A few days of heightened activity due to the holiday period forced me to travel mostly by taxi last week. When I returned to my regular mode of transportation - the Egged bus - I met with an unpleasant shock: Things had changed in the interim.
The light rail is part of a comprehensive mass transportation plan. While the light rail will eventually operate in the city's northwest, the southeast will have a large network of buses (up to 250 passengers each). As a result of the planning and roadworks for this project, changes in the bus lines are expected. The problem is that these changes are not made at once but implemented every few weeks, thus causing much anger and confusion.
It had already taken me days to get used to the changes in the lines in my neighborhood: bus No. 7 (from Arnona to Har Hotzvim) was now my local Baka bus, while the No. 21 (from Har Homa to Ramat Sharett) has begun to travel along Derech Hebron.
So I - like my neighbors in Talpiot and Baka - were now serviced by a rather elusive No. 7 line and the newcomer, line 74.
The 74 eventually became comfortably familiar. It is usually not too full, its air conditioning always works and its drivers are relatively pleasant and polite. Its only serious fault, that its last stop is not next to the central bus station but on the Binyenei Ha'uma side, adding at least five minutes to the journey, soon became an advantage. Where else in this city could you step out of a bus and immediately have at least five options to pay your weekly charity to the many beggars concentrated there?
And then it happened: One morning I reached the stop at the "Tzomet Habankim" intersection on Derech Hebron, waiting for No. 30 (Gilo to Mount Scopus) - and waited. And waited. And waited. After about 50 minutes, I realized that something had happened to my favorite bus and asked people around me. Two waiting passengers revealed to me the sad truth: line 30 had been forced into retirement, and would not arrive any time soon. In fact, never again. Not that anybody thought to remove its number from the bus stop.
Meanwhile, I noticed, a little surprised, that new lines had been added: bus numbers 71, 72, 75â€¦ Who introduced them here? I noticed, with a sigh of relief, that I was not the only one who was disconcerted at the sight of these intruders. The nice old lady with a hat, whom I have met at the bus stop for years, also seemed very concerned. A group of young students, apparently new olim from France, appeared totally lost as well. Imagine their distress - not only were there unexpected changes, but everything was in Hebrew!
A short inquiry revealed these interesting details: 71 and 72 run from Gilo to Ramot and back. Why two lines, I asked naively. "Because we have slightly different routes in both neighborhoods," a driver on the No. 71 answered patiently. I decided to give it a try. Well, the result was not very impressive: Both lines - I took the 71 from Talpiot to Ramot and the 72 from Ramot back to Talpiot - were functional: rapid wherever there was no traffic jam. About 35 minutes from one end to the other. Asked how long the same route would take during rush hour, the No. 72 driver admitted it could take up to an hour. An excellent way to convince the residents of Jerusalem to sell their cars and use public transportation, right?
At one point during the journey, a large family boarded the bus. Each of the children - I counted nine of them - held a tray of food. After they got off the bus, the driver admitted to me that he could hardly concentrate on his driving because of the tantalizing smell of the food.
Oh yes, and one more thing: I always knew that Ramot was huge, but I never realized until that day how immense it really is.