More Buses on the Road, But Social Distancing Rules Still Apply

YERUSHALAYIM -
A worker wearing protective clothes disinfects a bus stop in Kfar Chabad, on March 18. (Flash90)

Bus service is back, at least partially. The Transportation Ministry said that as of Sunday, the number of buses on many lines will be doubled – from 25% of the regular schedule which had been prevalent in recent weeks, to 50% of the regular schedule.

With that, not all bus service will be increased. Most of the increases will be on lines within cities between neighborhoods and industrial areas or business centers. As of Sunday, 30% of workers at a company can now report to work, justifying the increase in bus service, the ministry said. In addition, bus lines to shopping areas – where large supermarkets are located – will also be increased.

With that, not all increased service is likely to take place right away, TheMarker reported. Bus companies said that it might take them a few days to reorganize schedules and call drivers back to work, as the permits to increase bus service were not even decided upon until Motzoei Shabbos.

A bigger problem, the report said, was the drivers themselves. In recent weeks, two-thirds of drivers have been laid off without pay, making them eligible to receive unemployment benefits – but those payments will only be made if they are unemployed for 30 days or more. At least some drivers who were contacted by the ministry said that they would not go back to work until they got their unemployment payments. The report said that the ministry was trying to work out an arrangement with the Finance Ministry to allow for unemployment payments to be made for part of the month, but with no success so far.

Buses that do operate are required to implement and enforce social distancing rules. Buses cannot transport more than 20 people at once, and empty rows and seats between passengers is encouraged. Passengers can also not sit in the front row behind the driver. Buses will operate until further notice Sundays through Thursday from 5:30 a.m. through 8:00 PM, with no service Friday or Motzoei Shabbos. Train service remains suspended for the time being. Passengers are required to pay their fares using bus cards (rav kav), with cash payments currently suspended.

Drivers are supposed to wear face masks, as are all passengers – and drivers are supposed to prevent individuals without masks from boarding the bus. A senior transportation official told TheMarker that in reality there was little a driver could do if a passenger without a mask tried to board. “Drivers really can’t do anything about that,” the official said. “Any driver who does try risks getting into a confrontation if he tries to stop them, but if allows them to get on, other passengers will confront the driver. The situation for drivers under the current circumstances is very complicated, and very difficult.”