Sign of the times: No more bus security

Government decides to save money on guards; Egged: We can't fund our own security unit.

bus guard 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
bus guard 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A day after Israel Police Chief Insp.-Gen. David Cohen declared that the security situation of 2007-2008 would not return to that of 2001-2002, a unit founded to protect the public during the darkest days of the Second Intifada closed its doors on Monday. Following a decision justified by the government as saving tens of millions of shekels, the Magen Unit, established to protect public transportation users, will be discontinued. The decision to close the unit's doors - so to speak - was made in a cabinet meeting in August. MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) tried to introduce a stopgap measure, convening a committee earlier this month to find a solution to the current situation, which - as of Monday evening - left citizens on buses and waiting at bus stops unprotected. But Hasson's efforts did not bear fruit, and the unit's remaining employees stopped work on Monday evening. Egged has said that it is incapable of funding a unit to take Magen's place. The unit consisted of some 800 security guards, all post-army with combat certification - and in some areas, including downtown Jerusalem, the unit also utilized K-9 squads with specially-trained bomb-sniffing dogs. The Magen Unit was established in 2001, but its presence became more public in the years of the Second Intifada, in which 267 people were killed in 41 terror attacks targeting public transportation. In at least one instance - the August 2005 bombing of the Beersheba Central Bus station - the situation could have been much worse had not two members of the unit approached the bomber, endangering their own lives but saving others. The terrorist, realizing that his cover was blown, detonated his explosives. Transportation Ministry officials said Monday that they were unhappy with the decision, emphasizing that Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz was the only cabinet member to vote against the initiative to disband the unit. Although the Israel Police have now been tasked with maintaining security on public transportation, the organization - which has been trying to depart from security roles and turn to fighting so-called "classic crime" - has not come public with any plans to establish units to take over from Magen. Meanwhile, starting Tuesday, riders are likely to also find themselves not only unguarded but also paying more for their bus fare. The Transportation Ministry announced that starting January 1, 2008, public transportation fares would be raised by approximately two percent nationwide. Egged, however, emphasized Monday that on some of their lines, the prices would remain the same, and on others would even be lowered. In the Jerusalem area, Egged said, the monthly pass for Jerusalem suburbs Mevaseret Zion, Givat Ze'ev and Ma'aleh Adumim would be unified into one pass, whose price is slated to drop from NIS 317 to NIS 285. Haifa, too, will undergo radical redistricting, with hop-on-hop-off passes good for a number of buses within an hour of the ticket's issuance. Kiryat Shmona and Eilat are expected to institute the use of "Free Day" passes that allow riders to use as many urban buses as they want from 9 a.m. until the end of the day. For Kiryat Shmona residents, however, making such a pass pay off may be a challenge, as a mere two intracity bus lines operate in the Galilee panhandle city.