Changes afoot

Residents bemoan new bus routes that force users to transfer from one vehicle to another, and in many cases, to the light rail.

Bus changes 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Bus changes 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The first stage of Jerusalem’s new public transportation system was launched last Friday, covering the city’s southern neighborhoods. Some bus routes were eliminated, others shortened and new ones introduced as part of the incorporation of the light rail. For many residents, the transition so far has been less than smooth.
For Ya’acov Granot, a resident of Katamon Het, the changes are definitely for the worse.
“Can someone at the Transportation Ministry or [light rail company] CityPass explain to me what’s so great about the fact that I’ll have to transfer from a bus to the light rail and then maybe back to a bus? Or to my mother, who has to drag her shopping bags from the Mahaneh Yehuda market?”
Granot and his friend Yossi Arlan, who were waiting at the central bus station Tuesday for the bus to Katamonim, also complained that the electronic signs announcing the bus schedules were not functioning everywhere.
“They work only in the rich neighborhoods – perhaps they think that in the the Katamonim we don’t know how to read them?” says Arlan sarcastically.
Granot and Arlan agree that, as far as they can see, the new transportation plan has helped only those living along the light rail line.
Sunday morning the situation was even worse, due to the Defense Ministry’s decision (which has since been canceled) to prevent soldiers returning to base after the weekend from using the train. Ido, a 20-year-old soldier who lives on Hapalmah Street, describes his journey to the central bus station as “a real nightmare.”
“All the buses were so packed that I had to wait for five buses until I could get on one, no less packed than the others,” he says, adding that many of the passengers he saw, especially old people, seemed very anxious, asking each other about the new lines. “Even the driver said he didn’t know anything. Maybe he was so tired of answering the same questions that some point he just started saying he didn’t know?”
There were three elderly Russian women, he says, who spoke only a few words of Hebrew and seemed to have no idea what was going on.
“They looked totally lost and so anxious. I don’t understand why there was not a little more preparation.”
But what’s merely annoying for residents can be a serious problem for visitors. On Tuesday night, a young couple from the center of the country were found by a local resident wandering around the Pat neighborhood with their two young children, looking for a bus to the central bus station.
Shlomo and Barbara, immigrants from South America, had come to Jerusalem for a wedding and gotten lost on the way back from Talpiot. They told the local resident who found them that they had set out on foot after waiting and waiting for a bus that never showed up (apparently a stop that was canceled without any indication).
“There is no indication whatsoever on any stop in this whole area regarding the way to reach the central bus station,” explains the resident. “How could they know that they need to take a bus and change at some point to the light rail?”
On December 22, Yossi Saidov, the newly elected president of the South Jerusalem neighborhood council, sent a harsh letter on behalf of residents to Dror Ganon, head of the public transportation administration in Jerusalem at the ministry. In the letter, Saidov said the ministry was not taking residents’ requests and real needs into account.
“I was prepared to find out that we were right in our apprehensions,” says Saidov this week, “but what’s going on now is close to a disaster in terms of public transportation.”
Saidov, who created and heads the non-profit organization “15 minutes,” which represents the rights of the public transportation consumer, says that since the basic concept is that all bus routes have been tailored to the light rail, clearly the residents’ interests are not the primary concern.
The plan, he says, overlooks the needs of certain residents, there is not enough information available at the bus stops (signs printed on paper and stuck at stations were washed out by the rain) and details available online are not accessible for a large part of the population, especially seniors, and in any case are currently only in Hebrew.
“Many people who depend on public transportation do not check things on the Internet... and do not get the most basic information they need,” he says.
Finally, a quick glance at a map of the new bus routes reveals that there are only poor connections, or no connections at all, between business sectors and the various residential neighborhoods. For example, a resident of Rassco who wishes to reach Givat Shaul, one of the busiest business and services neighborhoods, doesn’t need the light rail, because that won’t take him to Givat Shaul anyway.
“The whole plan is misconceived,” fumes Saidov.
Ministry planners, on the other hand, claim that problems and misunderstandings at the beginning are almost unavoidable, and that things will calm down shortly as people get accustomed to the changes.
“That’s probably true,” admits Ilana Yuval, a resident of Rassco, “but things won’t get better for my mother – she’s old and tired; I don’t see her changing from a bus to the light rail and again to a bus in order to reach the market for example – so what will she do? Stay at home or use a taxi? They can’t be serious.”
Saidov says this is exactly the problem he warned about during the preliminary stages of the new plan.
“Transferring from one bus to another, or to the light rail, is fine, that’s what people do in Europe and all over the world. But it’s not OK for some people, and these deserve to be taken into account too. Why not add a few lines that connect the neighborhoods to Mahaneh Yehuda or the municipality? Not as express lines, but even only once an hour?”