And so, we've got the Egged Bus Cooperative.
The Quintessential Israeli Shaggy Dog Story:
A man and his dog get on an Egged bus in Tel Aviv. He pays two fares, and the dog sits on the seat beside him. As the bus heads toward Afula, it quickly fills up so that when a little old lady gets on, there's standing room only. She says to the man: "Move your dog, I want to sit down".
"Sorry, lady, I paid for this seat and my dog stays put".
Immediately the travellers on the bus form two camps: those defending the man since he paid for the dog, and the other saying that the little old lady is entitled to sit down because she's old and frail. Tempers flare. It becomes so rowdy, with people beginning to insult the antecedents of other people, that no one can hear the radio any more, even though the driver had put it at full volume. Finally, he stops the bus, stands up, holds up his hand for quiet: "Israel", the driver says, "is a democracy. So, we'll have a vote."
The dog won.
Slightly less than a decade ago, new buses began appearing on Jerusalem's streets. At first glance, they looked a lot nicer than the antiquarian models that had greeted me when I first arrived--well, just about any bus would, since those were not only lacking in anything resembling air conditioning, they lacked upholstery, and frequently carried chickens, goats, and Yemenites who squatted in the aisles instead of sitting on the fiberglass seats. The new buses looked nicer than the more recent edition, circa 1980, which did sport upholstery, albeit dirty and stained, and had airconditioning and much less room for goats, chickens, dogs, etc. but had suspension systems in terminal paralysis.
The new buses were painted a dark, metallic green ("dead crab green" a writer to the Jerusalem Post's Letters to the Editor suggested, but I've never seen a dead crab that color) which made them almost invisible at night or in the twilight, but a large stylized "aleph" (for the first letter of "Egged") that looked like an X with a single wing was painted over the gas tank, thoughtfully providing a perfect sniper target. Later, after a number of motorists had collided with the buses, a white stripe was painted along the length of the bus at roof level. Another wag commented that someone in Egged must have a brother in the paint business, who had been stuck with several hundred gallons of forest green metallic paint and had unloaded it on the bus cooperative. It is really quite a depressing color.
Inside, there were several notable features. Seating on one side of the front part of the bus was single seat only, reducing the seating capacity by about 6 places. The seats immediately behind the driver, reserved for the blind and aged, were on a raised platform, so the person attempting to sit on one had to step up a steep step. The same was true in the rear part of the bus, which also made the aisle extremely narrow. As a result, the bus rode very low to the ground, and could "lean" even lower by hydraulics to permit people who couldn't step onto to the bus easier access, even if they couldn't manage to haul themselves into the seats reserved for the physically impaired. The rear door had a manually-operated floor panel that could be opened outwards to allow access by the wheelchair-bound -- if someone other than the person in the wheelchair would open and close it.
But what really came as a shock was that we had been led to believe that these vehicles were buses. They weren't. They are greenhouses. Made in Germany, for the cool climate and pallid sunshine of northern Europe, they have lovely giant, unopenable windows which soak up every bit of sun. Only a thin strip at the top can be opened an inch or so. In the Israeli climate, this has resulted in what I can only call "reverse air conditioning". The atmosphere in the buses is so sweltering that you actually feel cooler when you get off the bus into the usual 30 degree heat of the Jerusalem summer. And the very noisy and inadequate air conditioning (only noisy inside the bus; these buses are designed to lower outside noise pollution) replicates Turkish bath conditions with a vengeance: since we must all be ecologically-minded these days, the air conditioning does not use a refrigeration gas but passes the buses' air over a water-based cooling system, resulting in a 75% humidity inside the bus (which makes the 35C heat even hotter) while it is "only" about 35% outside. In the winter, the condensed moisture on the windows is enough to water a sizeable garden. Moreover, being built for tall Aryans, the hanging straps to clutch at (there are very few vertical bars) are far too high for most Jews, who tend to be short, to reach, which makes standing quite a perilous activity. If our older buses had rigid suspensions, these buses have the equivalent of trampolines--going over the slightest bump and everyone sways and bounces.
Advertisers soon realized that the large windows made it impossible to put large ads on the outside of the buses--so, for several years we had the strange situation where the adverts were plastered on anyway, preventing anyone from looking out, or knowing when to disembark. Now, we still have the ads, but they are cunningly printed on paper with tiny holes which let us see where we are.
It is with the utmost displeasure that I have to travel on these buses every day, usually 4 or 5 different ones. Of course, since Egged drivers are quite well paid, I'm sure they only drive in their brand new cars whenever they are off duty. Or maybe take taxis. This may be the only country in the developed world where passengers are happy to get on old buses in preference to the new ones.
I had really hoped that Egged itself would realize that these green buses do not suit and find some other supplier, but I was mistaken. Now we are getting the same buses in the longer, articulated style. Twice as much misery.
On a related topic:
A few weeks ago, something happened to the bus stop of the #18 bus on Yosi ben Yoezer St. It appeared to have collapsed, or been knocked over. Bus stops in Jerusalem are quite solid, with roofs against sun and rain, and metal on three sides, as a protection against terrorists. It's not really very easy to damage one. Some years ago, ultra-Orthodox youth burned a bunch of them, because they had "immodest" advertising, but that took some effort.
This bus stop stood in front of a small felafel/light meal restaurant run by a man named Shlomi. He does a good business, as do several other merchants with shops adjoining his, since people get on and off the bus all the time there.
It took Egged a bit of time to get its act together, but when they replaced the stop, they moved it about 50 meters down the street. Seems Shlomi had taken advantage of this very convenient "accident" to the stop to convince Egged that the stop had obscured his restaurant's window. Rumors began to circulate that he, or his father, had actually arranged for the stop's destruction. The other merchants, especially one who ran a small grocery store, named Ilan, started a counter-petition to get the stop put back right where it had been, and more than shakshouka has been simmering between them for the past couple of weeks.
I don't really care where the stop is, but this bus line is used by a lot of non-driving elderly and it is definitely difficult for some to get to the new stop. It certainly is difficult when you don't know where the bus will stop--some drivers are still stopping at the old site, and some at the new.
Today, we got resolution, of a sort. The stop was replaced at its old site. I'm sure there will be a new chapter next week. Keep tuned....