Wednesday, November 02, 2011

like having teeth pulled

In the past few months, I've noticed stalls set up seemingly randomly around Jerusalem signing people up for the Rav-Kav. I've always been in a rush when passing them by and so happily passed them by. As an irregular bus rider (my usual commute is by bike), I haven't noticed any major advertising campaign regarding why I should take any notice - my cartisia (paper ticket allowing for 10 bus journeys) serves me just fine thank you very much.

On November 1st however, Jerusalem stopped using cartisiot and Choshi Chodshi (monthly passes allowing unlimited travel for a set fee) and suddenly I was forced out of my stupor - along with many thousands of other Jerusalemites.

Other than cash the Rav Kav is now the only way to travel on Jerusalem buses and of course - our wonderful new light rail (which I used for the first time the other day). Paying cash means a more expensive ticket so I figured I'd have to go along and get the new device - the omens appeared good yesterday however as I read that demand from latecomers was causing tremendous crowds and therefore they were opening new stations to distribute them including one near my office. My initial reconnaissance however showed that the new stations were pretty crowded too.

This morning therefore, having checked the opening time (9:00) and what to bring (ID card or drivers license + form printed off from the website), saw me arriving at the correct spot on Ben Yehuda with a couple of minutes to spare before opening to find - nothing - no sign, no booth, nada - should I have expected anything other than a delay in anything connected to the light rail?

At 9:10 a team started dragging out the equipment, setting up a shelter, stands etc. By this time an initial crowd had gathered and began to engage in the Israeli tradition of asking "who's last? okay I'm after you" - complicated by the fact that there were two stands from two directions it became clear that the potential for nastiness was pretty high. "Do you guys have numbers?" I asked a staff member hopefully and got "choched" in reply.

By 9:23 they were able to announce that they'd be ready to begin work in 20 minutes once they had the computers set up - at which point I abandoned the enterprise, returned to my office and shot off notes of complaint to Egged and City Pass.

I decided to bite the bullet and returned later in the day. I found a line of about 35 people including Olim from France, Young Judea kids from the US and veteran Israelis. Moving forward at a snail's pace, it became clear that the staff members were not of the highest calibre nor work ethic. Despite the nature of the Jerusalem public neither spoke English or French (and were barely intelligible in Hebrew other than one consistently informing the crowd that the other was "meshuga". Tempers frayed as they ran out of forms at 2:30 (they were supposed to be there until 5:00) and they started to tell anyone that they could go to Kanyon Malcha or the Central Bus Station.

As I got to the front of my line one employee got up and, knuckles dragging, headed off for a smoke - fortunately his colleague had the good sense to relate to the two lines as one and finally, after an hour and a half waiting, I departed with my new card - lousy photo and all.

Having grown up in the UK, I'm no stranger to inefficient systems of public transportation and waiting patiently on line is second nature to me. The beginning of the light rail project has faded from my memory - it's certainly at least 6 years ago but I'm thinking more like 8 or 9 years of terror for Jerusalem commuters and small business owners? Given that lead time, you'd be foregiven for thinking that someone might have come up with a more efficient way of making sure that commuters were aware of the upcoming change - but given the way in which the project has unfolded maybe I'm stupid to expect anything different?

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