Hybrid buggies donated to Old City held in customs

Buggies donated to make Old City more accessible for tourists with disabilities have been held in customs for 3 months.

Hybrid buggy 370 (photo credit: Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem)
Hybrid buggy 370
(photo credit: Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem)
In a case of bureaucratic “he said, she said,” four electrical- hybrid buggies donated to the Old City to make it more accessible for tourists with disabilities, reduce pollution and traffic, have been held in customs since January 6, accruing some NIS 260,000 in ongoing fines.
The buggies, costing 13,000 euros each and capable of seating four, were donated by the Military and Hospital Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem to the city as part of a pilot project, with the goal of creating a fleet within a 700-meter radius of the Old City.
According to numerous representatives of the Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem, the buggies, shipped from Spain, are being blocked by the Jerusalem Police, which they claim refuses to recognize the Old City as an “operational zone,” defined as an area where cars and trucks are not permitted.
However, according to police, the issue is likely a municipality matter, and therefore not within its jurisdiction.
“The Jerusalem Police is responsible for security issues, and as far as this matter is concerned it’s mostly a municipality issue,” said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
Adding to the confusion, when contacted for comment to explain who is responsible for the impasse, Kobe Bartov, head of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure for the Jerusalem Municipality, said he was not authorized to speak on the matter.
Meanwhile, Noa Glazer, of the law firm S. Horowitz, which is representing the Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem, said the police and “bureaucracy” are to blame for the ongoing dispute.
“From what I understand, there’s a problem with police authorization in terms of deeming the Old City an ‘operational zone,’ so the buggies can be legally licensed and registered,” said Glazer.
“Without police cooperation we can’t go ahead with this important project. Israeli bureaucracy is stopping this great initiative, and it’s a shame.”
According to Glazer, the pilot project was supposed to have taken place from January to April, and if successful, the municipality agreed to purchase an additional 20 buggies.
Naomi Tsur, deputy mayor of Jerusalem and founder of Green Pilgrim Jerusalem and the First International Jerusalem Symposium on Green and Accessible Pilgrimage, also said the police are responsible for the buggies’ embargo.
“We’re in a strange situation here because the Order of St. Lazarus is trying to do good things for Jerusalem by eliminating pollution and unnecessary traffic in the Old City, and everyone thinks this is a great idea, but what’s killing [the project] is bureaucracy and technocracy,” said Tsur.
“I understand the need for the police to be careful and obey laws, but I want to work with them to help them understand the importance of this project, which will serve all four quarters of the Old City,” she continued.
Tsur said she is hopeful the issue will be resolved prior to the First International Jerusalem Symposium on Green and Accessible Pilgrimage, taking place in Jerusalem’s YMCA on April 21-26, at which time the buggy program is scheduled to be officially launched.
Reached by phone in Switzerland, Count Philippe Piccapietra, grand chancellor and delegate for the Holy Land of the Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem, said he is deeply frustrated by the blockage of the buggies, and blamed the “chief of police of the Old City,” for refusing to sign the paperwork necessary to end the fiasco.
While Piccapietra claimed he met the police chief in question on several occasions while visiting Israel, he said he could not identify him by name.
“In the contract to approve this project, there is one signature missing, and that is the Old City’s police chief,” said Piccapietra.
“With his signature the set of papers would be complete and the buggies would be released. We are paying every damn day for this [penalty] because we can’t get a single signature.”
However, according to Rosenfeld, there is no such post, or person, whom Piccapietra repeatedly referred to.
Meanwhile, Piccapietra said for the last two-and-ahalf years, the Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem has had three two-seat hybrid buggies in operation in the Old City, as well as a oneperson buggy, so he doesn’t understand the logic of blocking the four new additions.
“The main issue is that to improve the safety and experience of the pilgrims [visiting the Old City] we have to remove the few cars allowed to drive through it and find an adequate replacement,” he said. “This is the concept the municipality embraced, not only to improve the experience for visitors who come, but also to encourage more visitors to come to the Old City.”
Bartov said he cannot formally address the matter until he receives approval from the Jerusalem Municipality.