Last tickets, please

Waiting in the sticky heat, fistfights and overcrowding - it's the end of an era as the old Tel Aviv bus station is swept away.

old tel aviv bus station 88 248 (photo credit: )
old tel aviv bus station 88 248
(photo credit: )
A Tel Aviv landmark ceased to exist last week. After 68 years, the old central bus station has been demolished. A college of photography, theater and cinema is to be built on the site. The station on Rehov Salomon opened in July 1941, and was intended to serve 60,000 passengers a day, as the terminus for intercity as well as local services. It had six departure platforms, linked by underground passages - for safety reasons, but most pedestrians preferred to take their chances by walking around in front of the buses - and another platform for arrivals. As soon as the station was opened it was found to be inadequate and overcrowded. The canopies over the platforms were too narrow to protect passengers from the rain and the sun, and interfered with the loading of baggage onto the roofs of the buses. During the War of Independence, on May 18, 1948, the bus station was bombed by the Egyptian air force, resulting in 42 persons killed - including four members of the Dan cooperative - and 100 wounded, as well as considerable damage. After the establishment of the state the vastly increased population and a correspondingly larger fleet of buses meant that the bus station became seriously overcrowded, serving hundreds of thousands of passengers daily. A report from 1953 states that "almost every week a 'supplementary station' is opened in the surrounding streets, which relieves the pressure on the bus station itself but increases the overcrowding in the neighboring streets. The police and traffic inspectors can do nothing… every day fistfights break out, and of course professional pickpockets find conditions ideal. Another plague is the peddlers who pester passengers as they board the buses. The toilets are defective, there are insufficient ticket windows, and the whole area is filthy." The peddlers, or their descendants, were still at work 40 years later. Vendors sold popsicles, cold drinks, newspapers and even felafels through the windows of the buses. This writer remembers the long queues for buses to Jerusalem. It wasn't only passengers who queued; the buses were also lined up in order of departure. Anything resembling an official timetable is hard to recall; as soon as a bus was full it drove off, and the next bus began loading up. Sometimes the third or fourth bus in line looked as if it might actually be airconditioned, and it was often worth waiting half an hour or so in the stifling heat for the more modern conveyance to make its way to the head of the queue. Buses to peripheral areas left from appropriately obscure locations in the narrow crowded streets. Yael Oren of Jerusalem recalls that the daily bus to the Eshkol region of the Negev, where she grew up, could be found by going "along 'shoe street' [Rehov Naveh Sha'anan], and past the porn cinema at the end of the street, where all the people from that area congregated once a day...." The new central bus station opened in 1993 and most intercity routes were transferred there. It is debatable whether conditions in the "new" station are any better than in the old; it's certainly no easier to find one's way around. Some routes, to Bat Yam and Holon, were still using the old station in 1999, but in recent years the place was beginning to look like a ghost town. A few routes continued to use the old station until last week, the last ones being the 84 and 94, which have been moved to the new bus station, the 83, which now goes to the Arlosoroff terminal next to Tel Aviv Central railway station, and the 85, which terminates at Wolfson Hospital. The last buses left from the old bus station on Thursday, July 30, perhaps symbolically, on Tisha Be'av. ON FRIDAY, an appropriately hot and sticky day (it always seemed to be hot and sticky in the old bus station!) the demolition squad is already at work. The platform canopies are being knocked down and the concrete entrances to the underground passages stand solitary. Shalom Rafael, who has been selling newspapers here for 22 years, chokes back a tear. "I don't know where I'll go," he says. "It depends on the boss." One of his regular customers, Nissim Cohen, who works in a nearby stationery store, gestures across the street. "Just look around. It's central drugs station here. Who knows whether that will be swept away, as well." The building housing the unlamented filthy toilets is still standing (I have no idea whether the toilets were still in use!) Around the back of the same building, where for more than 50 years crowds fought to buy tickets for Dan's No. 4 local route, everything is deserted. The ticket windows are still intact, but for how much longer?