.3% of national GDP. This share was 12% in 2009. The sector would currently employ about 5% of the national workforce.

[3] GDP average growth was 7.2% p.a. during the 2002-2006 period, and 3.3% p.a. during the 2007-2014 period.

[4] Population was 76.5 million and growth rate was 11.2 per thousand at the end of 2013.

[5] The Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge (rail + road): 2164 m long, 322 m high, 59 m wide.

[6] Especially as the government plans to reduce budget deficit and public debt: from respectively 1.6% and 36.3% of GDP in 2013 to 0.7% and 30% of GDP in 2016.

[7] It is worth reminding that the EU remains by far Turkey’s major economic partner with around 38% of its total trade and 71% of foreign direct investments in 2012 (Turkey being the 6th larger EU trade partner).

[8] See: 2014 European Commission’s Report on Turkey’s Progress towards accession: SWD(2014) 307 final of 8.10.2014

[9] OECD (2015), Infrastructure investment (indicator). doi: 10.1787/b06ce3ad-en (Accessed on 24 March 2015).

[10] BOT: Build (an infrastructure) – Operate (it during an agreed period of time) -Transfer (the ownership back to the Government).

[11] The New Investment Incentives Programmes was launched in 2012. It includes VAT exceptions and tax reductions to, notably, facilitate investment in infrastructure. Maritime and rail transport are considered as priorities and benefit from additional incentives.

[12] The EU also funded around 800km of new railway infrastructure in the country before 2007 for a cost of about EUR 4 300 million.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/540-362

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