Jerusalem light rail 311.
(photo credit: iTravelJerusalem)
Yesterday – a bone-chilling Jerusalem winter morning – my daily commute took
twice the usual time, following the recent changes to the Egged bus lines that
have marked the status quo of Jerusalem transport for decades.
Jerusalem Light Rail, operating since last summer, with the Egged bus company a
shareholder, has now changed the complexion of the city. Not just by creating a
de facto political reality by running through Arab neighborhoods, nor for the
ensuing stone-throwing, but for the way it has transformed commuting in Israel’s
So yesterday, instead of a single bus to work, I took –
like many others – two buses and the train. I started from my house – waiting
five minutes for the “feeder” bus to navigate the five- to seven-minute journey
to Mount Herzl, one of the current endpoints of the light rail, where a sign
flashes the anticipated arrival time of the next train: 10 minutes.
the train rolls – a smooth, pleasant ride, not like the erratic, sometimes
terrifying, journeys navigated by Egged drivers – to the central bus station.
But the traffic lights are not calibrated, and occasionally the cars zoom past
the train, which takes its turn waiting at intersections. Peering out the
window, I see Givat Ram, my destination – there it goes – as I pass it, on the
right. My “connecting” bus is close to the center of town: the train, also
over-crowded – Jerusalemites, like me, now have no other commuting choice –
takes me into the middle of rush hour traffic, before my journey
Off the train, and a trek to another bus with a waiting-time
of another six minutes. Not only is the bus overcrowded, but the machines
installed to “read” the personalized train passes – unlike those on the train
itself which are like their counterparts in London and New York – require the
driver to press a button, taking about six to eight seconds per
With sometimes as many as 30 alighting passengers – do the
math – it adds even more time to the commute.
At every train station and
many bus stops, representatives of City- Pass, the head of the consortium that
runs the train, stand, handing out new schedules and booklets which mostly
consist of pages with headings such as: “What to do if the bus line you used to
take has been either shortened or cancelled.”
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When I ask one
representative, just a kid really, if there is a complaints line, he offers a
tollfree number which turns out to only be an information line, and ‘no,’ the
answer is curt when I do call, “there is no manager to whom I might be
I later learn that there is a way to register complaints,
but not by phone, e-mail or internet, rather by fax. In Israel, the “Start-Up
Nation,” the Ministry of Transportation acts – where else do companies or
government ministries use fax machines? – like it’s 1978.
The light rail
was to take Jerusalem into the 21st century, to make it a venue for new
businesses, a place to which young professionals would flock instead of flee. To
make Jerusalem a city – in more than one sense of the word – that works. But
everyone at the stations seems resigned to their fate. No one seems in a
Perhaps natives of Jerusalem are just used to forbearing
impossible traffic, a corrupt municipality and escalating costs of
Or maybe it’s not just the forbearance of the Jerusalem
day-to-day, but the suffering of Jewish generations writ large on the faces
between the cold rain–drops. And waiting for the train, among the miseries Jews
have suffered, is not all that bad.
“It will be OK,” I overhear, and then
someone else echoes: “God willing.” But I for one am hoping for more: for
intelligent city planning, responsible government and, now, receptiveness to the
needs of the citizens of Jerusalem. Last summer, we had a “Cottage Cheese
Revolution,” bringing down the cost of one of Israel’s staple foods; maybe now
in Jerusalem, we need a “Light Rail Revolution” as well.The writer lives
in Jerusalem. He is a professor of English at Bar-Ilan University.
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