Jerusalem Readying to Phase in Major Bus Reforms

Routes that run parallel to the light rail will be canceled, while other routes will be shortened so as to "feed" the light rail.

Jerusalem's spaghetti system of bus routes will be untangled slightly next week as the city alters dozens of lines around the newly completed light rail, affecting nearly everyone who relies on public transportation in the capital.

Under the plan unveiled by the Transportation Ministry and Jerusalem Municipality Monday, 54 bus routes will either be canceled or changed in the coming months, including 22 lines on January 13.

Routes that run parallel to the light rail will be canceled, while other routes will be shortened so as to "feed" the light rail. Still other bus lines will have their routes altered, their numbers changed or both.

There will also be six lines of express buses planned to cross town relatively quickly by traveling primarily in the bus rapid transit lanes designated in various parts of the city.

After the reform of the bus system in Tel Aviv last year drew biting public criticism, Jerusalem made the decision to implement their own reform in three stages.

The first stage, to go into effect January 13, will involve changes to 22 routes that primarily affect neighborhoods in southwestern Jerusalem - Beit Hakerem, Kiryat Yovel, the Katamonim area and adjacent neighborhoods. In an effort to introduce some logic to the bus numbers, all buses going to southern Jerusalem will now be numbered between 20 and 40.

Officials noted the bus changes were made possible by the improved service on the light rail. Average waiting time for the train is now between seven to eight minutes, as opposed to 19 minutes when it first began rolling in August. This improvement was achieved primarily by the upgrading of traffic lights along the route to "smart lights" that give priority to the rail at intersections.

The Transportation Ministry cited one major benefit to the reform: 20 percent fewer buses on Agrippas Street. The narrow street, which borders the Mahaneh Yehuda market and replaced Jaffa Road as the main bus artery through downtown Jerusalem, is usually one huge traffic jam. The added bus traffic on the street broke all local records for air pollution.

As part of the reform, use of the Rav-Kav smart cards was phased in and has replaced the old punch card or monthly bus tickets. Passengers can transfer freely from a bus to the train and vice versa within 90 minutes.

Many Jerusalemites are still skeptical about the changes.

"The new arrangements will be good for the train, but not for people," said Yossi Saidov, a founder of the 15 Minutes movement that has been struggling for public transportation improvements.

He believes that while those who live near the light rail route will have a quicker, more efficient ride under the reform, tens of thousands of people in more outlying neighborhoods will lose out.

"Instead of taking large employment centers, such as Hadassah Hospital or Givat Shaul and others, and arranging buses between them and the [outlying] neighborhoods, they are connecting the neighborhoods to the train. This is a plan that will push people back into private cars," he said.

The 15 Minutes group, which made recommendations to the team drawing up the bus reform, has also suggested that the elderly be helped by allowing some buses to ply the old, familiar routes, albeit at a low frequency of service.

"It's hard for an old person to keep changing buses," Saidov said. "Why can't there be a bus, once an hour, that goes from the neighborhood to the market?"