Two-years ago, after 10 years of digging up the streets and spending tens of millions of dollars, Jerusalem inaugurated a light rail system. It was supposed to ease the crowding on the buses and bypass much of Jerusalem’s traffic. It’s quiet and fast and has become very popular.
It’s also become very crowded. On a recent late afternoon, dozens of riders on Jaffa Road in the center of the city pushed onto the train as the doors opened. The problem was, dozens of other riders were trying to get off the train. There was pushing, shoving and name-calling. The automatic doors kept getting stuck as more and more people pushed in.
CityPass, which runs the light rail system, is trying to change things. They have inaugurated a campaign to convince Israelis that simple courtesy – waiting for exiting passengers to leave the train before entering passengers board – is good for everyone.
'Educate people in schools and on TV'
Clad in bright-red shirts, the smiling “ushers” hand out fliers and hard candies to Jerusalem commuters.
“First people get off, then you get on,” the fliers exhorted.
Newly painted yellow arrows on the sidewalk, where the trains stop, direct passengers leaving the train how to exit. Embarking passengers are supposed to stand on the side waiting.
“The traffic jams at the doors cause frequent delays,” CityPass spokesman Ozel Vatik told The Media Line. “It’s unpleasant, and people push each other. We are launching a campaign to try to change this.”
Vatik knows it won’t be easy.
“We don’t live in a bubble here and we know how Israelis behave,” he said. “But we think they will gradually see that this way it’s better for everyone.”
Most commuters seemed happy to take the hard candies, but less enthusiastic about the leaflets.
“We need some norms for how to get on and off the train instead of everyone doing it at the same time,” Moshe Suissa told The Media Line. “Candy won’t do it. We need to educate people in schools and on TV.”
Jerusalem’s transportation system of buses and the light rail costs about $1.75 for any combination of transportation for 90 minutes. Students pay half, and soldiers and police in uniform ride free. Given that gas costs $8 per gallon and parking in the center of town can cost upwards of $20 per day, public transportation use is heavy.
The light rail is still something of a tourist attraction. When it first opened two years ago, ridership was free for several months. Large ultra-Orthodox families rode up and down the line for hours each day.
The train runs through both Jewish and Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. There have been a handful of attacks and fistfights over the past two years.
'It's just the way that Israel works'
Esther Drucker, on a visit from Tel Aviv, with her granddaughter, said she was surprised by how crowded the train was and how much shoving there was.
“There are people who simply have no patience for anything,” she told The Media Line. “I see people take the flyer and the candy, and then push to get on the train.”
Ilana Wernick, on a post-high-school program from Dallas, Texas said she took the train often.
“It’s really convenient except for the pushing and shoving,” she told The Media Line. “I don’t think the new campaign will work even though it sounds like a good idea. But there are too many people and not enough of them will follow the rules and let people off first. It’s just not the way that Israel works.”
Galia Avshalom, an Israeli who immigrated to Canada, agreed.
“In Canada, nobody pushes and nobody cuts in front of you. Everybody waits until the train is completely empty before getting on,” she told The Media Line. “I really appreciate that. Here, you need to be really strong to push your way on. That’s just the way it is here and I don’t think it will change.”
Article written by Linda Gradstein
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line