Jerusalem councilwoman raises light rail concerns

April 15, 2010 03:00
2 minute read.

A city councilwoman has stepped forward with her concerns regarding contracts signed in the late 1990s that finalized the capital’s light rail project, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Yael Antebi, who represents the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood and until September held the transportation portfolio at city hall, sent a letter this week to the police’s National Fraud Unit concerning a number of issues she said “raised red flags” in connection with the agreements signed between the city, the state and the CityPass consortium, which has overseen construction of the light rail project and will continue to oversee its operation once it is operational.

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“I would like to note the astounding figure of between NIS 1.5 billion and NIS 3b. the state will have to pay [CityPass] as per its contract (which will translate into some NIS 50 million to NIS 100m. a year [for 15 years]), if the number of train users is less than the agreed-upon number forecast in the contract,” Antebi wrote in her letter to fraud investigators.

The forecast for train users, which were agreed upon in the contract as being roughly 10 percent of the 605,000 Jerusalem residents above the age of eight, is “known as fact to be erroneous and incorrect,” she said.

“And even if they were correct,” she continued, “the agreement states that almost double the amount of riders predicted to use the train – using these erroneous numbers – must use the train, or the government has to pay the difference.”

Antebi broke down the numbers:

“The forecasts, which come from the Central Bureau of Statistics and the Transportation Ministry, state that some 60,500 residents will use the train 1.25 times daily,” Antebi said. “When you multiply those numbers together, you get 75,625 daily train rides.

“Now, multiply the number of daily rides by the 305 days a year the train will be in service – it will not operate on Shabbat and holidays – and you get just over 23 million rides a year.

“The agreement with CityPass, however, stipulates that there will be more than 42 million rides a year,” Antebi said. “And if there are less, the state must pay the difference.”

That difference, Antebi said, when billed at NIS 6 a train ticket, would come out to roughly NIS 70m. a year. “And the contract that was signed with CityPass was signed for something like 15 years,” she said. “It might even be 20.”

Antebi said that whoever signed that agreement was “either completely stupid and didn’t understand, or did, and then something is not kosher here.

“And Jerusalem residents, who are the ones footing this bill, deserve to know what happened,” she said. “We deserve answers.”

Antebi also leveled criticisms over the light rail project in general, saying, “This sort of firm, set-in-stone system is not suitable  for Jerusalem.

“What if the security situation demands that we change the route – we can’t. Furthermore, the train won’t provide many of its riders with direct transportation to and from their destinations. They will have to transfer to buses anyway.”   Therefore, Antebi said, she felt the underlying agreements for the rail had been “made in haste” and “without thorough consideration of the public’s best interest.

“Yet others will profit greatly from this,” she said. “The question is who? And that’s what I’ve asked the fraud unit to investigate.”

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