Bus stop in Jerusalem
Bus stop in Jerusalem Flash 90

Jerusalem's various religious and social sectors are uniting to protest some of the city's long-running transportation issues.

"This is a catastrophe," said David, a yeshiva student who relies on public transportation. "The buses either don't come, or don't come on time. You're always uncertain: Will it come? Will it not come? And sometimes it does come - but skips your stop."

"There are problems with the line 15 bus, for example. You can't rely on when it will come, and even intercity bus lines, such as the 465 and 467, don't always come.

"When the bus doesn't come, I wait for the bus after it and I ask the driver if the previous bus didn't come. The driver's answer usually is that at the next stop, we'll be able to know if the bus came or not. If we arrive and the bus stop is packed with people, the driver admits that the previous bus probably didn't come. So I send an email complaining, and I receive compensation of about fifty shekels ($14.59). If I'm traveling with my wife, I might receive compensation of 100 shekels ($29.18)."

David's story is not unique. According to a Transportation Ministry report, thousands of Egged (the company running Jerusalem's municipal bus routes) bus routes are canceled each month. In October 2017, 20,000 out of 176,000 (11%) bus trips did not take place. By comparison, 2,121 trips did not take place in Haifa, representing just 2% of the total number. Legally, the number of canceled trips must be no higher than 2.5%.

Elad Malka, a secular Jerusalemite and a member of Jerusalem's city council said, "It's true that the haredi community suffers more acutely from the problems in public transportation, but this is something the entire city suffers from. We need to concentrate our complaints and work to resolve the matter. I created a WhatsApp group called 'Egged Watch.' We have 1,200 members, and anyone looking through our Facebook page can see horror stories from every sector."

Malka, together with haredi Yishai Blech, turned to Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich and Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel, requesting their help in solving the issue. As a result, two Knesset discussions were held on the subject in 2017, and five parliamentary questions were submitted by various MKs. In addition, Malka submitted a class action lawsuit against Egged.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat refused to answer Besheva's request for response, saying only that "all decisions regarding transportation are made by the Transportation Ministry."

Transportation Ministry official Dror Ganon said, "The transportation situation in Jerusalem is improving... We are working...to add drivers, both around Israel and in Jerusalem. we expect that after the first quarter of this year, things will improve and we will be able to add more drivers. We also approved bringing drivers from the north to Jerusalem. The Transportation and Finance Ministries are doing several things which will significantly improve the situation of bus drivers in Israel, including reducing the amount of training they must undergo, and adding benefits."

"This report does not represent what Egged in Jerusalem did or did not do...it simply measures kilometers traveled."

However, Ganon did admit that "there is no doubt that in the future, there will be changes to Jerusalem's bus system."

An Egged representative said, "The characteristics of Jerusalem's public transportation are challenging, and are often influenced by protests, road closings, visits of important people, security incidents, disturbances of order, national events, and more. All of these have a significant influence on whether buses arrive on time. In addition, Egged bus drivers in 2017 found themselves caught against their will in the midst of haredi protests, and were forced to deal with dangerous situations such as road blocks, damage to the buses, harm to the drivers themselves, and more."

"In addition, Israel and especially Egged need an additional 3,500 bus drivers. This is due mostly to government policies which arm, among other things, drivers' status and compensation. We are therefore convinced that despite Egged's many efforts, which include bringing drivers from southern Israel to drive Jerusalem lines, it is necessary to prioritize Jerusalem's public transportation, including opening and enforcing public transportation lanes in a fashion which will improve service to those using the city's public transportation."