More than 40,000 people crowded onto 14 light rail trains on Friday as Jerusalem
inaugurated the country’s first light rail, a day that was more than a decade
and NIS 4 billion in the making.
There were minor delays and technical
issues, mostly due to the sheer number of people trying to travel on the
system’s first day of operation.
When the train is fully operational, it
is expected to carry 100,000 people on a weekday from 5:30 a.m. to past
midnight, or 30 million rides per year.
The train rides were offered free
of charge on Friday, and they will continue to be free for the first few weeks
Hallelujah! J’lem’s light rail to finally roll
Capital merchants struggle with endless light rail delays
Tickets will cost NIS 6.40, the same as a bus ride in the
capital, and will allow unlimited rides on trains and buses for 90 minutes
through the RavKav card.
“Everyone is excited, this is a real event,”
Yehuda Shoshani, the CEO of the CityPass consortium, which built and now
operates the light rail, told The Jerusalem Post as he boarded a crowded train
across from Safra Square and city hall. “This is an historic event, and the
happiness of the residents is evident.
“This is a modern, new, green mode
of transportation that can not only fix gaps in tourism but also give a message
of tolerance and patience. The trains are full of Jerusalem residents – secular,
religious, Arab and haredi,” he said.
Transportation Minister Yisrael
Katz and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat canceled their ride on the train because of
the previous day’s terrorist attack in the South.
“It was a highly
anticipated event and it was flawless,” said Hagai Bichler, a resident of the
Kiryat Yovel neighborhood who came with his wife, Sivan, and sons Binyamin and
“They were very excited, they’ve been waiting to go on this tram
for a while. They could see them go by without any people inside [during
testing], so they’re very happy,” Bichler said.
Though the mood was
celebratory, not all of the riders were convinced the train was a sound
“I’m not so optimistic, there were so many stories in the
news of all these problems that it’s hard to be optimistic,” said Dan Kaffeman,
from Abu Tor.
He said the train did not serve his neighborhood so he was
doubtful he would use it on a regular basis, and dismissed it as a “tourist
Store owners along Jaffa Road were cautiously hopeful that Friday represented a turning point.
“It was really hard and we suffered a
lot,” said Yaakov Levi, who has owned the Na’ale Yafit shoe store for 10 years.
He estimated he lost upward of 60 percent of his customers during the
construction of the light rail.
“This will help, now that there’s a train
maybe they’ll come back,” he said.
Levi said the landlords had doubled
the rent for stores along the light rail route, and his own rent went from NIS
10,000 per month to NIS 22,000 because of its location along the
“The City Center Community Council really thinks it was a big
mistake to [build the light rail] here,” said council member Kami Malcon, owner
of the Malcon men’s clothing store, where he has worked for 30
“Lots of people went out of business, and I don’t know if it will
ever be up to the level that it was [before the light rail],” he
Despite concern expressed by some riders about the trains’ route
through the Arab neighborhoods of Shuafat and Beit Hanina, the train passed
without incident though them, and a few residents got on and off the
Tunsi, an Arab resident of the Jewish Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood,
with a prayer rug slung over his shoulder, said the train represented an
excellent way to get to the Old City for prayers during Ramadan, when parking is
a nightmare there.
“This will make it so much easier,” he said.