Stroller Fare on Israeli Busses
It wasn’t until the end of that summer, in the dog days of August, that my civil disobedience was put to the test. I call it my Rosa Parks moment, though by doing so I open myself up to a lot of flak for even mentioning my name in the same breath as that courageous African American woman who dared stare the white establishment in the face and not blink. The only connection to her in my narrative is a bus. Rosa and I share a bus. In my case it was the 66 bus and it was going from Tel Aviv to Petach Tikva (via Ramat Gan) on one of the most humid Friday afternoons in recent history.
Israeli Public Transportation Authority guidelines state that (and I paraphrase) one must pay an additional full fare for a baby stroller because, as transportation minister Katz (Likud) recently pointed out, the stroller takes up the space equivalent to one adult passenger. This guideline was put in place sometime in the early 1950’s and has remained more or less in tact to the present day.
A package of wet wipes. Two or three disposable diapers. A plastic bag with which to discard the solied diaper. Two cloth diapers (for spit up and for diaper changes on the go). Two formula bottles filled with 180 ml of purified or filtered water. Formula can. A jar or two of Gerbers banana puree. Toy truck, stuffed animal and Sophie the giraffe squeaky toy (can’t leave home without it) A book. A change of clothes. Diaper rash cream. Chew toys. Snacks. A water bottle for me (did I mention it’s August?) A hat. Sunscreen. All packed tightly into the stroller’s mesh undercarriage or hanging in a bag on the handles. Needless to say that trying to fold up this leviathan while holding on to your crying toddler all the while the bus is in motion is a juggling act worthy of its own section at Cirque Du Soleil. Needless to say that doing all of this is the safety equivalent of running through a minefield while holding on to sharp scissors. Or you can simply pay the additional fare and kick down the wheel lock on the stroller and enjoy the ride in comfort. Your choice.
It was late afternoon on Friday, Shabbat looming, and everyone was in a rush to get home. We had been walking around Dizengoff center all day and our son, D., God bless him, was tired and grumpy had spent the better part of the last two hours crying so loudly I thought I was going to gouge my own eyes out. I was sweating profusely when the bus turned the corner from Bugrashov Street and I couldn’t wait to get out of the suffocating humidity and into the cool air conditioned confines of the aforementioned 66.
My wife and I had discussed the inequity of the stroller fee many times. She had come to the conclusion that while it was sorely unjust, there was simply nothing that could be done about it. Best to just pay the extra fare and suck it up. I disagreed with her vehemently. The whole summer I had read about the occupy movement around the world and Dafne Leaf and the tents on Rothschild boulevard. I decided that it was no longer a given that we, as taxpaying, law abiding citizens, have to heed every law blindly, no matter how unreasonable. I felt it was time for me to make my stand and stare the Bus establishment in the face. It was time for me to demonstrate a bit of civil disobedience in protest of a law that was unfair and endangering.
The driver stopped the bus and pointed at me with his hairy finger. “You either pay for the stroller or get off the bus.” I shook my head. Hell no I won’t go. “You either pay for the stroller Achi (my brother), or I call the police.” He says and I see the vein bulging in his temple through the rear view mirror. It’s a relatively empty bus so I quickly become the center of attention. He shuts off the air conditioner and a collective grunt of disapproval emanates from the passengers. The driver has begun to fight dirty. I get nasty looks from the old ladies in the front. A bald, fat gentleman gets up and starts hurling obscenities at me in a South African accent so thick I can only make out one in five words. The young girls in the back giggle and shoot video on their Iphone to upload to Facebook. A religious lady with their four kids and a folded stroller looks away while holding her infant in her arms. Not one person stands up in my defense.
The police officer is courteous. He tells me in broken English that he has three kids of his own and that his wife takes the bus all the time. He doesn’t believe the law is justified either but he has no choice but to enforce it. He offers to hold D. (who has finally fallen asleep through all this commotion) while I fold up the stroller. The fat, bald gentleman continues to lob barbs in my direction, claiming “you’re all a bunch of fucking communists who are ruining this country” and that “there will be hell to pay if I miss Shabbat services”. The police officer gets in his face and tells him to shut up or he’ll spend the Shabbat in a holding cell for disorderly conduct. My wife looks at me with a look of shame I have unfortunately come to know only too well. “I told you there’s nothing you can do about it.”
D. is older now and we no longer have to use the stroller. He sits next to me on the bus and watches the cars outside the large rectangular window quietly. A few weeks ago Nitzan Horovitz (MK-Meretz) proposed a bill eliminating the need to pay an additional fare for a stroller citing safety issues as the justification for not asking parents to perform acrobatic feats of agility and stow it away. I have my fingers crossed that this law passes so that my civil disobedience will not have been in vain.