After it suffered two suicide bombings in 1996 in which 45 people were killed, bus No. 18 was nicknamed “the line of death.” But, thank God, those days are behind us. However, what remains are the same old problems we’ve had with the 18 for many years: an overly long route that traverses the worst traffic in town, overcrowded buses, a filthy interior and lack of air conditioning. 

It is early Thursday afternoon at the Kikar Safra bus stop. Not one of the waiting passengers has a clue when the 18 – or any other  bus – is due to arrive. To this day, despite incessant complaints, there is no indication of Egged’s posting any schedules or route maps at the bus stops. In fact, the only constant factor is that bus stops are moved from one place to another as quickly as the weather changes here in spring.

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The bus finally arrives. It’s getting hotter outside, but the air conditioning is off. The bus is already packed and the driver seems a little on edge. An elderly woman carrying a heavy bag gets on and stands in front of two relatively young men, visibly expecting them to give her a seat. They don’t seem to pay any attention to her, and our lady doesn’t move, while her expression seems to get angrier by the minute. The driver asks her to move inside. That appears to be the sign she was waiting for to explode. In a mixture of Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew and a smattering of English, she delivers an outraged speech underlining the lack of politeness in Israeli society. The driver himself becomes angry. “What am I – the passengers’ teacher?” he fumes.

As usual is such cases, the passengers are immediately divided into two camps. Meanwhile, the two seated men continue their discussion, apparently still unaware of the agitation around them. A woman hails one of them, and while the bus continues to make its way through the potholes and twists and turns of Jaffa Road, the discussion almost reaches the level of a riot. Everything is at issue  now: the Israelis’ lack of politeness, the civility of Russian immigrants, Jewish tradition, and I could swear someone even brought up the Holyland scandal – and still no air conditioning!

At one point the driver stops the bus (well, he was at a red light anyway) and threatens not to continue unless the people at the back quiet down. Like in a fairy tale, a solution suddenly presents itself when a middle-aged couple seated behind our two guys get up and invite the angry woman to take their seat. Somewhat mollified, the woman then asks the driver why no one has fixed the air conditioning. “It works, but I don’t like it,” he replies.

After a quieter but still crowded and hot journey, which takes us an hour and 40 minutes, we finally reach the last stop at the end of Rehov Stern in Kiryat Hayovel. Another wait of 10 minutes and a new bus arrives, ready for the journey back. Guess what? Still no air conditioning, but this time at least the vehicle is clean.

The No. 18 passengers are the true proletarian residents of the city: new immigrants, working-class retired people, and a large number of haredim and students. The driver on the way back from Kiryat Hayovel turns out to be a resident of the neighborhood himself – he knows his clientele from home. Asked about the somewhat problematic timetable and the lack of details at the bus stop, driver Dudi says, “As long as that cursed light rail roadwork is not finished, how can we commit ourselves to a realistic schedule? I agree, people get angry. And even though it is not our fault, the drivers basically keep their mouths shut. What can we do?”

Line No. 18 begins at Rehov Stern in Kiryat Hayovel at 5:32 a.m. and ends at the Malha railway station. The last bus is scheduled for 11:47 p.m. and the frequency is about seven minutes at peak time and up to 12 minutes during the rest of the day.
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