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Navigating Jerusalem buses in a wheelchair

Broken wheel restraints make Egged a far more wild ride than it should be
Illustrative: Passengers boarding an Egged bus in Jerusalem. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative: Passengers boarding an Egged bus in Jerusalem. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Imagine you’re getting on a bus; what’s the first thing you see? If you get on at the large door with the wheelchair accessibility symbol on it, it ought to be the roughly square area dedicated for the use of wheelchairs. How closely have you ever looked at this area? My guess is that, unless you’re a wheelchair user yourself, you may not know the various details at all, so I’ll describe them for you.

If you’re standing in the bus doors, straight ahead of you, more or less, there’s a button on the opposite wall, and it may have the accessibility symbol on it. This button is the same as any stop button — all it does is let the driver know someone wants to get off at the upcoming stop. (Despite what you might have assumed, it does NOT tell the driver that the person who wants to get off is a wheelchair user — even though a wheelchair user needs the driver to be sure to pull up close enough to the curb to put the ramp down on the sidewalk, as well as requiring someone else’s help to put the ramp down!)

Near that, there will also generally be something that appears to be a seat belt — you may have seen people secure a piece of luggage or stroller in place at some point. This is, unfortunately, the only safety restraint for wheelchairs that most bus drivers appear to be aware of — they are very insistent that I always fasten it, despite the fact that, on most buses, it does little to nothing to secure something as heavy and easy to slide as a person in a wheelchair.

To the right, there’s an upright, slightly cushioned “chair back,” of sorts, for a manual wheelchair user to pull their chair back up against.

At the bottom of that, there is a horizontal pole that connects to upright poles on either side.

If this is a decent bus, the pole nearer the door will have a Rav Kav scanner on it, which a wheelchair user can actually reach. If it is not a good bus, a wheelchair user will have to prevail upon a fellow bus traveller who is bipedal to take the Rav Kav up to the front of the bus and scan it. However, that particular accessibility fail isn’t what I want to call your attention to.

What I want you to notice are the black straps with plastic buckles on the horizontal pole at the bottom of the chair back — two on either side of the chair back. These small, easy to miss details are the most important safety feature on a bus for a manual wheelchair user. To use them, you simply feed one strap through the spokes of your wheel, and buckle it to the other one on that side. If it’s too loose, you’ll also need to tighten it a bit. Do that on either side, and now you can relax on the rest of your ride without fear that a sharp turn with tip your wheelchair to the side or throw you forward against the wall on the other side of the wheelchair area that separates you from the seats facing you. Without them, even perfectly functioning wheelchair brakes aren’t enough to guarantee your safety or keep you from sliding on the streets of Jerusalem, with its many hills and sharp turns.

Broken wheel restraints to secure a wheelchair on a Jerusalem Egged bus. (courtesy)

My issue is that a ton of buses in Jerusalem have either broken or missing wheel restraints in the wheelchair area. Almost half of the buses I take, I get on and find either one or both wheel restraints is broken or missing. Even with my brakes locked, the jostling of the bus is too rough without the wheel restraints. When that happens, I have to physically hold on to a pole as well, in order to avoid sliding or falling over when the bus turns quickly.

Let me describe that for you!

The pole I can most easily hold is the horizontal pole alongside the window side of the wheelchair area, at the bottom of the window. It’s generally around shoulder height (sitting in my wheelchair) for me, so it’s already a pretty difficult angle for me.

Now, add in the fact that the entire reason I use a wheelchair is that I have a genetic collagen disorder, which, in my case, primarily affects my joints. My legs are the worst off — I can’t walk more than a few minutes at all, and even on my good days, my legs are unstable and liable to collapse easily, so I can’t leave my house without a wheelchair. My other joints aren’t free from feeling the effects, though — my jaw, arms, and some of my spine also are heavily impacted, and may be partially or completely dislocated by being pulled on sharply in the wrong direction, or even just if they feel too much force. (If you’re wondering — no, I can’t chew gum or eat steak anymore.)

I struggle to push my kids on the swings without pain — what do you think having to brace my weight against a pole at a weird angle through a sudden sharp turn on the bus will do? But I can’t just choose not to — the time I tried that, I was thrown three feet during a sharp turn and hit my head on a metal pole. So, needless to say, riding the bus without wheel restraints frequently results in pain or injuries for me. And, having a degenerative disorder, I’m always conscious of, and anxious about, the knowledge that additional strain on or injury to my joints brings closer the days when my arm joints will be too unstable to self-propel, or play guitar, or lift my kids.

So you can understand my dismay when I get on a bus in Jerusalem and find that one or both of these restraints is missing or broken! As I said, that’s about 50 percent of the time. A few months ago, I began tweeting at Egged — when I was even able to take pictures or write down the bus number (given how difficult it is to use my phone while having to hold onto the bus pole as well). However, I haven’t received a response from Egged *at all* at any point.

I’m just really, really so tired of having every other bus ride be a painful, dangerous experience, especially when I have to manage my toddlers as well as my chair, and not even get the courtesy of a response from Egged. I know I can’t be the only wheelchair-user out there struggling because of this.

I am only one person. But I’m hoping that with your help, my voice will be that of far more, because you will help me speak to Egged to demand safer conditions for wheelchair users. We should not have to risk being injured just to travel like everyone else does.

Egged – 03-6948888
Ministry of Transportation – 02-6663004, *5678

About the Author
Chana Oshira lives in Jerusalem.
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