The Transportation Ministry delivered the conclusions of the committee report on gender-segregated public bus-lines, known as 'Mehadrin' buses, to the High Court of Justice Tuesday morning.
According to the report, the segregation itself is not legal, but passengers may voluntarily segregate themselves if they so chose.
The High Court of Justice held a hearing on Tuesday on a petition demanding that the government conduct a comprehensive study of the objective need for segregated buses in the haredi sector.
On the eve of the hearing, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz informed the court that he had only received the report earlier that day and did not want to release it until he'd had time to study it.
Originally, the court ordered the ministry to prepare the report by July 20, 2008. However, the ministry kept asking for postponements.
Finally, the court set the date for the hearing on October 27, 2009, and the state announced that the report would be completed by mid-October.
It failed to keep its word.
The petitioners include Jerusalem-based author Naomi Ragen and the Israel Religious Action Center of the Progressive Movement. In the petition they wrote that the public bus companies operated segregated buses "in which the women are required to enter from the back door and sit in the back of the bus, while the men enter from the front doors and sit in front. Furthermore, the women are required to dress modestly. Women who oppose the arrangements that are imposed upon them and try to resist like the petitioners are humiliated and suffer from verbal harassment and threats of violence or are thrown off the bus."
They added that the introduction of segregated buses had begun as a pilot project 10 years earlier, but that in the meantime it had mushroomed out of control. No one was in charge of approving such routes, no one knew exactly how many there were or the criteria for establishing them in the first place.
The petitioners also charged that the Transportation Ministry had abdicated its responsibility to supervise the segregated buses.
In addition to calling for a study of the issue, the petitioners also demanded
that for every segregated bus on the special routes, there should be an integrated one as well. Furthermore, the segregated buses should be clearly marked as such.
In its response to the petition, the Transportation Ministry informed the court that there were 90 bus lines serving the haredi community. The permits granted by Egged for these lines did not oblige the women to sit in the back of the bus. Thus, the seating arrangement was voluntary. The ministry did not subsidize the fares on the segregated buses. It was the bus companies that offered lower prices than those charged on the integrated lines.
Egged told the court that it had begun to offer segregated buses to the haredi community to compete with "pirate" buses that were already offering that service. Most of the routes were new, the company said; it had not converted existing integrated routes into segregated ones. There were reasonable alternatives for non-haredi customers on integrated routes, Egged added.
Egged said it could not run segregated and integrated buses on the same routes because there was insufficient demand. Finally, it said the bus lines were not discriminatory because there was an inherent difference between haredi and non-haredi society.