Secret addendum: No bus to run next to light rail

Activists say "non-competition" clause in light rail contract hurts passengers, officials comment it is standard practice.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
July 31, 2012 19:49
3 minute read.
Jerusalem light rail

Jerusalem light rail 311. (photo credit: iTravelJerusalem)

The Jerusalem Light Rail signed a “non-competition” contract with the government to divert all Jerusalem bus lines so as not to compete with the train, according to a secret addendum released to the public on Tuesday.

The contract addendum states that bus lines must not overlap with the light rail track for more than two stops or one kilometer.

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“The underline is that they made a monopoly for the light rail,” said Gil Yaacov, director of 15 Minutes, a public transportation advocacy group.

“They’re changing the buses so that we have to travel on the light rail even if it doesn’t make it faster – just so it will make it profitable.”

According to the contract, parallel bus lines can only be used if the trip will be 30 percent shorter on the bus than on the light rail, a measurement the activists dismissed as irrelevant. “We think the point of public transportation is to make the trip as short as possible, period,” said Yaacov.

“Public transportation is made to depend solely on light rail, and this means that any issue, a breakdown, an accident or a terror attack can freeze Jerusalem,” he said. “It’s like the main artery to the heart, if that artery doesn’t work, the whole city feels it.”

On Tuesday, MK Uri Ariel (National Union), the head of the State Control Committee, urged Transportation Minister Israel Katz not to renew the contract with CityPass, which expires at the end of the month. While this step is considered unlikely, Yaacov and the activists from 15 Minutes want the city to stop honoring the non-compete clause because CityPass has not achieved the level of service required by the agreement.

According to the contract, the light rail should not be more crowded than four people per square meter of space, though the situation during rush hour is far from that ideal.

Nadav Meroz, CEO of the Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan, the partnership between the city and the Transportation Ministry that is managing the a major overhaul of Jerusalem’s transportation system, insisted that the non-compete clause is standard practice. “The government gives us a certain amount of money and we have to do what’s optimal,” he said. “If we put a number of lines in the same spot, it wouldn’t be optimal… We want to make a well-built transportation system, and that means it needs to complement each other.”

Jerusalem has a fixed number of residents who will take public transportation even if the service is superior, so a company that invests in running the light rail wants assurances, explained Meroz. “If it’s an international company, we need to make it attractive, so they know that nothing will take away their customers,” he said.

According to the original contract signed 10 years ago, the Transportation Ministry promised CityPass revenues of NIS 15 million per month.

A CityPass spokeswoman said that the non-compete clause was determined by the state and presented to all of the companies that originally vied for the tender to operate the light rail.

Over the past year, the Jerusalem bus system has undergone major changes and 52 bus lines have been changed or cancelled. The goal of the new bus system is to replace long, winding, multineighborhood routes with shorter, direct routes that lead to the main transportation channels of the light rail and the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lane on Hebron Road. The changes are divided into four quarters, and the bus lines in the southwest and northwest quadrants have already been changed.


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