Shalom Shore egged bus

Egged Bus. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Innovative fare-processing system allows passengers to enter the bus through any door without getting yelled at.

In a press-conference this Tuesday, excited transportation authority officials announced an important milestone in Jerusalem’s transportation history: passengers can now board busses through any door without getting yelled at.

Incorporating a system already in use on the city’s light rail, a series of devices spread throughout the bus means passengers will no longer need to wait for the old ladies to pay for their fare using 10 agorot coins. Prospective riders can now enter through any door and validate their card at the closest machine.

“What if the bus driver decides to leave without me?”

Boarding a bus from any door other than the one in front used to be a very risky process for Israeli civilians. Regardless of the twin stroller you were pushing or whether you were carrying most of Machane Yehuda in your cart, boarding through the back doors meant almost-certain fiery wrath from the part of your bus driver.

Their tone of voice told you there were angry; but the fact that they were always wearing sunglasses and looking straight up at their review mirror, meant you weren’t quite sure at who. It was always best to assume that you were the guilty party, and it was therefore common to have six different people point guiltily at themselves and ask “Ani?”

Not anymore.

From now on, the risk of getting shouted at has been completely averted, and has been replaced with the danger of getting sliced in half by the doors when the driver randomly decides to close them on you. This privilege was usually reserved to those alighting only; with the new arrangement in place, every man, woman and child has an equal chance at losing a limb to a bus driver’s whim.

The risk is real. The fear is tangible. And when those doors open, no one is going anywhere.

Months ago, the light train authorities launched a delightful campaign aimed at teaching Israeli some manners. Brightly festooned youngsters were paid minimum wage to hand out flyers and announce at train stops: “first people go out, then people go in!” This piece of common sense reminds me of a far side cartoon where a man is greeted every morning with a poster: “First your pants, then your shoes.”

I laughed at first.

But then, as in considered the faces of the crowd that faced me as I tried to exit the train – completely ignoring the timeless adage that had been so valiantly aimed at them by festooned youngsters of yore – I noticed something striking. Their faces bore an unmistakable emotion that looked very familiar. It was desperation bordering on panic, and it was familiar because I saw it every time I got off the train and felt it every time I tried to get on.

“What if the bus driver decides to leave without me?” is the simplest way to summarize this feeling. “What if he, with total disregard for the dozens of people still waiting to board, decides to shut the doors of his train/bus, leaving us stranded here with nothing but the arm of that poor bastard who thought he could squeeze by?” The risk is real. The fear is tangible. And when those doors open, no one is going anywhere.

The people getting off are afraid of getting trapped and taken on an involuntary ride through town. The people getting on are afraid of standing in the rain for another fifteen minutes while the next train – only 6 minutes away – experiences “unfortunate delays”. The result is a standoff – loud, turbulent, chaotic – where the two crowds throng into each other with all their might.

As a result, some people get on, some people get off, and some people stay exactly where they were before.

Is it any wonder, when a bus pulls up so packed with people that one sees individual faces smeared against the windows and the bus driver announces “there’s another one right behind me”, that no one puts the least bit of stock in his words and clamors to enter the last helicopter out of Vietnam Kamenitz?

Does it surprise anyone that old Israeli women who have lived here long enough instinctively shout “Nahag!” when they get off, in hopes that this will draw attention to their existence let them live to ride one more bus?

Does it now make sense that, when a bus pulls up 30 feet behind one already at the stop, an entire crowd will run halfway down the street and bang on its doors to see if he will let them one (maybe he just decided that this sidewalk is now the bus stop?)?

This delightful experience was currently only limited to trains, since the fear of The Bus Driver had people board from one door and leave from all the others.

No more.

Now, regardless of the form of transportation you choose to traumatically transport yourself through the city, you can experience this same feeling of terror: “Will I get left behind?”

But at least the driver won’t yell at you.