Jerusalem District Court Judge Abraham Tennenbaum ordered the operators of the capital’s Central Bus Station, as well as the Egged bus company, on Wednesday to take immediate action toward vastly improving the air quality in the station.
“My conclusion is that there is definitely air pollution at the Central Station, which in the opinion of everyone – both the plaintiffs and the defendants – should be solved,” Tennenbaum wrote in his judgment.
Ruling predominantly in favor of the plaintiffs – a group of graduate students and activists – Tennenbaum ordered the defendants to implement a series of air pollution prevention measures. He rejected, however, the plaintiffs’ request to recognize the case as a class action lawsuit, stressing that the pollution was not caused intentionally by any party, but was the result of poor planning. This court order, Tennenbaum explained, occurs in parallel with other orders coming from the Environmental Protection Ministry regarding the station’s cleanup.
In addition to calling for air quality improvement measures, Tennenbaum determined that the defendants owe the plaintiffs and their attorneys a total of NIS 1.3 million for their various expenses.
Egged is responsible for 10 percent of this sum, while the other five defendants – Amot Investments Ltd., Nitsba Holdings, Stations Enterprises Ltd., Jerusalem Central Station Management 1966 Ltd. and the Jerusalem Central Bus Station organization – are collectively responsible for the remaining 90%, the judge concluded.
The bulk of the air pollution prevention measures will likewise fall upon the station’s operators – the group of five defendants – rather than on Egged, according to Tennenbaum’s judgment.
This group of defendants will be responsible for installing air pollution monitoring systems in the boarding terminals, and for continuously tracking the presence of nitrogen oxide, nitrogen dioxide and PM2.5 respirable particles, the judge determined. Sampling of the air where passengers alight from the buses, on the ground floor, will require air sampling every six months.
Tennenbaum also ordered these five defendants to ensure that all of the bus terminals employ automatic locking doors that only can be unlocked by the arrival of a bus to its designated pickup zone. In a Knesset State Control Committee meeting in November, Jerusalem Central Bus Station CEO Tzvi Katz said that the station had already begun to use such doors.
These defendants must also bring in inspectors from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day, and provide them with protective respiratory equipment, Tennenbaum said.
The inspectors will need to make sure that passengers wait behind closed doors, board buses efficiently and refrain from smoking, according to the judgment.
Tennenbaum determined that Egged will share in the responsibility for these inspectors, particularly with their supply of respiratory equipment and with explanations as to how to operate such equipment. In addition, Egged must draft daily accurate records with the names of all the inspectors and their details, the judge added.
In response to the ruling, a statement from Egged said that the primary responsibility within the judgment falls upon the property owners of the station.
“Egged, whose position at this site is a tenant, similarly to other public transportation operators in Jerusalem, will work under the limited guidance that the court ruled for it,” the statement said.
An NGO that advocates for better public transportation services, 15 Minutes, which was connected to the defendants, praised the ruling as a victory.
“Air pollution at the Central Station will cease,” a post on the 15 Minutes Facebook page said.
Yet Noam Ronen, the attorney for the station operators, responded that “contrary to what the plaintiffs claimed, the judge determined that this is not a case in which a factory was trying to create air pollution at the expense of the public.
“The verdict adopts a plan that [the defendants] submitted on their own initiative with the Environmental Protection Ministry to solve the problem,” Ronen said.
In October 2013, the Environmental Protection Ministry, in consultation with the Health Ministry, officially declared the Jerusalem Central Bus Station boarding area an excessively polluted space and an endangerment to public health. Since then, as Tennenbaum explained in his verdict, the ministry ordered the station’s operators to take a variety of steps toward improving the situation there.
Within his ruling, Tennenbaum stressed that making the air in the Jerusalem Central Bus Station more breathable is, in fact, a tangible goal.
“If you can go to the moon, you can also reduce pollution in the Jerusalem Central Bus Station,” he wrote.