‘Catastrophe’ on Agrippas

The final planning stage of the J'lem's light rail project has gone into effect, and Jaffa Road has now been closed to traffic.

Jaffa Road Jerusalem 521  (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jaffa Road Jerusalem 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The final planning stage of the city’s light rail project has gone into effect, and Jaffa Road has now been closed to traffic and turned into a pedestrian walkway, while the trains conduct test runs.
According to the Transportation Master Plan’s spokesman, Shmuel Elgrabli, the implemented plan is a success. “We have accomplished a very substantial transfer,” he says. According to Elgrabli, this was “major surgery, and minor inconveniences should not be looked at under a microscope. We didn’t build Jerusalem and its roads; we are just working with what we have, and trying our best.”
As proof Elgrabli cites the 400 ushers stationed across the center of the city, and particularly on Jaffa road, who hand out brochures with maps and information, and make sure people don’t cross Jaffa Road when a train is coming.
But not everyone shares Elgrabli’s positive perspective. Evelyn, a 75-year-old Mahaneh Yehuda shopper from Pisgat Ze’ev, says the new bus stops on Rehov Agrippas are sub-par, to put it mildly. “There’s no room to sit; imagine if there was rain, where would we stand?” she asks. “Is this normal? Is this how you treat human beings? Like animals!” she charges. “There’s no sidewalk, you can see it yourself – old people, people with carts – there’s no room for them to move. It’s impossible.”
To its credit, Egged has deployed extra personnel on Agrippas to speed along the process of boarding the buses, but there are far too few to make any real difference. “One bus stops, people start getting on and the other buses just line up behind it waiting because there’s no room to pass,” says one Egged driver.
Even at off-peak hours, rows of eight or nine buses can be seen, sweeping down the length of Agrippas, waiting as the bus in front lets people on.
Additionally, the information being distributed by the ushers near Mahaneh Yehuda is currently only available in Hebrew, something the Transportation Master Plan says is because of the population in that area. “Ninety-nine percent of the people shopping in Mahaneh Yehuda speak Hebrew,” says Elgrabli. “We placed English brochures in the hotels and at the tourist information centers, and Arabic ones in Arabic-speaking areas,” he says, adding, however, that he will now make sure all the ushers have at least a few brochures in other languages as well.
One Egged driver named Peretz says it takes buses 40 minutes to get from the central bus station to Kikar Davidka, a ride that once took just five minutes. The walk only takes 10-15 minutes, leaving one to conclude that it’s better to walk than ride a bus to the city center these days.
But Peretz says the passengers aren’t the only ones suffering. “The drivers are so backed up now, that when they finish their route – they used to have a 15-minute break – now they have to turn right around, like a dog chasing his own tail.”
But Elgrabli says the public should appreciate the Transportation Master Plan’s efforts. “It’s not a simple thing to transfer 1,000 buses. Had we cut the number of bus lines the public outcry would have been even greater.”
While that may be the case, nevertheless, when passengers and residents describe the situation, the only words they can find are “awful” and “catastrophe.”