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what about busses?

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A while ago my sister and I were discussing all the wonderful movies we grew up watching even though (1) we couldn’t fully understand them at the time and (2) they scared the crap out of us.  Such classics include The Return to Oz, Alice in Wonderland (1985 version with the scary Jabberwocky), and of course Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of those movies that I watched again and again, but never fully understood until I watched it as an adult.  The plot comes together at the end: an evil cartoon wants to destroy toontown in order to build the LA freeway.  This, he believes, would jumpstart a booming auto industry from which he could profit.  But building a freeway isn’t enough; people during the 1940’s (when the story took place) loved their public transportation and would not leave it for a simpler alternative.  So the villain had to do one other thing in order to hatch his plan – he had to destroy public transportation.

Does the auto industry aim to destroy public transportation?  I would find it hard to argue that they are not at least competitors, and believe that the auto industry wants public transportation to be an inconvenient alternative.  In fact, I would find it logical to believe that the auto industry tries to ensure that public transportation does not become too convenient.  At the same time, public transportation probably aims to fight the auto industry.  Indeed, it could be argued that as gas prices rise, so does the attractiveness of public transportation, and subsequently, its profitability.

But this is not true.  If someone already has a car, he isn’t going to take a bus when gas prices rise.  The cost of the car and insurance are already sunken costs, so the driver looks at the marginal cost of gas and the time saved and then decides what to do.  In the end, public transportation will almost never win on cost.

But it can win in convenience.  If the state of Israel were to take steps to make public transportation more efficient such creating more “public transportation only” lanes and enforce their rule the rules of the road, more people would flock to public transportation in order to beat traffic.  Traffic would obviously still exist, but as it gets worse and the alternative of public transportation looks better, people will begin making the switch.

Unfortunately, Israel does not really care about public transportation.  Busses stay tied up during rush hour when they should be able to work more efficiently in lanes of their own.  Most of the central bus stations in this country are filthy, outdoor drug dens that are dangerous at night and have no clean public restrooms.  Many busses take extremely long routes that are inefficient for the rider, but are needed in order for the bus company to turn a profit.

It is no shock that only 16% of Israelis commute to work using public transportation.  And trust me, it’s not because they want to.  While Israel’s public transportation is tremendously advanced, even more than most of the US and Europe, its deficiencies are significant and often prohibitive.

A while ago, at a Shabbat meal at Hannah’s house (it should be noted that Hannah is a fantastic cook and a wonderful host, as you would expect from the writer for, Hannah discussed what Israel could be like if suddenly everyone in cities switched to public transportation.  Busses would have to be reconfigured to could get you from anywhere to the center of town in 15 minutes and from there to the major city in another 20.  Busses would zoom, people would probably get to work faster (but would have to switch a couple of busses) and we’d cut down polluting significantly.  A city planner’s dream.

But we’re so far away.  As long we can’t even get clean central bus stations, we will not have a more efficient public transportation system.

The good news is the opportunity for change is now.  Right now we are in the middle of a green tech bubble and counties all over the world are cutting back on emissions (or at least telling their constituents they will.)  We could make it clear to our government that our cities need better public transportation for our economy and our peace of mind.

So start with something simple.  Ask your mayors about fixing up your central bus station.  And while we’re on the subject, I advise you to jump the turnstile and refuse pay-toilets.  Pay toilets are part of the reason there is such horrible public urination in central bus stations.  Tell the mayors we already pay with our taxes.  And if he wants to make people pay for toilets in public places, tell him you want the pay-toilets to be the ones in city hall, not in the central bus station.

In short, if you care about the environment, if you care about the poor, heck, if you care about blatant government corruption, then start making a big deal about public transportation.  We have a small window of opportunity and only with public outcry will we be able to utilize it.


  1. That was amusing. I had better be careful in the future, though, about what I say at Shabbat dinner!

    • jonnydegani says:

      I think the argument you made for more and better public transportation was one of the most thought out and articulate arguments for how we could live in a greener planet while helping out most of society. My hope is that our leaders begin to think the way you did and we see some significant change in the near future.

      • Genius says:

        Is there any evidence offered that public transport (specifically buses) is significantly cleaner for the environment than personal cars? Or at least enough to outweigh the lost productivity caused by doubling or tripling the commuting time of the economy’s most efficient workers?

  2. LeahGG says:

    the train system has improved by leaps and bounds over the past few years and more improvements are on the way. I think rail is a better answer than buses. Buses are uncomfortable, cramped and subject to traffic jams. Trains are super-fast, roomy, and allow you walk around. Some even have electrical outlets to hook your laptop up.

    I know people who choose trains over cars for their commute even when they have the choice. Very few choose buses.

    • Genius says:

      In general I agree about trains, and I always, always try to take a train instead of a bus (or plane) whenever I have the chance. But trains are also subject to traffic jams – if ten times as many people took trains, it would be that much more difficult to go (and nearly impossible to pass another by switching lanes). Also, buses are just as able to have electrical outlets as trains are. In America, intercity buses have outlets and wifi.

  3. Some trains in the U.S. have wi-fi too. Nice for business commuters or long distance travel.

  4. Risa says:

    So, besides blogging about it, what are we going to do to MAKE IT HAPPEN!!!

  5. Avi says:

    I’m actually surprised to have read this on your blog….
    First of all public transportation is fantastic in Israel. Most bus stations are very clean, with the glaring exception of Tel-Aviv….oh really? You don’t think the Jerusalem CBS is SPOTLESS? What about Hof HaCarmel? Do you even take the bus? The fleet in Israel is amazing, and 2nd only to Britain. Intra-city buses in Tel-Aviv run just fine, and the same is true in Jerusalem. Other modes of transportation are in the works to alleviate other traffic problems, and, probably because you’ve never been there, you failed to mention that Haifa has designated bus lanes and so does Jerusalem!!! So what are you talking about? Traffic on Highway 1?

    Also, you’re encouraging people to fare-beat by refusing to pay for public bathrooms? I don’t like paying for public bathrooms, either, but when there is a charge for something and you don’t pay, that’s called stealing…and btw, the bathroom attendants aren’t paid in Israel, they only get money from those who pay, so when you fare-beat you are simply taking money from those who clean the bathrooms.

    So let’s be clear:
    You don’t use the bus.
    So why are you writing about it?

    As a side note, I pay 215 a month to use the bus anywhere I want in TLV, and bus lines in Israel are cheap as dirt.
    You’re going to tell me that a car, or moped, or motorcycle would be cheaper?? Really? Let’s add it up: I spend about 300 shekels a month to get to work and back and go to Netanya on Fridays to see family. If I had a car do you think I could do that? Really? With gas, insurance, maintenance, licensing, and every other cost of having a car???

    People don’t take the bus in Israel, because they like their private space and they feel like buses are for the poor.

    Your article didn’t even mention Moniot Sherut!!!

    I love your blog, I really do, but this article is just ridiculous.

    • jonnydegani says:

      I am living without a car in Israel for almost 4 years now and I respectfully disagree.
      Have you seen the bus station in Petah Tikvah? And much much worse – Afula? Hazor? Tzfat? Tveriah? It is usually the busses in the non-Anglo areas that are worse. Particularly the busses in the area where poor people live are worse.

      I think you missed the point of the cost analysis. Obviously you are correct that it is cheaper to live without a car (as I do), but if you have a car and already pay for the car and maintenance, you’ll never beat the marginal cost of a trip (although I am hoping the train may fix this).

      As for public restrooms. I do not know how attendants are paid and if they are paid too little it is a shame, but I still think it is wrong to charge people to go to the bathroom. We already pay with taxes; we don’t need an additional consumption tax on the poor in order to fund public transportation. Maybe I was spoiled by NY. NY State has a law that not only must public restrooms be free, but every restaurant must let anyone use their bathrooms – regardless if they are a customer or not.

    • Genius says:

      People don’t take the bus in Israel, because they like their private space and they feel like buses are for the poor.

      Possibly. Or they want to get to where they’re going without being abused with all the “allo allo gever” and “mah kara! mah kara lecha!” nonsense that is magnified in the bus-riding population (mind you, I ride buses and trains both daily), not to mention bus-riders blasting techno and mizrachit music out of their cell phones, other bus-riders sneezing all over the place, their feet up on the seats, the heat blasting even on hot days, the INSANE drivers who capriciously skip stops whenever they want, overcharge for the new nearly-mandatory “rav kav,” smash into cyclists, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc.

      Also, you’re encouraging people to fare-beat by refusing to pay for public bathrooms? I don’t like paying for public bathrooms, either, but when there is a charge for something and you don’t pay, that’s called stealing…and btw, the bathroom attendants aren’t paid in Israel, they only get money from those who pay, so when you fare-beat you are simply taking money from those who clean the bathrooms.

      I hate paying to use the bathroom in this country, but not because I think it isn’t worth paying for. On the contrary, I think it’s a great idea. But when I pay, I expect to get a bathroom stall that locks (not in the Jerusalem CBS), a plentiful supply of toilet paper (again, not in the Jerusalem CBS) and sinks that work, with enough soap in the dispensers to wash my hands (and, for the trifecta… not in the Jerusalem CBS!!!). I’m of course referring to the bathrooms with the attendants in the area around where the buses leave for Tel Aviv / Bnei Brak, not the downstairs bathroom that’s free to use.

      Charging to use the bathroom is a wise idea because the bathroom is a government service and it will be funded by the government one way or another. Either they’ll get the money from taxes or from user fees. If it’s from taxes, only the people who are net PAYERS of taxes will be paying for the bathrooms that are primarily used by net RECEIVERS of taxers. But if it’s from user fees, no one will pay to use what he doesn’t use, and net receivers will be contributing something closer to their fair share to the public pot.

      • jonnydegani says:

        About the bathrooms: I don’t disagree with the idea that only those who benefit from a service should pay for a tax for it. This is the “my pocket shouldn’t pay for this” argument. For example, those who eat healthier say that fat people should have to pay more taxes for their unhealthy lifestyle because when these people go to the hospital, the taxes of the healthier people will be paying for the fat people.
        I can say that I don’t have a car and people who don’t have a car has a lesser chance of getting into a car accident or having stress (there was actually a study on this), so other people who drive should pay more taxes for health insurance. (If you get into a car accident, health insurance covers you, not car insurance – and health insurance comes out of our taxes.)
        I don’t go rock climbing, nor do I go on difficult hikes. I think that having a unit in our police / rescue force to help people climbing mountains is pointless. So if a mountaineer falls off a cliff and a helicopter has to save him – shouldn’t he have to pay more?
        Of course not! We all pay taxes for all sorts of different lifestyles and one group paying offsets the others, otherwise we’d have chaos. Lynching one group with a consumption tax and saying “well, why should other people pay if only you’re using it?” is insensitive, wrong, and most important for this subject, inconsistent.

  6. I’ve read that some mass transport systems are not necessarily better for the environment, because of the materials and energy needed to make them and maintain them. Think how much is going into laying tracks all over the country. Whether it’s worth it depends on the future ridership.

    • jonnydegani says:

      In general, there is the question of the cost of infrastructure when trying to be green. I heard an ecologist on the Colbert Report talk about how electric panels, although they are great, take a toll on the environment to be created and while creating some is good, too many would cause more damage to the environment than not having them at all.

      • Avi says:

        Listen, I don’t know what actually helps and what doesn’t help the environment in an absolute way. But since you aren’t going to buy the green-argument (and that’s fine), then how about taking your own argument and flipping it around.
        Israelis are some of the laziest people I’ve ever seen. They don’t work, they collect unemployment, they don’t pay taxes, the religious people are mooching off the seculars (I’m not commenting on this even if you write scathing arguments about how this isn’t true, it is, so deal with it), health care is open to everyone so everyone uses it twice as much as they should, etc. etc. etc.
        If it takes an extra 100 people to maintain buses or lay railroad track, then that’s GREAT! That’s more jobs, and more people who aren’t mooching off of me….unfortunately only the Arabs and immigrants are interested in jobs like these, which is why we have to hire Thai workers rather than those in the unemployment line but still……so let’s be clear….you don’t think that public transportation is beneficial? No? Really? I’m not mathematician, but the materials that go in to building and maintaining one bus are unlikely to be equal to the materials and maintenance that go in to 50 cars, or even 25.

        Want to make things work better in Israel? Eliminate unemployment, make people pay for health insurance, don’t give a dime to any Haredi Jew, and open up a laissez faire economy rather than the socialistic-communism that seems so favorable to the hard-core right wingers (who benefit because they are lazy moochers), and the left-wing do-gooders (who are jaded, stupid, AND lazy).

      • jonnydegani says:

        Wow. A lot of rage in that comment. To say the least I disagree with the notion that all Israelis are lazy, and particularly with your categorization of Haredim, leftists, and just about everyone. I may not agree with the ideals of every sector of society, but I do understand their tremendous importance to Israeli society as a whole.

  7. aldytop says:

    As a human being should cost a vehicle that has given hundreds of dollars and insurance. There are several companies offering different levels of satisfaction for customers. Some of the best auto insurance companies give guarantees for both operations and the devastating loss of a small vehicle

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