Egged Suspends Service Through Mea Shearim After Buses Damaged

Egged partially suspended several Jerusalem bus lines that pass through the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood Mea Shearim yesterday after residents threw stones at several buses and punctured their tires.

Ultra-Orthodox youths demonstrated throughout the day to protest the bus company's refusal to make a local bus a so-called mehadrin line, meaning men sit in the front and women sit in the back. The No. 2 bus route goes to the Western Wall via ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

Men and women generally sit separately on the No. 2 bus, but Egged and the Transportation Ministry have refused ultra-Orthodox demands that it be formally classified as a mehadrin line, and the bus company is not installing automatic payment machines at the back door to enable women to pay their bus fare from there, as it has on some of its mehadrin buses.

The protests, which caused no injuries, are part of a larger battle concerning the mehadrin lines that has been underway for several years and has reached the High Court of Justice, which has yet to rule on whether the buses are discriminatory. Egged has already made some intercity lines and six of its Jerusalem lines sex-segregated.

The protests began after a private company that began running sex-segregated buses to the Western Wall stopped doing so on Tuesday after it received a warning from the Transportation Ministry. The ultra-Orthodox Mehadrin Committee, which organized the private bus initiative, says it was not infringing on Egged's public transportation concession in Jerusalem because the buses are funded by private donations.

Egged says that while most of the passengers on the No. 2 bus are ultra-Orthodox, the bus is also used by other Israelis and tourists. The company policy is to make its buses sex-segregated only when "close to 100 percent of the passengers are ultra-Orthodox and interested in segregation," said Egged spokesman Ron Ratner.

Ratner also said Egged is not adding any additional mehadrin lines until the High Court takes a stand on the issue. Orthodox novelist Naomi Ragen and several women's organizations have petitioned the High Court against the sex-segregated buses, saying they discriminate against women.