Jerusalem traffic and its myriad of problems, who's at fault?

Jerusalem has become a nightmare for drivers and riders on public transportation

HITORERUT CITY councilman Elad Malka (photo credit: Courtesy)
HITORERUT CITY councilman Elad Malka
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Roadwork seems to be underway everywhere; unexpected detours pop up almost daily in unexpected places; bus lines and the light rail suspend operation on short (or no) notice; electronic signs at bus stops show unrealistic time tables (when they work at all); and never-ending traffic jams paralyze the streets every day, almost all day long.
Jerusalem has become a nightmare for drivers and riders on public transportation; chaos reigns in most of the neighborhoods, not to mention in the city center. For residents and tourists, the city looks like a huge construction site, reducing daily life to an impossible mission.
The word from Safra Square is that this is all for the best. Everything is under control and proceeding as planned. In a reasonable length of time – about four years from now – things will improve dramatically, and Jerusalem will be the best place in the country in which to drive and travel. However, for Elad Malka, the energetic Hitorerut City Council member who has been involved for the past five years in transportation and traffic issues, this is not the whole picture.
Malka does not deny that roadwork necessarily entails traffic issues, but he fiercely objects to Mayor Moshe Lion’s decision to launch everything at the same time, saying wryly, “Everything will be fine and operative and ready in time for the next mayoral elections, for the benefit of by-then-candidate Moshe Lion.”
Traffic disruption here is caused in a large part by 1) public transportation, especially buses and 2) the roadwork for the three new light rail lines. While installation of light rail lines inevitably causes traffic issues – whether done all at once or segment-by-segment as Malka prefers – the major reason for the inefficiency of the bus services is, according to Malka, the result of lack of action by Lion in interfacing with the Transportation Ministry.
“It may sound unbelievable, but the reason Egged does not add new buses to ease the service is that the tender for these new buses so badly needed is stuck in the court,” says Malka.
“Until recently, these buses were acquired in pieces to be assembled in the country. Now, Egged has found that it would be more efficient and less expensive to buy them from China, ready to use, which means that the factory that assembled the parts in Israel would lose significant income, so they appealed to the court against the rather reasonable decision of Egged.
“Until this issue is resolved, no new buses will be added to the Jerusalem public transportation system, so there will be ongoing pressure on the lines without enough buses. I do not want to interfere in this matter between the two companies, but it is the mayor’s duty to knock on the desk of the transportation minister and demand that he find a solution here and now. A mayor should not forget whose interests he represents, but Lion is doing nothing,” adds Malka.
ANOTHER PROBLEM is the blocking of a tender for taxi lines to ease the excessive load on buses. As published here recently, the tender was meant to enable taxis at fixed prices and fixed hours to connect several neighborhoods (most of them using the Begin Highway, and hence, alleviate some of the traffic jams in the city’s center). However, none of the taxi companies accepted the conditions of the tender published by the Transportation Ministry. As a result, there are no specific taxi routes being used to ease the burden on the buses.
An additional aspect of this failure is that these taxis were intended to work on Shabbat as well as on weekdays, on the same routes, but at the actual cost – meaning without subsidies provided by the ministry, yet still very helpful for residents without cars.
“The professional level in regard to the traffic and transportation in the city is working as usual,” said Malka. “They do their job, but what is required is a strong position at the political level. I mean the mayor himself, who can and should take effective action. I don’t see that happening and that may be at the root of the problems we are experiencing now.
“I see his presence in the issues of sanitation – Moshe Lion is deeply involved in that issue – but I don’t see him involved enough in transportation issues,” Malka sighs.
“Or take the extensive work being done almost everywhere to renovate the sidewalks. Why not use these renovations to add separate paths for bicycle riders? Or decide to request carpools to ease the burden of traffic created by private cars?”
An additional problem is the widespread failure of the electronic sign boards at bus stops. On one of the major crossroads on Hebron Road, for example, major renovations were done three weeks ago. During the work, the electronic signs were disconnected. The works are completed, but the signs are still broken, depriving passengers from knowing when their buses will arrive. As for lines 7 and 13, travelers complain that most of the time, there is little correlation between what appears on the electronic signs and reality.
Mayor Lion responded to Malka’s allegations: “City councilman Elad Malka doesn’t seem to understand the bus situation. The issue is being reviewed by the court. As soon as the court delivers a decision, the mayor will review the situation and act with the best interest of the residents in mind.”