Trains, planes and corkinettes

A guide to getting around the country’s largest parking lot.

March 29, 2012 12:37
trains, planes and corkinettes

trains, planes and corkinettes 521. (photo credit: Deborah S. Danan)

If there’s one thing I don’t miss about Jerusalem, it’s using the capital’s public transportation system. There was a time when I liked riding the bus, and sometimes I would abuse my monthly pass to the maximum and randomly hop on any bus just to see where it went. Throughout the ride, I would watch as the passenger demographic transitioned from haredim to Arabs as the bus careered its way through religious neighborhoods before making its approach toward the eastern parts of the city.

Since the arrival of the light rail, which occurred around the same time I gave up on the luxury of owning a car, travel in Jerusalem has become nothing short of a nightmare. It takes me less time to make the bus trip from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem than it does to take a local bus from one end of Jerusalem to the other. The light rail is always jam-packed with angry passengers and even angrier ticket inspectors whose discontent is only abated with the joy of handing out fines willy-nilly to unassuming passengers who don’t understand the system. Which is pretty much everyone.

But public transportation in Tel Aviv isn’t much better. From what I can work out, nobody seems to know the bus system here and there isn’t any rhyme or reason behind any of their routes. Bus stops are situated on sidewalks with no apparent forethought so that sometimes you’ll find three in a row, each stop being for different buses that are all going in the same direction. All too often, I’ve tried to maneuver between the stops depending on which bus comes. For instance, I might sit down by the 61 stop, but then I spot a 66 approaching. I leg it as fast as I can to the 66 stop, but invariably, because the stops are too spaced out, I end up missing it. Then typically a 61 appears on the horizon, so I leg it back to the original bus stop, but to my eternal chagrin I end up missing that one also. It’s infuriating and goes some way in explaining why no Tel Avivian I know of rides buses.

But that’s also because Tel Aviv has about a trillion other modes of transportation. In fact, I doubt that there is a single other city in the world with so many options for getting around. My journalistic scruples have compelled me to try them all for the purposes of this article: Bus (by far the worst option), monit sherut (shared taxi), private car (which is second only to buses in terms of dire inconvenience), bicycle, Car2Go, electric bike, rollerblading, and – my personal favorite – electric scooter, or “corkinette” as it’s known in the local jargon. Oh, and of course there is also that ancient mode of transportation known as “on foot.”

It’s funny, despite the fact that almost everywhere in Tel Aviv is walkable, if you ask someone for directions they make it sound like you need a rocket car to get to your desired destination within any reasonable length of time when in actual fact you’ll usually reach your remote destination after a brisk 15-minute walk. Nevertheless, unless it’s Shabbat, I can’t stand walking. Or jogging for that matter, although that is most unfashionable of me in this city.

For the first couple of months after I moved here, I commandeered an electric bike that was sitting idle in a friend’s apartment. These are nifty little devices that are taking off in a big way in Tel Aviv. As their name suggests, they are simply bicycles with a rechargeable electric engine built in. It’s like having a very weak moped but without the need for either petrol or the rules of the road. Whenever you arrive at a red light, you needn’t break your rhythm and you can keep going simply by getting on the sidewalk. But the journey can get pretty perilous at times, especially when you have to navigate your way through those inconsiderate pedestrians who think they own the sidewalks. Who do they think they are?

The advantage of an electric bike over say, an electric scooter, is that when they break down (not an infrequent occurrence), you can always use the pedals instead. But corkinettes are much more powerful and therefore much more fun. You can even ride one to Herzliya in about 25 minutes – assuming you don’t mind the ferocious ocean winds ripping out your eyeballs. Sadly, rumor has it that they will soon be made illegal.

After I finished my stint on the electric bike, I had a go testing out Tel-O-Fun, the green bicycle-sharing service that has stations all over the city. In the end, I decided against purchasing a yearly subscription because there were too many occasions in which the machine got stuck or there weren’t any bikes available.

Another mode of transportation is rollerblading, although it’s probably not the most convenient. Your feet tend to ache after a while and of course, if you’re skating to the office you should probably bring a pair of shoes to change into. But if it’s kicks and giggles you’re after, you can always join the weekly rollerblade-athon. On Tuesday nights, rollerblade enthusiasts gather together to skate through the city. Even the police force has been sucked into the rollerblade craze, as the recent cops-on-wheels initiative demonstrates. One rollercop I spoke to proudly told me of how he caught a thief that would have gotten away had the cop not had wheels attached to the soles of his feet.

But when all is said and done, I miss my trusty old car. I gave up on the metal beast when I moved to Tel Aviv because (a) it was being held together by wires and miracles and when I got to Sin City the miracles ceased to function, and (b) there really is no point in owning a car in Tel Aviv. There’s nowhere to park and the traffic is soul-destroying. So I did the next best thing and signed up for Car2Go, a carpool service similar to the Tel-O-Fun bikes. So far, it’s been rather useful for infrequent trips around the area. But perhaps the most astonishing thing about Car2Go is that not only is their customer service actually helpful, their agents are actual human beings with hearts and all. Sometimes I call them up for no reason at all; I just want to savor the pleasure of having a customer service rep not scream at me down the phone.

I’m going to finish with a true story that happened to me yesterday which was what triggered me to write about Tel Aviv transport in the first place. Since I returned the electric bike to its owner, I’ve been getting around the city using ghastly means such as the bus or my feet. An electric bike was out the question (they start from about NIS 5,000) and I was deliberating between signing up to Tel-O-Fun for the convenience of it or buying myself a bicycle and risk it being stolen. One way of reducing that risk would be to to take the bike upstairs and into my apartment at night.

So I checked out some bikes in a shop near my work but the only ones I could afford didn’t seem very solid. I walked on home and, I kid you not, there was a bike leaning by the garbage cans outside my building. I noticed that the front wheel was completely bent. I left it there to see if anyone would come and claim it and two hours later, when no one came, I appropriated it for myself. Happily, since the bike has an aluminum frame, it was really light when I carried it up the stairs. This morning I took it to the same bike shop that I’d perused earlier and they fixed the wheel for me. NIS 150 later and I am the proud owner of a bike that they claim would be worth NIS 1,500 new. This sort of thing happened to me all the time when I first moved to Tel Aviv, and I even theorized about the laws of attraction in one of my columns.

Now, as I cycle to the office, I am once again sending out subliminal messages to the world: “Suitcase full of unmarked bills, if you please.”

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