Unhappy with Egged

A look into the issues plaguing Jerusalem’s public bus system

Jerusalem bus No. 13 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Jerusalem bus No. 13
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
I ’ve written a range of articles for this publication on a wide range of topics concerning Jerusalem, but never have I witnessed such a deluge of responses on Facebook (more than 130 within a short span of time and still rising) as when I asked people to share their experiences and grievances with Jerusalem’s bus system. What has become clear is that this subject hits a nerve with the people of Jerusalem. They are tired of waiting up to 45 minutes for a bus to come, only to have it be so full of people that they can barely squeeze in. They are exasperated with digital signage that is supposed to show an accurate wait time, but is at best an occasionally helpful estimate. They are especially frustrated when many of the same bus lines arrive all at once. They wonder why the lines are not sent out in a way that would make sense for the citizens who rely on this mode of transportation to take them to work on time; pick up their children from school; visit loved ones in the hospital; or return home at the end of the day.
“I’VE BEEN involved in this issue for a long time and it’s very complicated because the whole city’s bus schedule is planned and run by the Transportation Ministry,” says city councilwoman Fleur Hassan-Nahoum. “I talk in the Knesset about this frequently. Jerusalem’s students have suffered greatly. Bus 19 to Givat Ram sometimes gets canceled and nobody knows why. When it does come, it doesn’t come frequently enough.”
Hassan-Nahoum protested the inconsistent No. 19 bus line with students from Hebrew University in January and managed to make a difference. The Transportation Ministry responded and the line now runs more often. While this was a small and welcome victory in Jerusalem’s bus battlefield, there are many more to be won. Most residents with whom I spoke shared that they were unsuccessful in reaching Egged to complain about poor experiences with drivers or buses that inexplicably did not arrive. The ones that received responses to their complaints often had to wait months for them.
(My attempts via phone and email to obtain a statement from Egged regarding some of the issues raised in this article were unsuccessful, but they were given only a small window of time and may respond in the near future.)
“There was a driver who I think was smoking on the bus before her shift because it was always filled with smoke when we got on,” Johanna Bensoussan Borros states. “I complained to Egged and eventually she stopped. It was winter and she probably didn’t want to smoke outside, but it wasn’t right. I pay for this service; it’s not given to me for free. I rely on it.
“The main problem is buses just not showing up. If I have to be at work at 8 a.m., I leave my house at 6:45 in order not to be late. This is a ride that should only take 20 minutes with no traffic, but I’m a teacher and I cannot be late for my students.”
Bensoussan Borros is active on the Facebook group Egged Watch, which was started by city councilman Elad Malka to serve as a forum for people to voice their complaints about Egged. Malka collects the posts each month and sends them to both Egged and the Transpor tation Ministry, in the hopes of bringing about some change for the good of the city.
Malka established the group in January 2017 after continually feeling discouraged when using public transportation, typically waiting 30 to 40 minutes for buses to arrive.
“It seemed wrong to me,” Malka says. “I spoke to the Transportation Ministry, but didn’t receive a satisfactory response. The Facebook group is a place where people can post their complaints about Egged when buses don’t come or when they are overcrowded. It didn’t take long to understood that we have a real problem in Jerusalem. Buses just don’t show up.
“We had a meeting with Egged and the Transportation Ministry and they explained that there is a lack of drivers in Jerusalem; they are short 120 drivers. This translates to about 500 rides a day that are not happening. We were told that it would be fixed within a few months, but it was not. We started to take data from the ministry and discovered that between 6% and 12% of rides are missing every month and 40% to 50% of rides are delayed.”
Malka pinpointed the problem, which was echoed by nearly every person interviewed for this article: Egged has a monopoly on bus transportation in Jerusalem and the time for change has come. Due in large part to Malka’s efforts with the Transportation Ministry, there will be six new shuttle bus routes in Jerusalem not run by Egged, beginning in the next few months. They will operate on underserved lines such as Ramot to Mount Scopus, Arnona to Ein Kerem and Gilo to French Hill. The Rav-Kav card will be valid on the shuttles, and they will even run on Shabbat, although they will not be subsidized by the ministry on that day.
MALKA HAS also pushed for 20% of Jerusalem’s bus rides to be given to another company, to break up Egged’s monopoly and improve the overall system for the people who use it. After a recent Knesset meeting, it seems that he has succeeded. He was promised that a second company, maybe even two additional companies, will take over some of the bus lines in 2018. If this comes to fruition, it could completely transform the capital’s bus system for the better.
“Working with Egged is really difficult, they won’t even talk to me now because they are very angry,” Malka says. “We are not fighting against them; we are fighting for good transportation in Jerusalem. That is all. There are new bus companies in Gush Etzion and Ma’aleh Adumim, so it’s possible. But we don’t just need more rides; we need more drivers. The reason for Egged’s shortage of drivers is that they pay NIS 39 per hour, while the other companies are offering NIS 44 per hour. So the drivers are willing to leave. Egged needs to pay the amount that other companies are paying.”
According to Hassan-Nahoum, only 70% to 80% of scheduled buses in Jerusalem actually show up. The reason for this is a lack of drivers, but she cites unpleasant and even untenable work conditions as the main reason, rather than low pay. Hassan-Nahoum says that drivers do not receive adequate breaks and are thus forced to work extremely long hours. When they are able to take breaks, there is not enough bus parking in Jerusalem, which means that drivers end up having to park their buses on the side of the road, where they get tickets that they are expected to pay themselves.
“I’ve been trying to help the bus drivers for a while now,” she continues. “The conditions are appalling. There was an Arab driver who was praying on the side of the road and got a ticket. There are also not enough places where they can stop to use the toilet. One poor guy relieved himself at the back of the bus and a woman put in a complaint about him for sexual harassment. Another driver used a bottle and someone complained. There are lots of people with bus driver’s licenses, but nobody wants to work in these conditions.
“There is another issue of security. I’ve heard from Arab drivers that they can’t drive on certain routes because they are verbally abused. Altogether this creates a real gap between the number of drivers needed and the number actually available.” The most recent report on Egged from the Transportation Ministry shows that a whopping 10,067 scheduled trips did not happen in March. In April, that figure increased to 11,795. The number of scheduled trips for January was 194,000; for March it went down to 179,000; and for April it decreased even further to 169,000.
In terms of the most problematic bus lines, the report showed that in January, 34% of line 36 buses were either running late or canceled. This was followed by line 3 at 29%, and line 1 at 26%. “There are lines that are often empty, like line 84 to the Mount of Olives, but then others are so full you can’t get on,” Hassan-Nahoum adds. “It seems to me that the people who are planning the lines are not really talking to travelers.”
I DID talk to Jerusalem’s travelers. In fact, you might say that this article was written in tandem with them. Their candor and vexation fueled every word written. Here is a small portion of what they told me.
“I take the 71/72 bus to and from work every day, from the city center to Ramot. It’s always packed and is like a shuttle for baby carriages. It’s impossible to get off, you have to start about three stops before your actual stop. Everyone’s always yelling. It’s incredibly uncomfortable. The way back is terrible. I’m sure the driver has been reported multiple times. He refuses to speak to anybody about anything. Since the bus goes through Kikar Shabbat where there are often haredi protests, he has to go around them and usually has to skip a bunch of stops. So we don’t always know where the next stop will be and he refuses to tell us. I tried to complain about him to Egged, but it’s really hard to get through to them. A friend from work also tried. None of us succeeded.”
 – Ali Veroba
“I live on Hebron Road, where I take the 71, 72, 74 or 75, which will frequently come back-to-back and then I have to wait another 20 minutes for any of them to come again. That could be solved by sending the lines out every five minutes, you don’t even have to add any frequency. Things like that are just mind–boggling. From everything I’ve heard, lines 1 and 3 to the Kotel are the most problematic. Last year, something like 40% of them didn’t even go out. Since then, Egged has made those lines better.”
– Avi Bieler
“Last year, I was relying on the 13 bus from Katamon because that’s where my work was and if I didn’t make it out to the stop at exactly 7 p.m., it wouldn’t come for another 20 minutes. It was very frustrating. That bus line does not come frequently enough. It’s very inconvenient.”
– Shelby Aronoff
“Bus drivers close doors on elderly people almost every day. Sometimes I am on a bus and absolutely everyone but me is elderly. So there is nobody left to stand up for more elderly people and they need to stand.”
 – Shira Kanigsberg
“The 18 in Nahlaot regularly just doesn’t show up.”
– Molly Cloutier
“The 6 line is horrible. It almost never comes on time and all the buses are so old that the air conditioning doesn’t work. It gets so hot on those buses in the summer that once an older person overheated and had to get off. I was pregnant last summer and it was so difficult commuting to work when the seats felt like fire. I have asked drivers why the AC doesn’t work and why the bus is constantly late, but they shrug their shoulders and say there is nothing they can do. I’ve called Egged in the past about the buses running late and again was told there was nothing they could do and they suggested I take another bus. I just think it’s unfortunate that Egged is the only bus company that runs in the city, thus allowing them to act this way.”
 – Sarah Packer
 “The digital signs for all buses are so often completely and totally off. It will count down the bus from 15 minutes, to arriving, and then back to 20 minutes, with no bus ever showing up. Even on holidays and during strikes, the digital signs have shown buses coming. So my question is, what is it based on? Not the real situation. The other issues that are bad and frequent are these: driving way too fast – particularly on the 18 and 22 – and slamming the door in people’s faces when they are trying to board. Especially bad are the back doors that are supposed to allow people on to put their cards on the readers. Drivers are always shutting the doors on people. Then when they run to the front to try a different door, the drivers takes off.”
– Marcia Fremont
 “The 74 and 75 lines are frequently dangerously over crowded. If there were an emergency, God forbid, it would be nearly impossible to get out quickly. They need to start setting a limit.”
 – Elisheva Isabel Chaimov
 “There is no direct bus between Katamon/Katamonim and Arnona/Armon Hanatziv, even though these areas are all in south Jerusalem. Right now, if I wanted to get to Arnona from Ben Zakkai Street, for example, I’d have the undesirable options of walking 20 to 40 minutes uphill, depending where in Arnona I want to go, or taking one of the buses to Gan Hapa’amon and walking to the Khan Theatre to get the 7 or 78. Also, the ridiculous commute between the Central Bus Station and Givat Shaul, where so many people work. The two areas are next door to each other and a ride that should take 10 minutes maximum can take 30 because of the congestion and waiting ages for buses that all end up coming at once.”
– Devorah Nutovics
“My work commute is one hour each way. By car it would take me 10 minutes. I live in Katamon and work in Sha’arei Zedek, taking the 13 or 14. It’s a nightmare.”
– Nechama Kaufman
“In general, I am grateful that there is reasonably decent bus service. I grew up in a New Jersey suburb where public transportation was practically nonexistent and I was dependent on a car. So I’m grateful that I have been able to give up driving in Jerusalem (a nightmare) and enjoy the relatively stress-free experience of buses and the light rail. I often spend my morning and afternoon commutes resting, reading or chatting with my neighbors. Not perfect in any way, but not the worst either.”
– Lisa Cainan
“We need better bus service for museums and other attractions – increasing the number of buses on these routes during holidays. Try getting from the Central Bus Station to the botanical gardens, which in a car would be 10 minutes and takes 45 on the number 9! Or try taking the 33 to the zoo during school holidays.”
 – Alison Tangi
“The 35 never comes on time. Sometimes I wait 40 minutes for it in Beit Hakerem to Givat Ram and back. I know it leaves once in 30 minutes and there are traffic jams, especially in Kiryat Hayovel, but I have experienced many times that a bus was supposed to come and just didn’t. Also, buses 15 and 19 are way too crowded. There should be more of them per hour. A general critique is that there should be a bus that does the train [light rail] route, so there will be alternatives when there is a problem at the light train or just to take some burden off of the train.”
– Batsheva Haas
OTHER FREQUENT complaints concerned the lack of a direct bus line from Baka to Katamon, Katamon to Rehavia and Katamon to Arnona. According to Malka, who could well be considered one of Jerusalem’s leading experts on the subject, the bus problem has many dimensions. In his opinion, something that could help would be enabling companies like Uber or Lyft to share some of the city’s transportation load. Currently, permission from the Transportation Ministry is required, but enabling the private market to help may be part of the solution. Yet the undeniable fact remains that existing problems with Egged must be resolved by Egged.
Malka is currently suing Egged over its monopoly agreement with the city, which he made public.
“It had too many dark lines blacking out important information,” he adds. “We have a right to this information. Egged’s answer is that they had to publish the agreement this way in order to protect themselves. We found out that if more than 2.1% of Egged’s rides are not happening and over 6% are late, then the Transportation Ministry is able to take Egged’s license.”
As for the Transportation Ministry, they responded promptly, if generally, to inquiries relating to this article. When asked what changes Jerusalemites could look forward to in 2018, they said, “The Transportation Ministry works at all times to improve and promote public transportation in Israel in general and in Jerusalem in particular. We are currently working to promote the issue of abolishing cash payments to the bus driver, so that drivers will deal less in the sale of tickets. Starting next month, the sale of paper tickets to the general public will be discontinued and the sale will only be done via the Rav-Kav card.”
This means that there will be no ticket sales on buses as of June 1, only at designated machines and other outlets throughout the city. This will hopefully help streamline bus arrival and departure, and minimize congestion of passengers entering buses. It is an example of another small step in the right direction, but in the words of poet Robert Frost, we still have miles to go before we sleep.
“This is an issue that unites the gamut of Jerusalem’s citizens,” Hassan–Nahoum states. “Everybody is equally unhappy with the situation of the bus lines.”
No more cash
Starting June 1, the changeover from cash fares on Jerusalem buses will be complete. Since March, drivers have sold only single paper tickets on city buses, with all other options (daily, weekly or monthly tickets, as well as stored value) only on a Rav-Kav smartcard. From June 1, it will no longer be possible to buy even a single paper ticket using cash on a bus.
Rav-Kav cards can be obtained at the central bus station (opposite platform 22), the Bell Center at 3 King George Avenue, Ramot Mall (entrance floor), Rav Shefa Mall (second floor), Pisgat Ze’ev Mall (entrance floor on left), Hadar Mall in Talpiot (floor  -1), Gilo Mall (entrance floor) and the CityPass service center at 97 Jaffa Road (Clal Building).
Cards can be loaded at branches of Cofix coffee shop and Ma’ayan 2000 supermarket, at light rail stations, kiosks and convenience stores around the city and at free-standing machines. There is also an option to load the card on a PC or via an app, using a special card reader costing NIS 5, available from the Rav-Kav service points. There is also a Rav-Kav service point at Ben-Gurion Airport.
The Rav-Kav gives considerable discounts on fares.
– Sybil Ehrlich