Communities in the Mateh Binyamin and Samaria regional councils of the West Bank will receive a slew of upgrades in their public transportation system come November 14, the Transportation Ministry announced on Tuesday.
Residents of these areas will be encountering a reorganization of their bus lines, with improved frequency and new armored routes leading to popular destinations, through the Egged-Ta’avura bus company, a subsidiary of the Egged bus cooperative and the Ta’avura Group.
Immediately following the June kidnapping of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah from a hitchhiking post in Gush Etzion, the ministry declared its intention to advance a plan for enhancing bus reliability and frequency in Judea and Samaria. Along with Egged, it began launching new lines in the region on July 1, arguing that hitchhiking should be minimized.
These initial improvements were the first in a three-stage program launched in conjunction with local council heads.
The second stage will begin to run on November 14, when many Egged routes will be transferred to Egged-Ta’avura company and receive significant service upgrades, according to the ministry. The third stage is a long-term plan that requires the purchase of 30 protected buses, Meir Chen, director of the ministry’s Public Transportation Authority, said in a mid-July Knesset meeting on the subject.
During the July stage, Egged began operating a line from Neveh Daniel to the Beit Shemesh train station, another line from Neveh Daniel to Kfar Etzion, and a third from Jerusalem to Nokdim. In addition, it launched two night lines that run from Ofra and Kfar Etzion to and from Jerusalem. An additional line began running from Tel Aviv to and from Modi’in, passing through several Samaria settlements en route.
The changes and improvements being launched in the current stage follow a study of the needs of passengers, ground conditions and traffic and security restraints compiled by the Public Transportation Authority in cooperation with the Mateh Binyamin and Shomron regional councils, the ministry said. With the introduction of Egged-Ta’avura into the region, a significant portion of the area’s buses will be replaced by armored vehicles. The newer buses will also comply with the greener Euro 5 emission standards and have an internal public address system, the ministry added.
As part of the changes, there will be 18 new bus lines in the region, including a direct line from Ariel to Jerusalem, an express bus from Tel Zion to the entrance of Jerusalem, and express buses from both Nahliel and Dolev to Modi’in, the ministry said. The frequency of lines running from Kedumim to Jerusalem and those running from Modi’in to Jerusalem via the Binyamin settlements will also be improved, it said. In addition, Binyamin lines that formerly concluded their routes at Jerusalem’s central bus station will now continue to the National Insurance Institute headquarters or to the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood as their final destinations.
The new bus routes, numbered 146, 149, 461, 462, 463, 466, 467 and 468, will be bulletproof and conclude their routes at the light rail station in Pisgat Ze’ev in order to allow for more journeys between the capital and these communities, the ministry said. From Pisgat Ze’ev, passengers will be able to continue to either the light rail or city buses at no additional charge using Rav-Kav magnetic cards.
The Transportation Ministry recommended, however, that for the time being these passengers retain two Rav-Kavs – an “anonymous” card to be loaded with multi-entry, integrated tickets for journeys between cities and continuing on within Jerusalem, and a personal Rav- Kav for the remainder of the traveler’s needs. The “anonymous” Rav-Kavs will be available at Egged-Ta’avura stands in Eshkol and in the Pisgat Ze’ev Mall, the ministry said.
To make residents aware of all the changes, the Public Transportation Authority will be distributing informative leaflets in mailboxes, at various public centers and in local media publications, the ministry explained.
Transportation Minister Israel Katz stressed that the comprehensive upgrade would heighten the security of settlers living in these regions, adding that the government had an obligation to protect all youths and adults living in Judea and Samaria.
Chen, the Public Transportation Authority director, hoped that after an initial adjustment period, satisfaction among users in Binyamin would improve.
“We will follow the activities of the lines and provide a solution to any problem that might arise at the beginning,” Chen said. “At the end of the launch period, assessments will be made and additional changes will be implemented according to the level of need.”
In response to the Transportation Ministry’s announcement, area residents expressed both satisfaction and hope that further improvements would be made.
“We want to thank the minister of transportation for the welcome change in modes of transportation in Binyamin,” Mateh Binyamin Regional Council spokeswoman Tamar Asraf told The Jerusalem Post. “It is definitely an important process that will improve significantly the quality of life of Binyamin residents. We also hope that in the near future there will be additional armored buses reduce the burden of having to transfer from bus to bus.”
The ministry’s announcement of new lines and services came a week after security sources spoke of a potential edict that could prevent Palestinian laborers from returning home to the West Bank aboard public bus lines – arousing calls of apartheid from left-wing politicians.
The security program, which has yet to be put in place, would require the laborers to head home at night through the same IDF checkpoints they pass through in the morning to get to Israel proper, according to the sources. Technically speaking, they would be able to continue using Israeli buses on either side of the barrier, but the edict would make this a challenging proposition.
While there is no start date for the plan, it is likely to begin with a pilot program at the Eyal crossing in Samaria, the security sources said.Tovah Lazaroff and Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.