Clipped memories, clipped wings – the hard landing Nesher faces after ‘2017’

My first memory of Israel was that waft of humid air, with the strong sun that hit you as you deplaned and walked down those steps onto the tarmac.

HIGH SPEED trains 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
HIGH SPEED trains 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
My first memory of Israel was that waft of humid air, with the strong sun that hit you as you deplaned and walked down those steps onto the tarmac. Many used to “kiss” the ground, as they had arrived in the Holy Land. While this experience replaced landings by boat, it still captured that first waft, sun and land; with the modern Terminal 3 of Ben-Gurion International Airport, most young Jews no longer have this experience. I would classify this as a definite loss, albeit a necessary one for a modern state with a large tourism industry.
On my second trip to Israel, I walked out of the terminal and got into a shared “Nesher” cab and we sped off to Jerusalem... eventually. It was not the Nesher of today, it was one of those banged-up minivans you associate with developing countries, except there were as many people in our Nesher cab as seats. As we approached the Old City of Jerusalem, a car swerved in front of us and the light went red, at which point the driver slammed the brakes. Sufficed it to say the brakes were not up to standard, but just good enough that, combined with the driver’s reflexes, we did not rear-end the car. However, I had smacked my head right into the plastic pane between the passengers and the driver, since there was no working seat-belt. Memory embedded.
Much as with my first memory of Israel, young Jews coming to Israel soon may not have such experiences; after 2017, Nesher could be a completely reduced service.
Phoning the company to book a spot to the airport, waiting for the phone call from the Nesher driver, who proceeded to shout at you, waiting in the airport for 45 minutes for the cab to fill up, taking two hours to get to south Jerusalem, only for the driver to drop you off on a corner and say, “Walk down there to your house, I don’t want to drive there,” will all be consigned to the dustbin of history. The next generation will enjoy a high-speed rail line that will operate between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv via the airport.
Here is the economics of it: currently, you have three options to get to the airport (excluding having a friend drive you). Option one is Nesher, as discussed above.
Option two is to take a regular taxi – about four times the price, but the quickest way. Option three is to take a bus to the Central Bus Station, then take bus No. 947 to the airport, and switch once again to the bus that takes you to the terminal. This option involves a lot of bag hauling and can be very slow (especially since the 947 runs every half an hour) but is the cheapest alternative.
The drawback of the 947, for those that aren’t familiar with it, is that one can wait well over 30 minutes for the bus and then be faced with a full bus that you cannot board. Given these options, Nesher is the “value for money” option, so most of us use it.
The “high speed” line will change all this. It will be quicker, more convenient, and cheaper than Nesher. A quick bit of mathematics on a napkin: at current day prices, the cost of a taxi to the CBS from south Jerusalem is NIS 40 and the cost of the train will be NIS 20-25 – more convenient, more flexible, and potentially lower than the current Nesher fees of NIS 64. Very few people will need Nesher, which translates into two routes for the Nesher company: go out of business or a reduced service that will still capture some of the hotel market and will maintain their almost complete control of the nighttime market.
The latter option is more far more likely, but comes at a cost – with a reduced service comes higher fees for those that use it. Therefore, we can view the high-speed line as a wealth transferring mechanism between those that travel to the airport at night to those that travel to it during the day.
Of course, the flights that take off in the middle of the night are cheaper and it is less affluent people who tend to choose that option, which only makes matters worse.
Further, what about the Nesher drivers who will lose their livelihood? Not all of them can be taxi drivers in Jerusalem, and do we really want them driving throughout the day, with their exceptional driving and manners towards passengers? So I am left with the questions: where is the petition for the small business? Where are the protests at the imbalance in prices? Some things are worth “paying” for. I, on the other hand, want to propose a possible “Israeli” solution and call for people to think about petitioning on behalf of Nesher that the rail line be diverted away from the airport, and rather collect people at the Park-&-Ride terminus outside of Tel Aviv. It will be a better service to the citizens of Israel and will mean the continual thriving of an institutionalized company. However, one important step will be to find out why a train station wasn’t planned for the Park-&-Ride terminus in the first place.
All these classic first memories of Israel are being wiped away and the next generation will truly miss out on all the things that gave developing Israel its character. Of course, I missed out on so many as well, but that’s for the generation before me to write about. In the meantime, there are the environmentalists who are fighting for the trees’ right to survive along the high-speed line’s route, and now it’s time for people to stand up and fight for Nesher’s survival as well.
Will people do so? In short – no; if only Nesher had provided a better service. Then again, that’s all part of little Israel’s character. So bring on the high-speed line of 2017 and the future first memories of Israel – well at least “Israeli 2017.”
The author, a strategy and business analyst who holds a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics, made aliya a few years ago.