Striking back at recent criticism by Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, the country's nine private bus companies said they have helped lower prices and bring service to areas that previously had none. Speaking at a two-day conference this week that examined the benefits of transferring control of transportation out of the government's hands, the bus companies slammed Mofaz. At a meeting of representatives from Israel's private bus lines about two months ago, the minister accused the companies of under-performing, claiming that his office had received numerous complaints from customers about buses that showed up late or not at all, explained Mofaz adviser Yoran Shilat, "There is no way that the privatization reforms are working," exclaimed Mofaz, "if this is the result." According to the privatization plan formulated by the government about five years ago, a quarter to half of Egged and Dan's public bus routes were to be offered in public tenders. However, as of today, Egged and Dan still control approximately 84 percent of the lines in the country, explained one of the organizers of the conference. "The problem with the private bus lines is that when they were introduced, the Transportation Ministry only addressed the cost and pricing issue, without setting in place any inherent device to supervise the actual level of service - that is why it isn't working," said Shilat. Following Mofaz's meeting with the bus company representatives, he appointed a committee to examine the "facts on the ground," explaining that he didn't mean to attack the bus companies, but rather he was just looking to protect the consumer, noted Shilat. The committee, headed by Prof. Ezra Sadan, was charged with the responsibility of implementing a mechanism to supervise not only the quantity of the services provided by private bus companies, but the quality as well. "We are hoping that the committee will organize a specific arrangement to improve the level of service that is provided," explained Shilat. A source from the conference's organizational team told The Jerusalem Post late last week that in response to Mofaz's public transportation inquiry, the nine private companies joined together to create a forum for the purpose of promoting the advancement of privatization. Their first action, he said, was this week's conference, at which they ably demonstrated to the public that privatization is working. "For example, prices have significantly dropped, vehicle routes have increased and new lines were established in cities that didn't have any bus service," said a conference official. According to data released following the conference, bus tariffs have been significantly reduced in cities such as Ashdod, Tiberias, Safed and Hadera. The official also noted that since privatization reforms took effect in 2002, the number of passengers have skyrocketed, highlighting the 109% rise in Netanya and the 92% rise in Nahariya. "We have the means of providing better service than the two big bus companies," said a conference organizer. He added that no representatives from Egged or Dan turned up at the conference, which Eitan Fixman, the spokesman of the Dan bus company, blamed on receiving the invitation too late. Fixman also said that regarding the claims being made by the smaller companies, there was no way that they could challenge Dan's service. "This is something that we have built up over the years - we have better buses, better drivers and are more efficient," he said, while adding that revenue has increased since privatization moves were implemented. "We aren't afraid," stated Fixman.