Pinchas M. Orbach
Pinchas M. Orbach

CityPass: A Trainload of Problems

I find myself and family at a light rail station but remember my Rav Kav is empty.

No problem. I head to the ticket machine on the platform. Problem. There’s a huge crowd on the platform but only one machine. The line is way too long for me to catch the train arriving in two minutes according to the digital display signs.

No problem. There’s another machine across the platform in the other direction. There’s only one person on line there. I jump down and cross the tracks to the other side. Problem. The machine, like so many others along the light rail route, isn’t functioning properly and won’t take my credit card.

No problem. I try a second credit card instead. Problem. It won’t take that one either.

No problem. I’ll just try cash. Problem. The machine won’t take bills larger than 20 NIS. The smallest bill I have on me is a 50.

No problem. I’ll ask my wife if she has a 20. Problem. My wife informs me she doesn’t have her Rav Kav on her. We would need the Rav Kav to transfer to the bus later since the one time tickets don’t allow transferring.

No Problem. Why not just use my card for the both of us. I’ll double pay like on Egged buses. Problem. CityPass hasn’t figured out how to allow for more than one payment per card. (I believe they may be clueless on purpose here to create more situations where they can hand out fines. But that’s for another article.)

No Problem. We will just take an Egged bus instead. I remember two or three bus lines run parallel with the light rail here. Problem. In their infinite wisdom, the Transportation Ministry or whoever are the powers-that-be gave CityPass a monopoly and agreed to eliminate all competing bus lines.

No Problem. Maybe we petition to the powers-that-be to replace CityPass with someone more competent. Someone that doesn’t plague our city with problems. Problem. Once again, acting with their infinite wisdom they signed a 30-year contract! Who signs a 30-year contract for anything without including a probation period or scores of safeguards?

Let’s take a step back here from my exciting adventure and offer some long term solutions.

Solutions: CityPass needs to be compelled by law to:

  1. Add more ticket machines. A lot more. Think NYC MTA amount more. Additionally, it would be convenient to have staff positioned at each station selling tickets. And it could be done without any increase in staffing. Just reassign the myriad of inspectors the company has hired to this more useful position.
  2. Fix broken ticket machines and make sure they are always working properly, can accept credit cards at all times, and can accept all legal tender no matter how small or large a bill used.
  3. Add the ability for the machines that “punch” the Rav Kav and accept payment to accept it for more than one rider one using a single Rav Kav. Egged solved this issue. On buses that allow you to self-pay in the back, the machines offer the option for the passenger to indicate how many rides they are paying for before touching the machine with the Rav Kav to complete the transaction. If Egged has the technology to do this why can’t CityPass?
  4. Allow people that paid a double payment with one Rav Kav card on an Egged bus to transfer to the light rail without worrying about getting fined. For that matter accept monthly passes without requiring them to be validated. (Though validating should be encouraged in all case, it should not be a finable offense when a monthly pass or transfer was purchased.)
  5. It was announced that Egged is now allowing use of the Rav Kav “wallet” payment system. I’ll have to explain the details another time, but this is great news since it now will work with basically the whole rest of the country like it should. But there is one exception. CityPass won’t accept the “wallet” payment system for years to come, reportedly. Why not? Simple because they have no reason to want it and no reason to do it. Pass a law to change that and compel them to act. (Again, I suspect when it’s implemented it will lead to less cases where the company can fine its riders. So that might be a factor in the stalling as well.)
  6. Add competing parallel bus lines back even if it means hiring a thousand lawyers to find a loop hole in the contract. Monopolies are never a good thing! If there are no alternatives why should CityPass ever strive to improve service conditions? Competition ensures businesses behave in ways that attract more customers and that is only a good thing for the consumer. It’s Capitalism 101 and Israel already discovered how well it works with the mobile phone system.
  7. 30 years? Really? So who thought that was a good idea at the time of the signing? Amend that contract! Add bonus incentives for good performance and penalties for poor performance. The current agreement is not a good thing for citizens of Jerusalem or for the image of Israel that is projected to so many tourists when they visit.
  8. Making passenger fines an integral part of your revenue system is not acceptable. Fines should not be used to support the operation but simply to kept dishonest passengers honest. Pass a law to cap the number of fines that can be legally issued. This cap should be roughly equal to the number of fines issued by other transportation companies, like Egged.

Earlier this month the Knesset Economics Committee convened and discussed many of the problems listed here. So there is hope that things are moving in the right direction. But we have to remind our elected representatives that these problems affect the whole city.

Also, a class action lawsuit was filed a few weeks ago regarding CityPass’s questionable fining practices. Let’s pray our court system can do something to protect the local consumer from these immoral and perhaps illegal activities.

And now back to our adventure. We ended up taking two Egged buses and walking for 20 minutes to get home. But when I boarded the first Egged bus, I handed the bus driver my Rav Kav and a large bill and asked him to please refill the Rav Kav and punch the card twice. He did that and handed me change. And he did that in all of 30 seconds. And no inspectors harassed us on the Egged buses either.

About the Author
Pinchas Orbach was the CTO for 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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