On board with customer complaints

Egged representatives give bus riders a fair hearing.

Sensing that Jerusalemites were at the end of their tethers in regard to changes in traffic regulations, bus routes and bus stops, the powers-that-be at the Egged bus company decided that it was an opportune time for company representatives to meet with the public to hear their grievances.
The meeting was held last week at the International Cultural and Community Center on Emek Refaim.
Those 150 people who came expecting to instantly bombard the dozen plus Egged representatives with complaints were first entertained by four actors from the Beit Zvi Drama School who demonstrated the frustrations of bus drivers, which are often much more intense than those of passengers. On stage were two drivers’ seats with steering wheels. A grumpy driver got into one seat, and another with a sunny disposition got into another.
Each was confronted by passengers who couldn’t find their tickets; wanted extensions on their limited time tickets; wanted the driver to let them off where there was no bus stop and ignored the driver’s explanations that it was illegal and he could be fined; had a screaming argument on a cellphone; stood just behind the driver while eating something disagreeable; refused to move to the inner recesses of the bus, where there was plenty of room; and asked the driver to turn off the radio when he was listening to the news – and a host of other annoying things that passengers do to try the patience of drivers.
This was a first effort by Egged in Jerusalem to reach out to the community, and the intentions were good. But once the laughter died down, tensions mounted, especially when Egged Jerusalem ombudsman Yaron Ben-Aharon went on and on about what Egged has done to improve its service by adding new bus routes and increasing the frequency of buses on specific routes. Not everything that comes to his office, he said, is a complaint. There are also many requests for added services or restoration of services that had been canceled. Such requests are investigated and if they are deemed valid they are implemented.
In fact, Egged has done a lot to improve bus connections between the Hebrew University’s campuses on Mount Scopus, Givat Ram and Ein Kerem.
But there were many other complaints from the audience, as well as several calls for doing away with the Egged monopoly.
One man accused Israel of being 100 years behind the times in public transport technology. To add insult to injury, he said, much of the advanced transport technology used abroad is an Israeli export.
There were complaints that tickets were too expensive – but in fact, fares in Israel are cheaper than in most of the Western world.
A religious man who likes to pray at the Western Wall in the early morning said that buses do not begin operating early enough to transport people to prayers and then to work.
Several people said their time was wasted by the long, circuitous routes that some buses took and asked that bus routes be shortened. One man pointed out that there are certain non-congested highways on which there are no bus routes and asked why Egged couldn’t reroute to such roads.
The most common complaint was the lack of information. People wanted schedules and maps and asked why Egged could not provide such amenities in Jerusalem if the Dan bus company could provide them in Tel Aviv.
Several people complained that the interiors of the buses are not only dirty but are not designed well enough to carry passengers. The seats are too narrow; some face the wrong way; the buzzers to call for the bus to stop are too high up; there is insufficient aisle space; there is nothing to grab hold of when a driver brakes too suddenly or lurches forward; and the steps are too high for children, the elderly and people with short legs. Mayan, a 17-year-old who was born with a severe physical disability, captured everyone’s attention when she said that she could not ride buses because access was almost impossible to people like her. Most buses do not have a ramp to enable her to board.
This is not the impression one gets from the Egged Web site, which states: “Understanding the importance of the law for equal rights of the disabled (legislated by the Knesset in 1998) serves as the grounds for creating convenient access to urban buses for the elderly, children and mothers with baby carriages. Today, over one-third of Egged’s city buses are handicapped-accessible, and all future purchases of city buses will be handicapped-accessible.”
While several Egged buses do have ramps, drivers are often impatient when other passengers help the handicapped person into the bus.
Yossi Chachkes, who is in charge of Egged’s Jerusalem operations, said that he and his colleagues had come to listen.
“Wedon’t think we know better than you what’s good for you,” Chachkesassured his audience. “The subjects raised cannot be dealt with in acouple of hours.”
The meeting was facilitated by the 15Minutes Forum for Better Public Transportion, whose name refers to themaximum time it should take for a bus to get from one stop to the next.