Jerusalem commuters up in arms over light rail's bumpy track record
Passenger complaints mount about overzealous and violent inspectors on Jerusalem's new transit system.
A young woman's trip on Jerusalem's light rail ended when she was met by 10 police officers waiting at a station to detain her because she had not bought a ticket. This is just one of many recent stories about the treatment of passengers on the capital's newest transportation system.
On Sunday, Hila Amit, 27, from Tel Aviv, discovered that three out of the four ticket machines were out of order at the stop where she boards the light rail near her work on Jerusalem's Jaffa Road.
"There was a line of more than 40 people waiting to buy a ticket," she said.
Amit returned two hours later to find the situation unchanged and, after waiting for another hour, she said, "I got on the third train that went by. I approached the inspector and told him about the broken machines and asked him to let me buy a ticket at the next stop."
The inspector refused, Amit said. Moreover he told her that if she did not get off the light-rail he would fine her NIS 186.
Meanwhile, the train doors closed with Amit inside. The inspector then asked her for identification so he could write the citation, but she refused. At the next stop, he and another inspector got off the light-rail with her and, according to eyewitnesses, the pair would not let her buy a ticket until she identified herself.
"The female inspector grabbed her from behind and took her off the train and then pushed her to the ticket machine," one eyewitness, Hadas Salem, told Haaretz. Eventually a young man offered to purchase the ticket for Amit.
Ticket in hand, Amit then asked the inspectors to leave her be, but according to witnesses, the female inspector forcibly prevented her from leaving. "She pushed her against the wall and her head hit the metal," Bentzi, from Betar Ilit, who saw the incident, said.
When Amit told the inspectors who had cornered her that she was going to board the light rail, the female inspector began pushing her again, according to witnesses. "A man came, grabbed the woman inspector and pushed her away," said one witness. Amit boarded the train, where fellow passengers urged her to file a police complaint. But even then, her ordeal was not over.
"I get to the station, and there are police on both sides of the track, waiting for me, asking 'where's the suspect.'"
Amit's angry fellow passengers stood by her, and the police let her go.
Dozens of incidents
Ido Naveh, 32, has collected statements from dozens of passengers over the past two months that show that Amit's is not the only such incident. He recorded the events on camera and posted them on an account on the YouTube video-sharing website that he maintains for this purpose. His page on the Facebook online social network about the issue has 700 supporters.
Naveh and a few dozen others now hold a demonstration every three weeks, and also ride the light rail to combat what they call "taking advantage of passengers' ignorance of their rights."
"Inspectors ask for identification and give out fines and people are afraid not to give [their names]. The don't know that they absolutely do not have to," he said.
Complaints by Naveh and his friends are not directed against CityPass, the company that runs the light-rail, but against the Transportation Ministry and the Jerusalem municipality, he said.
"All the fines, the humiliating treatment by inspectors and the trains' being late, we see as symptoms. The problem is a lack of competition. Anywhere there's a train, buses no longer go," Naveh said.
Yossi Saidov, from a organization of public transportation users in Jerusalem, said: "CityPass is abusing passengers under the aegis of the transportation minister, who is not functioning as a regulator and is abandoning passengers' rights to a private monopoly."
At a meeting of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee last June representatives of the state and of CityPass said inspectors are told to act with zero tolerance and not to use their discretion.
"From day one the public must be educated," Hava Reuveni, a senior deputy legal adviser in the Transportation Ministry, said at the meeting.
That could explain the case in which a 2-year-old child was given a fine about two weeks ago because a ticket was not purchased for her, although tickets are not required for children under 5. It could also explain why a passenger showed an inspector her ticket but received a fine because the inspector's scanner was not working properly.