Not Worth the Wait: Israel’s 'Third World' Bus Shelters

Survey finds few have aids for handicapped and many don’t provide basic necessities like seating or even a roof.

An Israeli bus stop.
Yaron Kaminsky

In the grandiose plans to improve public transportation in Israel, the humble bus shelter gets short shrift compared to new highway interchanges, railroad lines and airport terminals. But the fact is that bus riders spend a lot of time in them, and few provide the basic services they are supposed to.

Every morning Itzik Ben-David and his guide dog take the bus to the Tel Aviv headquarters of the Center for the Blind in Israel. All too often, there’s no empty seat in the shelter. In addition, some shelters still don’t have Braille signs indicating which buses stop there, despite the law mandating them.

The dismal state of Israel’s bus shelters has now been documented by Or Yarok.

Volunteers from the traffic safety organization who inspected 364 shelters in over 100 communities found many shelters in bad shape and a lack of posted information on schedules.

Despite a 2014 promise by Transportation and Road Safety Minister Yisrael Katz to make bus shelters accessible to people with disabilities, 71% of the examined shelters lacked Braille signs and 20% were not wheelchair-accessible.

“In many places bus stops look like something from the Third World, without consideration at all for people with special needs,” said Or Yarok CEO Shmuel Aboav.

Nearly half the shelters surveyed lacked big signs with the numbers of the buses they service. More than a quarter didn’t have schedules posted, or they were out of date. Proper seating was missing from 11% of the shelters, while 10% lacked the yellow signs listing bus lines and destinations and 8% didn’t have a roof.

One reason bus shelters are neglected is because three bodies are responsible for maintaining them — local government, the Transportation Ministry and the bus operators — but none of them has ultimate responsibility.

Aboav said the dismal state of the country’s bus shelters led many people to use their cars instead.

Figures from the National Public Transportation Authority released this week bear this out: While bus ridership climbed 6.5% in the first eight months of the year, traveling by train jumped 15.2%. The number of new cars on Israel’s road in the first nine months of the year rose 20.4% from a year earlier.

“People are fed up with waiting in the blazing sun and in the rain while waiting for a bus, so they take a car instead,” said Aboav. “The Transportation Ministry has to upgrade all of the country’s bus shelters as required by law to make waiting for the bus more pleasant and secure.”