Starting next Sunday, new bus arrangements will come into effect in the southern part of Jerusalem. A new transport hub is to be opened at Malha, adjacent to the railway station, which will be the terminus for buses to and from Gush Etzion. Bus routes 160, 161, 162, 164, 165, 166, 167 and 440 will originate and finish at Malha, instead of the central bus station. Passengers from Gush Etzion who want to continue their journey into the city will have to change at Malha. Other buses using the new Malha terminal include the 4 (to French Hill via city center), 4A (to Mount Scopus via city center), 6 (to Pisgat Ze'ev via city center), 18 (to Kiryat Hayovel via Jaffa Road), 24 (to Malha via Rehov Hapalmah), 24A (to Givat Ram via Kiryat Hayovel), 12 (to East Talpiot in one direction, and Hadassah Ein Kerem in the other direction), 30 (Gilo to Mount Scopus), 32 (Gilo to Ramot), 33 (Gilo to Har Nof) and 34 (Har Homa to Ramot). A new route, 5, will link Malha with the central bus station, via Begin Road, at frequent intervals, stopping also at the Malha mall. Currently, the bus journey from the central bus station to Malha is extremely long and inconvenient, so the new route will certainly be an improvement. To make things easier for commuters, buses leaving the Gush Etzion area before 8:30 a.m. every day will continue from Malha to Binyenei Ha'uma via Begin Road. All journeys starting after 8:30 will terminate at Malha. In the evenings, at the request of Gush Etzion residents, buses will go via the Talpiot industrial zone and the Tunnels Road. The Gush Etzion routes will also stop at the entrance to Gilo, on Rosmarin and Dov Yosef streets, where it will be possible to change to routes 30, 31, 32, 33 and 34. An Egged spokesman said that Egged is making the changes in order to reduce congestion and pollution in the city center, so that the current 1,200 buses a week will no longer clog the streets on their way to the central bus station. Fares on the Gush Etzion routes will be reduced. For example, the fare from Efrat to Jerusalem will be lowered from NIS 6.80 to NIS 5.90, and a journey from Kiryat Arba to Jerusalem will cost NIS 8.20 instead of NIS 8.90. Another innovation is what Egged calls the "onward ticket" (kartis hemshech), which will considerably reduce the fare from the Gush Etzion settlements to places in central and north Jerusalem. For only NIS 1.80 more than the fare from Gush Etzion to Malha, passengers will be able to continue their journey on another bus to anywhere in Jerusalem. For example, today the fare from Efrat to Mount Scopus costs a total of NIS 12.30. With the new arrangement, it will cost only NIS 6.70. Passengers wishing to continue their journey from Gush Etzion should ask the driver of their first bus for a kartis hemshech. The same applies in the reverse direction. While the new arrangement may be beneficial when it comes to reducing traffic congestion downtown, many residents of Gush Etzion communities are fuming. Tekoa resident Josie Barnett pointed out that although early morning buses will reach the central bus station quickly via Begin Road, journey times to the city center - where most people work - will be much longer. Until now, people have been able to take the 6:40 a.m. bus from Tekoa and be at work before 8, but starting Sunday they will have to change to a second bus, adding at least half an hour to their commute. Despite the considerable reduction in fares, "Don't think they are giving anyone any bargains," Barnett said. She herself works on Mount Scopus and has to take two buses anyway, so the changes won't make a great deal of difference to her - instead of changing to a 30 on King George Avenue she will change to a 28 at the central bus station. But most of her neighbors and residents of other settlements in the area, who work within the radius of a 10 minute' walk from a stop on the current Gush Etzion bus route, say the new situation will be "terrible." On their way home, instead of walking a few minutes to King George Avenue, where until now they have been able to take one bus all the way home, they will have to take a feeder bus to Malha. If they are stuck in heavy traffic and miss the Gush Etzion bus, they will have a long wait at Malha. In particular, the bus to Tekoa operates only once every two hours. In addition, area residents point out, the Gush Etzion buses have a baggage compartment, which local city buses do not have. The new arrangement will mean that people on their way home from Jerusalem will have to drag their heavy shopping, baby buggies and other paraphernalia onto a local city bus - with no baggage compartment - and from there onto the second bus. In a written response, Egged's public relations department said that the journey from the settlements to Malha will take less time than the old route and that buses will run more frequently. Egged did not respond to In Jerusalem's question about the inconvenience of not being able to reach the city center without having to change buses.

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