Charter buses block Tel Aviv highway in protest over virus woes

Charter buses block Tel Aviv highway in protest over virus woes

Dozens of vehicles briefly bring traffic to a stop on Ayalon Highway as companies demand government help in weathering coronavirus lockdown

Private bus companies block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv as they demand government support during the coronavirus outbreak, June 17, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)
Private bus companies block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv as they demand government support during the coronavirus outbreak, June 17, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Dozens of buses from private transportation companies briefly blocked the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv on Wednesday morning, causing major congestion in a protest against government handling of the coronavirus outbreak’s impact on the charter bus industry.

The buses carried banners urging Transportation Minister Miri Regev, “Don’t turn your back on us.”

Lanes in both directions on the key artery were blocked during rush hour near the junction with Derech Hashalom, Channel 12 reported.

Many business sectors such as tourism, industry and education were closed during a two-month lockdown that began in mid-March aimed at curbing the outbreak, hindering the charter bus sector that normally ferries tourists, workers and students.

As the country eases out of lockdown, the companies have been demanding that the government now use their services to take up the slack caused by ongoing Health Ministry orders that have reduced public transportation services, including shutting down the railways. In addition, the Ayalon Highway itself is undergoing roadworks and the companies say they can offer alternative routes for commuters.

There are around 30,000 people employed in the private transport business, according to the reports, and so far no agreement has been reached with the government on how to help companies weather the virus crisis.

Nissim Saroussi, chairman of the Association of Israeli Transportation Companies, told Channel 12 there were “tens of thousands of drivers are still at home hurting, despondent and worried what the future will bring for them because they can’t earn a living.”

“The drivers and transportation company owners are collapsing, and as the days pass their situation is getting worse and worse, and Minister Miri Regev has the solution,” he said.

“Save us, don’t turn your back on us, and don’t let people continue losing their livelihood,” he said in a direct appeal to Regev, who moved to the Transportation Ministry from the Culture and Sports Ministry last month as part of a unity government deal that shuffled cabinet positions.

Transportation Minister Miri Regev speaks during a ceremony at the Transportation Ministry in Jerusalem on May 18, 2020. Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A Transportation Ministry spokesperson told The Times of Israel that Regev “is doing everything she can to help” reopen public transportation and support the private bus companies.

However, the decisions on such matters are made by the coronavirus cabinet, he said, referring to a forum of ministers — including Regev — tasked with overseeing the government’s handling of the virus outbreak.

There have been similar demands for help from other sectors that say they are being left out of a NIS 100 billion ($28.5 billion) government rescue plan for the economy.

Earlier this week, thousands of people from the arts and culture industry demonstrated outside the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem demanding that the government offer financial aid for their industry, which has been devastated by months of lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak.

On Wednesday the Health Ministry reported 299 new infections, the highest daily rise in new coronavirus cases for almost two months, amid a spike in cases that began as the lockdown was rolled back.

The numbers were published hours after the Knesset voted late Tuesday to extend for 45 days emergency regulations that allow the government to impose restrictions on the public as Israel struggles with the resurgent virus.

Israel has lifted most restrictions on gatherings in the country, reopening schools, cafes, hotels, and restaurants in recent weeks. Earlier this week, it allowed weddings and other celebrations to be held with up to 250 guests.

However, most cultural events and performances are still banned, and Israel’s borders also remain almost completely shut to non-Israelis. The government has also held off restarting full train services.

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