Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Adar I 5763 - February 5, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Mehadrin Buses in Israel
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

A recent survey revealed that in the United Kingdom there are about 600 vehicles on the road for every 1000 people. A similar survey in Israel revealed that there are only 250 cars on the road for every 1000 people. However, in chareidi circles, where car ownership is proportionately even lower, there are only a mere 50 cars for every 1000 people. The result: Chareidim are the heaviest users of public transportation in Eretz Yisroel.

Despite the huge numbers of chareidi public transport users, the Egged bus company makes insufficient provision for the heimishe traveller. For example, there seem to be no rules to restrict the numbers of riders on a bus in Eretz Yisroel. A bus travelling to the Kosel from central Yerushalaim on erev Rosh Chodesh Elul was found carrying 106 people, although its capacity was 44 (seated).

There is also the issue of the chareidi passenger. Egged buses are used by all sectors of Israeli society, and the routes pass through secular neighborhoods, exposing the chareidi passenger to sights that are anathema to him. Also, every bus is fitted with a speaker system attached to a radio and passengers must often listen to broadcasts that are offensive. Many a foreign visitor has remarked on this unacceptable way of transportation, which has become a way of life for the commuting chareidi in Israel.

Similar problems and their devastating consequences are what prompted New York askonim nearly 40 years ago to establish a private bus service. When askonim in Eretz Yisroel tried to institute a similar project 20 years ago, their efforts were unsuccessful. However, it is now nearly 10 years since the founding of the Vaad Mehadrin Be'eretz Hakodesh and boruch Hashem, the strength of the group gathers momentum with each new route instituted and every journey made by its buses.

These mehadrin buses cater to the chareidi passenger and travel exclusively through religious areas. They have separate seating, separate doorways for men and women, and there are no radio broadcasts. The most popular route is the No. 402 from Yerushalaim to Bnei Brak with over 100 buses in daily use carrying some 4000 commuters. The No. 350 bus which travels from Bnei Brak to Ashdod, makes 120 daily journeys and the No. 450 bus from Ashdod to Yerushalaim makes some 30 journeys each day. Similar services are also running in the newly established areas of Beitar and Beit Shemesh. The numbers are astronomical: there are now 500 mehadrin buses with over 20,000 journeys travelled each day.

The Vaad Mehadrin Be'eretz Hakodesh has indeed met with much success. However, the hurdles they continue to face with each new route are almost unbelievable. Public transportation in Eretz Yisroel is headed by Egged, which up to now has enjoyed a monopoly. However in recent years the government has moved to privatize public transportation and it has opened up several routes to public bidding. In every case the private winner has been able to provide better service at reduced prices compared to Egged.

Three years ago, when the Vaad opened the mehadrin bus route from Bnei Brak to Ashdod, the protests were so quick in coming that the buses were cancelled on the very same day. Shinui's Tommy Lapid, Meretz and other government officials called this a "black day." It was only after six months of legal intervention that the Vaad was successful in reopening this route, which remains one of the most popular in the country.

Egged continues to promote itself, spending $300,000 annually on its advertising campaign designed to reach the chareidi passenger. The Vaad counteracts this battle by displaying prominent advertisements of its own. All the gedolei Yisroel have issued their strong support and describe this monumental project as hatzolas nefoshos and binyan Beis Hamikdash. Various rabbonim have travelled on these buses to demonstrate their personal involvement.

Indeed, the kiddush Hashem is evident all the time. There are two buses that commute from Ashdod to Bnei Brak each morning with a travelling Shacharis minyan on board. The bus stops halfway, but no one gets off since this no rest stop: the stop is for Shemoneh Esrei.

The Vaad's latest project is establishing urban buses within Yerushalaim itself which will travel through religious areas only. Despite the difficulties and the large financial outlay this project entails, they are not fazed. The Vaad's organizers continue to battle this war and will not accept anything short of their goals.


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