Crowded buses, late buses, buses that don’t even show up – the litany of complaints among Yerushalayim residents about Egged bus service is well known, and despite the long-running complaints, nothing ever seems to change.
But change may actually be closer than many think. A report in business daily TheMarker said that the Transport Ministry has had enough of Egged’s failure to serve passengers properly, and has given the company just two more weeks to improve service. If a significant improvement is not seen, the Ministry will begin to auction off bus lines inside Yerushalayim to other bus operators, as it has in many other cities around the country.
The Ministry’s ultimatum comes after a major study of passengers. Egged’s Jerusalem buses ferry some 350,000 passengers to and from work and school each weekday. Surprise inspections by the Ministry show that on a normal day, some 12 percent of Egged buses are late, or don’t even show up as they are supposed to according to the company’s own schedule. “Pressured” days mean even worse performance.
The ultimatum was actually given in February, TheMarker said, and the Ministry gave the company three months to improve performance. Those three months are up in mid-April. Failure to upgrade service will give the Ministry cause to cancel Egged routes, as the company is failing to live up to its contractual obligations to provide proper bus service to residents.
The ultimatum comes at a sensitive time for Egged. Just last week, the Tel Aviv Labor Court forbade company workers to strike over contract and pension issues, and forced negotiators to enter into talks with management. The reason for the labor dispute between Egged management, the government, and the drivers is complicated and involves not just worker’s rights, but government assistance to Egged. For the past year, Egged has not received what it claims are much-needed subsidies to upgrade its budget. The bus company claims that without a renewal of the government subsidy to the firm – with the former agreement expiring ten months ago – the company may not be able to pay salaries of drivers as soon as this month.
According to the Finance Ministry, the fault is completely with Egged. The company has been losing lines over the past two decades, as competing firms outbid Egged for lines in many cities, such as Modiin, Raanana, Beitar Ilit and other places. Currently, Egged controls 45 percent of Israel’s bus traffic, down by more than a third over the past 20 years, but the company has not cut its staff by that amount. According to the Ministry, Egged has refused to sign the prorated subsidy agreement offered it, demanding more per passenger than it had been receiving previously.