Ready to board

Local residents are unsure how to use the light rail, where to get tickets, and if it will help their daily commute

Jerusalem light rail  (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem )
Jerusalem light rail
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem )
The 18 bus is crowded to the brim with people in the afternoon. Sweat forms on the passengers’ heads as they scramble to get around one another and into the narrow passage that makes up the bus. It’s standing room only, not a rarity on Jerusalem’s buses.
Mati Kaplan, 32, has worked in the shuk for several years and rides the bus everyday from his newly rented apartment in Baka into the city.
“I take a taxi home because my shift ends after the buses top running. This is a disaster on Agrippas [Street], where all these buses are now routed. From a point of view of pollution it is also not healthy, all the time these buses are releasing the most noxious gases.”
For years the construction of the Jerusalem light rail has been making snail’s-pace progress, slowly carving up and refurbishing the central artery of Jerusalem, Jaffa Road and Route 1. But finally, after numerous delays, it is set to open on August 19.
The Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan authorities foresee that several bus lines, perhaps as many as a dozen, will be replaced by the light rail once it is up and running. However, questions remain about the degree of knowledge bus passengers have about the light rail and whether they intend to use it as at all to shorten their daily commutes.
Kaplan thinks that the light rail is a good idea but for him it won’t have much impact, “I don’t see myself using it, it doesn’t service my neighborhood,” he said. “Why would I ride it the short distance to the shuk if I’m already on a bus?” His view is typical of the Jerusalemite bus rider, a mix of positive reactions to the light rail in general with a practical questioning of what impact it will have.
Noa Singerman, a 24-year-old student at the Hebrew University who is studying Middle Eastern studies, uses the buses to get back and forth to the university from her city-center apartment.
“The train, well that is a wonderful idea, but it is just crazy that we’ve had to wait so long for it. It was a disaster for so many years, with the delays and construction.”
Singerman is passionate about the housing protests that have swept the country, and she spent Saturday night protesting opposite the Prime Minister’s Residence.
“This is what these protests are about, it’s not just housing, it is the state of affairs in this country and the train and the incompetence around it is symbolic of the entire systematic problem. Nevertheless it will be nice to not have to spend an hour on a bus to get to the center from the university.”
But she is generally happy about the idea of a light rail. “This is the capital of Israel, of course it should have a train, so in that respect I’m excited.”
Other riders on the 19 bus that goes from the university to the city center and then to Hadassah- University Medical in Ein Kerem, are interested in the benefits they will see.
Adam Yudelman, who moved to Israel a year ago to study at a kibbutz near Haifa, and is about to begin work as a volunteer for Magen David Adom, is very excited.
“I love it! I think it’s amazing and I can’t wait, I can’t say it enough, amazing, it is great to see modern transport in this ancient city,” he said.
Yudelman uses buses to get from French Hill into the city center.
“I usually only use buses and I hate them because they are impossible to understand where they go and manage to use them. The train will [reduce] the commute time into the city.”
But most riders are foggy on exactly how to ride the light rail and where to get tickets. Yudelman smiles and says “I want to ride it, but no one can ride it now.
I have no idea, but it shouldn’t be hard to find out how to ride. The question is whether I can use the same ticket for buses?” And that presents a further problem, “if it’s going to be a pain to get on, well I guess I anticipate it will be.
Are you saying I can’t pay cash when I get on or buy tickets in small quantities? That seems stupid and is something they have to change. Public transit should be for everyone and not just daily commuters. I guess the idea is to speed up people getting on and off. And what about tourists, how do they ride it? Will you have automated kiosks for normal people to buy? In Toronto you have to pay with exact cash to buy the ticket. You buy the ticket at a subway station or store.”
Some riders of the buses who are familiar with Tel Aviv think that it may become a mess and compare it to the way the public bicycle system is in Tel Aviv, where only those who pay a multiple-use fee with a credit card can use the system.
On Sunday it takes the No. 32 bus about 15 minutes to get from King George Avenue to Binyenei Ha’uma next to the Central Bus Station. Riders on the 32, which goes all the way to Ramot, are equally miffed about what is happening.
Max Banner, a 22-year-old recent immigrant from South Carolina and intern at a hi-tech company at Har Hotzvim, thinks, “On the whole public transport is important and it will be interesting to know how it works... I don’t know how exactly to get a card to ride it, I heard there was some problem with timing it with street lights. I don’t know, can I transfer from a bus to a train, I have no idea...”
Jerusalemites don’t seem too intent on educating themselves about CityPass, which operates the light rail.
“I guess I’ll get on and figure it out,” says Banner. “If I have to go to the train station to buy a ticket it will be a big mess.”
One thing many people agree on is that the train looks nice. Banner thinks the Bridge of Strings is especially nice.
“I would have sooner expected to see it in Tel Aviv... it is really nice to have avenues without cars and it is quieter and nice to be able to walk on a broad quiet street.”
Moshe Rindenow, a recently released soldier who works as a security guard at Hadassah University Medical Center generally uses the 18, 20, 21, 23 and 13 bus lines.
“I don’t see myself using the train because it doesn’t help me get to work, but it gives the city a modern feel, it is really chill.”
Dave L., a resident of Nahlaot, disagrees. “It is out of place in this city, that’s all I’m going to say.” •