Gov’t Mulls How to Get Essential Workers to Their Jobs With No Buses

Egged buses at the Eilat Central Station.

Among the steps the government is expected to take Tuesday in its efforts to further enforce social distancing among Israelis is a complete cessation of public transportation – which raises the question of how workers who are considered “essential” are to get to work.

Such workers include many working in supermarkets, manufacturing plants, food production, transportation and other areas – many of them are lower-income, without their own means of transportation. Already last week, when the Transportation Ministry cut off all buses and trains after 8:00 p.m. and on weekends, workers and companies inundated the Ministry with questions about how night shift workers were supposed to get to their jobs, TheMarker reported.

Many of those workers have been getting to or from work by taxi, which was not covered under last week’s regulations and are likely to remain on the road. With all public transportation halted, all workers who don’t have cars will face the question of how to get to work. TheMarker reported that the Transportation Ministry has negotiated a deal with several private transportation firms to provide vans that will be deployed as needed. The requirement for a tender to provide those services was suspended, given the immediate need to arrange for transportation, the report said.

The report also said that bus companies were concerned that requiring all drivers to take a leave of absence without pay could significantly damage their schedules. Bus companies were already complaining of a driver shortage, with some 4,000 vacancies among all bus companies, and the transportation firms are concerned that many of the drivers who are put on unpaid leave may decide not to come back after they are called back to work.

The initial period of unpaid leave will be 30 days, but drivers who apply for unemployment will be eligible for between 6 and 10 months of unemployment benefits, depending on how many years they have worked. Bus companies have told the Ministry that they are likely to have to provide generous raises to woo drivers back to work and recruit new ones, which is going to require an increase in the subsidies the government gives them, the report added.