Now it’s official.
At 5:30 a.m. on Friday, the first Jerusalem light rail
train will leave the station with actual passengers.
The train’s start
date received final approval despite bickering between the Transportation
Ministry and the Knesset Economic Committee over testing periods, a law that
will govern future light rails across the country, a delayed safety permit and
arguments over updating traffic lights to give the light rail
Passengers will be able to ride the train for the first few
months free of charge, after CityPass worked out a deal with the state to
subsidize rides for the first stage of the train’s operation, CityPass announced
It took nearly a decade for the constant digging, roadwork,
intra-agency bickering, headaches and furious demonstrations by frustrated
merchants and residents for the light rail to come to fruition, and the city is
filled with skepticism ahead of the start date.
“We have to see this as a
time of celebration,” Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, in charge of environmental issues
and urban planning, said on Tuesday.
“It’s been like a patient on the
operating table for a decade, and we were in real danger of the operation being
a success but the patient might not have survived.
The patient is Jaffa
Road, and if we come through this ordeal, we are going to see a tremendous urban
awakening in city center. It’s already begun, but this is a sign for us to enjoy
the city, because we’re going to find ourselves ahead of all the other cities in
Tsur, who does not own a car, said she planned on taking the
light rail from her home in Kiryat Moshe to Safra Square every day, and it would
let her easily stop at Mahane Yehuda on her way home from
Transportation officials expressed optimism the train will
drastically change public transportation in Israel’s capital. After the traffic
lights are updated to give the train preference, more than 50 urban bus routes
will change in the city to better integrate with the light
Passengers will be able to use the Rav Kav card for both buses and
trains, and pay one price for travel on all types of vehicles within an hour and
But bicycle activists are frustrated with the light rail’s
decision not to allow bicycles on the train, which they claim was specifically
built to accommodate wheelchairs, strollers, and bicycles. The same light rail
train, the Alstom Citadis 302, allows bicycles in other cities, such as
Barcelona, Bordeaux and Montpellier, France.
“I think it’s a missed
opportunity, because one of the most important things in public transportation
is interconnectivity, and here you’re missing the opportunity to connect
different types of sustainable transportation,” said Pearl Kaplan, an activist
with biking group Cycle Jerusalem and a project manager at the Jerusalem branch
of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.
“This is a train
that was built to encourage multimodal use,” she said, explaining the city chose
a train that had plenty of room for strollers, wheelchairs, and bicycles.
“[Bikes] fill in the missing links of the light rail.”
invested considerable money to build a new bike path in French Hill to connect
the neighborhood with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This would enable
students who live in the center to ride to the train, get on with their bikes,
and then cycle to the campus in just a few minutes.
“More bikers means
less traffic, less pollution and fewer parking problems,” Kaplan
The municipality supports bikes on the light rail, said
Both Kaplan and Tsur suggested limitations for bikes, such as only
during off-peak hours, or only in every other carriage, similar to bike
regulations in other cities.
CityPass spokesman Ozel Vatik said the
company had no issues with allowing bicycles on the train, but it was dependent
on the Transportation Ministry giving the approval.
Ministry spokesman Avner Ovadia said bicycles would definitely not be allowed
during the first few months of the train’s operation. He said the ministry had
not received any requests to allow bikes on the light rail, although the
activists said they had been in touch.
Kaplan said the activist group was
working on submitting another written request.
Ministry’s bicycle master plan states that “Bicycles should be allowed on trains
and buses as personal luggage.
[Bicycles should be allowed on trains,
light rails, and some buses for minimal charge or for free. This could be
limited to certain hours.]”