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Ban CityPass from Jerusalem now!

The system that was meant to streamline public transportation has turned out to be a big mess, according to some patrons
Light Rail, Jaffa Road (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
Light Rail, Jaffa Road (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

Over three years ago Haviv Rettig Gur wrote this on his Time of Israel blog:

Dear Citypass, the company that built and operates Jerusalem’s new light rail, you’re doing a terrible job.

Three years later here is my updated letter:

Dear Citypass, make no mistake, you are still doing a terrible job!

This post should serve as a plea to the Mayor of Jerusalem, the Minister of Transportation, City Council members, MKs, and anyone else who may be able to affect change for the better on our light rail system. Please, please, free our city from the incompetent plague that is CityPass!

Last time I wrote about the shortcomings of the way the Rav Kav has been implemented in general. But by far the transportation company with the smallest grasp of technology and the highest level of incompetence implementing the Rav Kav system is CityPass, the company who somehow won the tender to operate the light rail in Jerusalem.

There is no shortage of reports of riders, both tourists and citizens being harassed by CityPass inspectors and being told erroneously that they didn’t pay the fare properly. There are also lawsuits that have been won against CityPass in this regard. I am not going to repeat those stories though if my experience today serves as an example they seem to be still occurring.

What I will share is an exact scenario where CityPass’s technology fails spectacularly. And this scenario can easily be reproduced. My wife fell victim to this programming flaw today and I was with her to witness it.

Our story begins this afternoon at 2:27 PM when my wife and I boarded a southbound #74 bus in Har Nof. We both used our respective Rav Kav cards which entitled us to 90 minutes of free transfers to any other local bus or any light rail train. We intended to transfer to the light rail for the second leg of our journey. My wife noticed that she had used her last “punch.” (On Egged and CityPass, unlike in the rest of the country, fares are purchased in virtual punch cards in quantities of ten rides or “punches” at a time.) This is where the technology flaw likely occurred. At the light rail station before the train arrived my wife purchased a new “punch card” of ten rides. When the train then arrived we both boarded (within the 90 minutes) and both touched our cards to the payment reader as is required.

At this point inspectors who were on the train asked me and my wife for our Rav Kav cards. They scanned mine and said it was fine. But then they scanned my wife’s and it didn’t register as fare paid. My wife had the receipt from the #74 bus handy, clearly indicating we were well within the 90 minutes where transfers are free but either the inspectors are trained not to listen to reason and logic or they are hired based on their inability to use reason or logic.

My professional technical opinion is as follows: The CityPass Rav Kav system is unable to properly read a “90 minute transfer from Egged” if a new virtual punch card was purchased on the Rav Kav in between the original Egged ride and the Light Rail ride. There are three possible reasons such a flaw would occur:

  1. CityPass was sloppy in implementing the payment system and has been unaware of the need to fix it or just lacks the will to do so.
  2. CityPass can not find talented enough programmers to fix this bug.
  3. CityPass maliciously designed such a flaw as a means of raising revenue to pay for all the inspectors they need to harass tourists and law abiding citizens. (Rettig Gur raised similar suspicions of CityPass intentionally designing systems and “forcing us to occasionally contribute cash gifts to the company’s coffers” years ago. Incidentally the design flaw he reported then still remains today.)

While option A seems plausible so much time has passed and so many complaints have been received one would think there would be sufficient notification and motivation for them to take corrective action. Option B seems completely implausible as there are so many talented programmers found in the Startup Nation of Israel. However I can’t accept Option C because if that were the case it would be fraud or outright theft and our elected leaders would not allow fraudsters or thieves to continue to operate their illegal activities in our city, right?

Whatever the true reason may be CityPass represents a real blow to the quality of life for Jerusalem citizens. And because so many tourists ride the light rail they are a terrible embarrassment to our city. Why won’t our elected official take some concrete actions to remedy the situation? I really don’t know where else to turn.

As for my wife, she was slapped with an exorbitant 180NIS fine (plus an additional 6.90NIS for “not paying” the fare) simply because CityPass’s technology was inadequate to deal with a real life and common occurring scenario such as paying the fare and riding the bus, then refilling the Rav Kav and transferring to the train. CityPass should be fined anytime their technology fails and maybe then they would find the will to finally fix the system. So why do I feel like in three years from now we will still be writing letters to CityPass about their terrible service?

About the Author
Pinchas Orbach was the CTO for VoiceofIsrael.com and served as an Information Security Specialist for the United States government. He lectured for the Computer Science Department at Queens College and volunteers his time with Aliyah organizations. He himself made Aliyah from Queens, New York and now lives in Jerusalem with his wife and two sons.
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