Bus Drivers Threaten Strike Over Coronavirus Exposure

YERUSHALAYIM -
Superbus drivers protest against the new emergency regulations in public transportation, at the Knesset. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bus drivers across the country were threatening to go out on strike Wednesday to protest government policy that exposes them to the coronavirus by having to accept cash payment of fares by some passengers.

Health Ministry regulations require passengers to pay for rides either online or using a Rav-Kav transportation card, thereby avoiding physical contact with drivers and ticket clerks. But an exception was made recently for the elderly and residents of Yehudah and Shomron.

In addition, plastic partitions which were supposed to be installed around the bus driver’s seat for his protection have for the most part not materialized. Passengers are forbidden from sitting in the front row, however.

“The Transportation Ministry is leading the public transportation industry into a real failure,” said the Bus Drivers Union on Sunday, according to Maariv. “Bus drivers are people, too, and have the right to observance of their health rules under the Purple Ribbon. Bus drivers are not worthless – and whoever forgets this will understand well during the general strike planned for Wednesday.”

On Monday, the chairman of the Histadrut, Yoav Simhi, asked Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to intervene by ordering an end to cash payment.

Simhi noted in a letter to PM Netanyahu that while over a thousand bus drivers have contracted the coronavirus and hundreds are in quarantine, the state “refuses to implement all necessary measures to maintain the safety of drivers and passengers.”

Earlier this month, Transportation Minister Miri Regev told Ynet that she is negotiating with the Finance Ministry to allow elderly people to use public transportation for free as a solution to the problem.

“Just like we pay at the supermarket and banks with cash, so too, elderly people who don’t have a Rav Kav will pay with cash. Meanwhile, we will protect the drivers, of course – we are rushing and increasing the partitions that will be in each bus,” said Regev.

Companies that stand to be affected by the strike are: Kaviim, Dan, Afikim, Superbus, Netiv Express, Dan North, Dan South and Egged Tachburah (Transport), a subsidiary of Egged Public Transportation Company.

According to coronavirus regulations issued earlier this month, buses can travel at about 50% capacity, with the number of passengers limited on city buses to 30, on intercity lines to 32 and on elongated buses to 50. Passengers must wear masks over mouth and nose.