Another link in the chain

A new bus depot in east Jerusalem will connect 20% of Arab bus lines to the light rail.

e Jlem bus depot opening  521 (photo credit: Courtesy of Flash 90)
e Jlem bus depot opening 521
(photo credit: Courtesy of Flash 90)
Passengers who try to catch a bus from east Jerusalem’s notoriously crowded central bus stations know that the challenge of finding the right bus and alighting safely are serious obstacles to overcome. The area around the Damascus Gate has three major bus depots, all of which have no sidewalks, uneven, broken pavement, and buses whipping around corners to squeeze into impossibly small spaces.
There is no centralized information and it is difficult for non- Arabic speakers to find the correct bus or even the correct bus station.
Most east Jerusalem residents have learned to dodge piles of trash and weave their way between street vendors aggressively hawking their wares. But as part of a large “transportation revolution” across the capital in conjunction with the opening of the light rail, the municipality, along with the semipublic Moriah Jerusalem Development Company and the Transportation Ministry, has completed the first of the renovations of the bus depots.
The NIS 2.5 million renovations to the bus station opposite the Damascus Gate represent a large improvement for one of the most chaotic and crowded bus depots in east Jerusalem.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz dedicated a new east Jerusalem bus depot last week that connects to the light rail and will serve about 20 percent of the Arab bus lines in the capital. Mayor Nir Barkat and the head of the east Jerusalem bus companies union, Omar Hattib, joined Katz in dedicating the new bus station.
The dedication came the morning after more violence on the light rail. Late last Monday night, rocks were thrown at a train as it passed through Beit Hanina towards Shuafat, damaging the windshield, though there were no injuries. Then on Wednesday, a scuffle broke out on the light rail between Arab youths and security guards when the guards asked the boys to take their feet off the seats. Police said that the boys attacked the guards, who used pepper spray against them, and it degenerated into a brawl.
“We have zero tolerance for disturbances,” Katz said about the rock-throwing incidents. “A law is a law, public transportation is for the best of all residents and it must operate without disturbances,” he said.
In an unrelated incident last week, rocks were thrown from the Mamilla Bridge, over the mall, at a No. 2 Egged bus. The rocks hit the bus, causing the driver to lose control and slam into a wall. The bus driver was lightly injured from the impact and treated on the scene by Magen David Adom paramedics.
None of the passengers was injured, though the bus was damaged. Police opened investigations into both of the incidents.
Barkat said he was depending on the police to ensure that public transportation is safe. “Unfortunately, this is something that happens everywhere, it’s happened at discotheques in Tel Aviv, it’s happened on the beaches, yesterday it happened on the light rail,” he said.
Hattib acknowledged that stone throwing was a problem all over east Jerusalem, including against Arab buses, but he was at a loss as to how to stop it.
Katz said that he saw the improved bus station and the light rail as important ways to weave together the cities’ distinct populations by making different parts of the city more accessible and improving the ease of movement between them. “Our goal is to get this city developed, and this is one tool to do it,” he said.
There are 17 bus companies in east Jerusalem, which carry roughly 100,000 Arab residents a day on more than 300 lines.
Sixty of the bus lines will utilize the new bus depot, which is located across from the Damascus Gate just steps away from the light rail. The new station has awnings for waiting passengers and platforms large enough for bigger buses, which has prompted some companies to upgrade their old vans to standard buses.
Last Tuesday, bus drivers welcomed the improvements and said they were optimistic about future renovations. A second bus depot will be renovated in the near future, said Hattib.
“This has helped east Jerusalem a lot, especially for drivers.
It’s much easier to work and very organized,” said Adel, a driver from the South Jerusalem Bus Company who drives the bus to Beit Jala. He added that while the drivers and passengers welcomed the renovation, there were a lot of other improvements the municipality still needs to make in east Jerusalem, including paving streets, building schools, and improving infrastructure.