Reminiscing about “Jerusalem of Old” of the 1980s in last weekend’s Jerusalem Post Magazine, Liat Collins, editor of The Jerusalem Post International Edition and a frequent columnist in the magazine, wrote, among other things, that 1983 “was a time when the light rail did not exist in our wildest dreams.” But, she continued, “now it figures in some of my worst nightmares.”
What is she talking about, many of you – especially those who are familiar with Jerusalem – may ask.
The answer focuses on the new transportation system in Jerusalem – the light rail – the municipal fast train now operating in the city. Conceived in 2002 and scheduled to begin service in 2006, after many, many delays, the light rail finally began service last August.
From August through November, service was free because there were many glitches still to be ironed out. City Pass, the company operating the light rail, wanted to delay beginning service until October, hoping that the problems would be resolved. But the city refused to grant one more postponement and insisted that service begin in August— warts and all!
And so it began—a nightmare for Liat Collins and many more Jerusalemites! Many of us try to avoid taking the fast train, which is not really so fast, and still try to rely on buses whenever and wherever possible. Driving a private car in many parts of the center of the city is no longer possible, and even cabs and buses cannot travel on Jaffa Road. The municipality hopes to make Jaffa Road a midrahov, a pedestrian mall like Ben Yehuda Street, with the light rail tracks in the center.
Why is it a nightmare, you ask.
First of all, the train is supposed to have the right of way throughout the city. But, somehow, the traffic lights have not been coordinated with the light rail, so the train has to stop for red lights. Second, pedestrians are supposed to give the train the right of way and cross only at designated crossings, but many stroll along and walk across the tracks wherever they want. To date, there has been one incident of the train hitting a pedestrian, but many believe it’s a disaster waiting to happen. Third, special cards – Rav Kav cards – were issued in the fall replacing most paper tickets. These new cards were supposed to be compatible between buses and the train. But the first batch was not, so those of us who got the cards early had to have them reprogrammed.
Moreover—and perhaps the biggest headache—many bus lines have been changed or even discontinued. The idea is that buses should be feeders into the light rail system. But now many people have to take a bus and then transfer to the train where before one bus would take them to their destination.
Tourists love the light rail. But many Jerusalemites agree: It is far more a nightmare than a dream come true! Visit Jerusalem and decide for yourself.
Phyllis Singer is a former editor/general manager of The American Israelite living in Jerusalem.