What time is the next bus?

September 29, 2010 - 1:02 PM by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life, Technology 

Going solar?

For riders of public transportation, it’s a common scenario: you arrive at the bus stop and there’s no one else there. Did you just miss the bus? If so, when will the next one be along? Up until now, there’s been no way to know.

That’s set to change now that a new international tender has been issued by the Israel National Roads Company (INRC). The aim is to have digital signs linked to GPS transmitter aboard the buses (and eventually the Jerusalem light rail) that will feed passengers real-time information to waiting passengers.

This development is not particularly revolutionary: similar systems have been running for years in many European countries. But the Israeli proposal has a uniquely Middle Eastern twist: the digital signs will be solar powered.

That makes eminent sense in a country with abundant sunshine (too much, in fact, given the perpetual state of drought Israel has fallen into during recent years).

The Jerusalem Post reports that the tender calls for 100 intercity bus stations to be outfitted with the solar screens. That’s not a huge number: the INRC maintains a total of 3,000 bus stops across the country. But it’s a start. And going green puts Israel at the forefront of technological advancements in the field.

The tender goes one step even further: the signs are supposed to have buttons where passengers can switch languages – great for a country that comprises immigrants from dozens on countries who may not speak Hebrew perfectly – and even an audio option for the blind to have arrival information read out.

Now all we have to do is hope that that signs tell us that our next bus is right around the corner. I’m not sure I want to know I have a 40-minute wait…

Cellphone education

September 20, 2010 - 4:27 PM by · 3 Comments
Filed under: A New Reality, General 

You just know they're listening to music...(Image by © C. Devan/Corbis)

Riding the Egged bus is always an easy way for reconnecting with the Israeli ‘amcha’, the vast, somewhat mixed masses that populate this country. Even on my relatively tame 71, 72, 73, 74 bus lines that traverse the wide road that is Derech Hevron, running from Gilo in the south of Jerusalem to Ramot in the north, I’m sitting with my fellow Jlem residents, breathing the same air, sharing the same seats and hand straps, and listening to the same conversations.

So I’m sitting and waiting for the bus yesterday morning, heading into town to cover an assignment, when I realize that the tinny music I’m hearing is coming from the cellphone of the teenage boy sitting two seats town. In between us is an older woman. I politely ask the boy to turn down his music, as he’s listening to it without an earphone (rude), and it’s just bad music. He does so without comment. At that point, the woman turns to me and says, “Why is it that these kids think we want to listen to their music? They should use earphones.” I nod in agreement because she’s absolutely right, and I can’t stand walking around and hearing someone else’s music blaring out of their cellphone.

She continues. Seems that three years ago – she remembers that it was three years because her mother, ala hashalom’, died three years ago — she was on her way to visit her mother in Beersheva on an Egged intercity bus. And wouldn’t you know it, but as always, there was this one soldier having a loud conversation on his cellphone with someone named Ortal. Ortal, she tells me, is a name she will never forget. Now, as she and I both know, it is very annoying to always be privy to everyone’s private cellphone conversations in public places, such as the bus, the bank, the supermarket, the sidewalk. “I,” she says, “also have a cellphone. But I speak quietly, and briefly, I don’t tell my whole life on the phone.” I nodded.

Anyway, she — and the rest of the people on the bus — spent an hour and a half listening to this soldier tell Ortal how sorry he was for what he’d done, and that he’d do anything to make it up to her from the minute he arrived home. At some point, she reached her limit. Turning around, she snatched the phone out of his hand, and said, “Ortal, stop making him beg. There’s a hundred of you out there, and he can easily find someone else. Enough!”

And with that, she handed the phone back to him, as the rest of the bus passengers burst out laughing.

“It’s a great memory,” she told me. “And I can always do it again; these kids need to be educated.”

Teenagers on cellphones: Beware of my bus bench neighbor. She’s looking to educate you.

Riding the night train

September 3, 2010 - 2:59 PM by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, General, Israeliness, Life, Pop Culture, Travel 

I had the enlightening experience last night of riding the ‘kavei laila’ (night lines) of the Egged bus system.

In most Israeli cities, bus service stops at around 12:30 am every night. But in recent years, Egged, the national bus company, has initiated late night service on Thursday and Saturday nights (not on Friday, of course).

This enables youngsters from suburban Jerusalem neighborhoods and the surrounding areas like Ma’aleh Adumim to enjoy the Jerusalem nightlife late into the night and still be able to get home – it also lets them to leave the driving to Egged, so if they happen to drink too much, there’s no danger on the roads.

I hadn’t been in downtown Jerusalem at 1:30 am for quite a while, but a late night farewell party for a friend who’s leaving the country combined with my car being at home, led me to search out the night line to get home.

First of all, I was amazed how hopping the downtown area was at 1:30 am – hundreds if not thousands of kids, mostly teens but also 20-somethings – bouncing around the streets, filling the clubs, pubs and cafes, and generally creating exuberant mayhem.

My teenage son, who has a wealth of experience in the matter, told me to just look for a bus stop with a lot of people at it, and that would be the one where I’d find the bus to take me home on the half hour until 4 am.

Sure enough, there were hundreds of people at the stop on Shlomzion Hamalka St. as buses arrived to take them to Gilo, Talpiot, Mevasseret, and to my home. Despite the crowds, everyone got a seat, and I was home before I knew it.

So, don’t worry about staying out late as long as it’s a weekend – the kavei laila are a real service – and you don’t have to be a teen to enjoy it.

Public transit – a viable option for Jerusalem? Maybe not yet…

May 6, 2010 - 12:06 PM by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Israeliness, Life 

To take the car or the bus. It’s not such a simple question these days when trying to get to downtown Jerusalem. And it’s one I had to address this week when I needed to visit the optometrist to pick up new glasses.

It’s no secret that Israel’s capital has been a mess with the ever-delayed construction of the light rail system. But that’s not the only reason traffic is perpetually snarled.

The city has been actually trying to make it difficult to use your car to reach the center. The aim is to position public transportation as a more viable option. Bus lanes have been built – at the expense of private auto lanes – and many streets are now closed off entirely to anything but buses and taxis.

That’s not a bad thing: many cities around the world are also employing such methods to cut down on traffic, with more drastic measures such as charging drivers to enter the most congested parts of town being implemented or considered in hot spots like London and New York.

The problem is that the alternative – the bus – is not that much better. For sure, where there’s a dedicated public transit lane, the bus zips along its way. But when the lane ends, the bus is stuck in the same snarl of cars as everyone else.

Even worse, Egged (Israel’s national bus company) seems perpetually short of vehicles, so just loading up with passengers downtown for a trip home can take a good ten minutes. Woe is you if you’re at the end of the line.

In Tel Aviv, the Dan bus cooperative is pushing electronic cards that you can fill up with money, allowing frequent travelers to swipe their way on. For now, at least, Jerusalemites without a monthly pass have to present a bus ticket that the driver must then punch (or pay in cash on the vehicle itself, something uniquely Israeli).

A newly instituted system where you can request a transfer good for 75 minutes slows things down even further – the driver has to press a couple of buttons to issue the transfer, then has to take the paper in his hands and punch it manually – what’s up with that?

When I went to the optometrist, I ultimately chose to drive and was, not unsurprisingly, ensnared by a slowly crawling line of cars approaching Bezalel Street. It was so aggravating I nearly decided to abandon my car mid-street and walk the rest of the way. My wife Jody, who was riding with me, had the good sense to do just that as my temper rose and not such nice words escaped my usually more restrained demeanor.

My gut tells me to take the bus next time. It may not be faster, but it’s cheaper (no parking lot or meter fees) and better for the environment. And, hey, some people actually like being packed like a pride of sweaty Sabras in the bowels of an aging bus. Not me, but I’ll keep riding anyway.

Nostalgia Sunday – Egged Bus

June 14, 2009 - 12:29 PM by · 3 Comments
Filed under: design, General, History and Culture, Nostalgia Sunday, Pop Culture 

My car broke down irretrievably last year and, as a result, I have been taking the bus quite a bit. In-between cursing public transportation, cultivating nascent misanthropic tendencies, and swearing that next week I am absolutely buying a car — bank balance be damned — I also find time for nostalgic reverie. Or is that better termed a bad flashback? Let’s face it, today’s buses are far, far better than the non-air conditioned, bouncing, bulky tin boxes on wheels of yesteryear. My coccyx bone aches just thinking about it. Ouch.

Transportation cooperative Egged also remembers those days, (with more fondness than do I), and maintains a museum in Holon, the niche museum capital of Israel. The display is also online with a gallery of photos, posters, video clips (like this one of the first Egged tour of Sinai) and articles about Egged’s history. For example, this photo of a few of the drivers who joined the Egged cooperative in 1933.


And here’s the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv! No, not that one. This was located at 1 Rothschild Boulevard.

And then there was Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus design bus station that was Egged’s main base until the new bus station opened in 1993.

The classic 1970s Egged bus designed by British Leyland:

Here’s the 1980s upgrade, designed by Mercedes — introducing air-conditioning!

Egged’s bus for the new millennium. In a classic “greenwashing” move, Egged made a very big deal about how this model was environmentally friendly. Why? Because of the green paint? Oh well, at least they’re roomy and the air-conditioning works well.

And now, introducing the new bus for 2009, the Saar-31. I bet the air conditioning is super-sonic. Ahhh…

As with all Egged buses, the Saar 31 is manufactured and assembled locally by the Haargaz company. The design of this bus, says Haargaz, is the most advanced of its kind. But what I like is their video clip about the history of Haargaz-constructed buses in Israel – to the tune of Born to Be Wild. So rock on… and leave the driving to us!

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