The 15 minutes that cost Egged NIS 20,000

Irate traffic court judge says 'public's time is not to be trifled with'

court gavel 88 (photo credit: )
court gavel 88
(photo credit: )
Jerusalem Traffic Court Judge Avraham Tannenbaum appears to take a grave view of what most long-suffering public transportation consumers regard fatalistically: overdue and behind-schedule buses. "The public's time is not to be trifled with," he wrote Sunday in a ruling in which he rejected a plea bargain agreement between the state and the Egged bus cooperative as being too lenient. The case was based on an incident in 2004 involving an Egged No. 480 bus from Jerusalem to the 2000 Terminal at the Central Train Station in Tel Aviv. Buses were scheduled to leave Jerusalem every 15 minutes between 3 and 4 p.m. After the 3 p.m. bus left, the next bus did not arrive in the bay until 3:20 and did not leave until 3:30. A passenger, Naftali Or-Chen, complained to the Transportation Ministry about the delay. It took two years for the case to come to court and by the time it did, the prosecution and defense had agreed on the sentence. They settled on a fine of NIS 6,000 to Egged and compensation of NIS 150 to the original plaintiff. They also agreed to drop Egged's Jerusalem regional director, Yosef Tzazkes, from the suit. But Tannenbaum was having none of this. He said the state had given Egged a monopoly on bus travel along certain routes. In return, Egged had promised in an agreement to live up to certain conditions, including its timetable. The bus served the weaker elements of the population who could not afford a private car, and it was the court's duty to protect them. Furthermore, if Egged provided reliable service, more people would use its services and there would be fewer cars on the roads, less congestion and less pollution. Thus it was important to make certain Egged did its job properly in return for the benefits it received. The punishment agreed upon by the company and the state did not guarantee this, Tannenbaum said. "We must remember that Egged is a huge company with an enormous budget," he wrote . "The [agreed-upon] fine is completely irrelevant. It will be swallowed up in the company's routine expenses as it if were nothing. In these circumstances, the company will not have any interest in improving its service." Tannenbaum ordered Egged to pay a NIS 20,000 fine within 45 days, and to sign a NIS 50,000 guarantee that it would not repeat any of the offenses it committed over the next two years. If it failed to live up to the terms, it would not only forfeit the guarantee, but the district manager, Tzazkes, would go to jail for 30 days. Egged said it would appeal the decision.