Haifa launched its new rapid-transit system, the Metronit, over weekend, but let’s say it’s making slow but steady progress. The long so-called bi-articulated buses have their own dedicated lanes, and because we’re talking about Haifa, they run on Shabbat.
It took a while before one Metronit arrived. Roman Grimsky, a brawny fellow wearing a Likud T-shirt, had just come back from the beach. “They said the Metronit would come every few minutes,” he said. “I’ve been waiting 20 minutes, and earlier I waited half an hour. It stops at every station, even when nobody’s waiting.”
According to Grimsky, the new system needs twice as much time to get him where he’s going. “I’m for the [regular] buses,” he said.
Dana and Alexei, who immigrated to Israel six months ago from Moscow, were also miffed. “It’s a good idea, but it’s not successful,” Dana said. “We waited an hour to go to the beach, and in the end we took a taxi.” Many people on the Metronit spoke only Russian, so the language barrier prevented me from interviewing them. Too bad there are no Russian-language announcements in addition to the Hebrew, English and Arabic.
But some people were happy. “It’s not only good – it’s very good,” said Avi Bezalel, who works at Rambam Medical Center. I told him people were complaining, which made him angry. Three buses had departed in the space of three minutes, he said.
Traveling free on the Metronit during the run-in period has become a fun time-passer for kids bored with their summer vacation. Ran, 12, said he had been riding the Metronit for three hours.
“I went to the end of the line and back,” he said. His friend Ido, 13, complained that they had waited an hour and a quarter for the bus to come. But Ran was easier to please. “It’s a good thing we waited, because you’re so hot you can’t stand it, and all of a sudden there’s air conditioning,” he said.
To show how slow the Metronit was, one boy ran alongside the bus and managed to board at the next stop.
Praise for the project came from MK Tamar Sandberg (Meretz), co-chief of the Knesset’s caucus on sustainable transportation. “It’s preferable to bigger projects that cost a lot of money and take a lot of time,” she said. “Haifa has pulled out in front of the two metropolises and created something inexpensive to ride. It’s providing what big projects are supposed to provide.”
On the way to my grandmother in the Krayot suburbs, my last stop, I met a group of 14-year-olds from Upper Nazareth. Their leader seemed to be Guy, a happy kid with no shirt, a necklace and a glimmering earring. Guy and his friends said they had boarded the Metronit thinking they had sneaked on, discovered it was free for the time being but were happy all the same.
Nurit, a sales assistant at the Lev Hamifratz Mall, said she was worried she wouldn’t make it to work on time. “I’m going to be 10 minutes late. The Metronit makes a huge circle,” she told her boss by phone. But when she arrived, she was optimistic. “Okay, it’s the beginning, not too bad,” she said.
Before alighting, I told the onboard attendant about the complaints about speed. “That’s impossible,” she said. “Think about the fact that you don’t have to take steps onto the bus. It’s like we’re abroad.”
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