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Israeli Public Transport Restrictions Eased
Light-rail train, Jaffa Road, Jerusalem, Israel, May 2014. (Claude Villetaneuse/Creative Commons)

Israeli Public Transport Restrictions Eased

But bus and light-rail service is still greatly curtailed and train service nonexistent

This masked Jerusalemite reporter waited more than an hour for a bus that never arrived.

Empty bus stops. Abandoned rail lines. Public transportation around the world has come to a screeching halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Where buses and trains have not been shut down, there are calls in some circles to do just that. In New York City, for example, councilmembers are asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to temporarily stop running subways and buses to curb the coronavirus.

But what about workers who rely on the bus and rail system to get to their jobs?

While employees in “nonessential” sectors can telecommute, many people have no choice but to board a bus or train.

A 2017 economic report published by Israel’s Central Bank found that 21% of Israelis commute to work by public transportation and a Central Bank research paper published in 2019 found that “employees with a low level of income and a relatively weak socio-economic background are characterized by greater use of buses and employer-organized shuttles.”

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent announcement that coronavirus restrictions would be eased prioritized shops starting to open and businesses increasing onsite employees from 15 to 30%.

Netanyahu also gave a vague statement that “public transportation is going to be enlarged.”

According to Shimrit Nothman, CEO of 15 Minutes, a passenger advocacy organization for better public transportation, there needs to be more clarity from public officials in terms of scheduling.

“As of Saturday night, we have begun receiving many inquiries from confused commuters. The new guidelines did not specify which bus lines will run and how frequently, so commuters do not know if they will have a bus to get to work,” Nothman told The Media Line via email.

If you take the train to work in Israel, you are out of luck.

“The rail service isn’t working. No rail service whatsoever. It has been like this for almost a month and it’s driving everyone crazy,” a representative from Egged, the largest transportation operator in Israel, told The Media Line.

But if you cannot take the 32-minute fast train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for work, there are other options.

A Transportation Ministry representative told The Media Line that some buses are working while other routes are sitting idle. There is a bus that can take you from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and back again as a (longer) substitute for rail service.

Starting Monday, Israeli bus service increased and more changes to public transportation service are expected in the weeks ahead.

The light-rail trains in Jerusalem and buses around the country are running from 5:30 am to 8 pm, with no weekend service, as part of regulations introduced in March by National Public Transportation Authority director Amir Asrafin.

There are no restrictions for passengers boarding a light-rail train in contrast to taking a bus.

When boarding a bus in Israel, you must wear a mask and gloves if possible. Passengers can only occupy a window seat and cannot sit directly behind the driver. There is a maximum of 20 riders allowed on a bus at one time. Also, only Rav Kav cards, not cash payments, are accepted. The card must be purchased at an automated machine before boarding the bus.

Said Nothman: “With the gradual return to normality, the Israeli government must take extra care of all public transport passengers and ensure that the service is provided at a high frequency that allows relatively low passenger numbers in buses to insure their health.”

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