Egged bus drivers to strike over safety concerns after West Bank shooting

Egged bus drivers to strike over safety concerns after West Bank shooting

Union announces Monday protest, says authorities ‘systematically and inexplicably ignore’ threats to drivers, passengers; no Tel Aviv trains on Fridays due to infrastructure work

A bus damaged in a suspected terror shooting near the West Bank settlement of Beit El late on January 5, 2018 (IDF)
A bus damaged in a suspected terror shooting near the West Bank settlement of Beit El late on January 5, 2018 (IDF)

Drivers from the Egged bus company announced they would go on strike Monday over concerns that driver and passenger safety were being ignored by the authorities, hours after a bus driver was injured in a West Bank shooting attack.

“The Transportation Ministry and the police systematically and inexplicably ignore the daily threat to drivers and passengers,” Egged driver’s union secretary Tom Promovitz told the Kan public broadcaster.

The announcement came after the Egged Ta’avura bus company, a subsidiary of Egged, announced Sunday morning they were going on strike, effective immediately. Egged Ta’avura operates bus lines in Netanya, as well as some areas of the West Bank and routes in and outside Jerusalem.

A bus driver was lightly injured Saturday night in a suspected terror attack near the settlement of Beit El in the central West Bank, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Illustrative: Israelis waiting to board an Egged bus in the center of Jerusalem, January 17, 2012. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

In a statement, the army said that soldiers were searching the area for suspects in the attack, which also damaged the bus.

The central West Bank has seen a surge in terror activities in recent weeks, including two shooting attacks that claimed the lives of three people.

Raed Mishal, chairman of the Egged Ta’avura  drivers’ committee, told Army Radio that safety concerns were being ignored.

“This is the second time in two months that a driver has been hit by gunfire on this line. We have often warned about the need for armored vehicles, but they did not respond,” he said.

Following the incident, drivers who were supposed to operate the bus routes in the Beit El area said it was not secure enough to ensure their safety.

“We are not willing to endanger ourselves. You drive this route and and do not see any security personnel there,” a driver told the Ynet news site.

The suspected terror attack came amid a spate of violence toward bus drivers.

In December 2018, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled that the beating of a Palestinian bus driver in the West Bank was a road rage incident and not a hate crime, as police initially suspected.

Nidal Fakih told authorities he was dropping off passengers in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Modiin Illit when two men boarded the bus and began speaking to him. Fakih said that when the suspects identified him as an Arab, they began beating him.

A Palestinian bus driver, who was brutally assaulted by Israeli passengers at the Modiin Illit settlement, on December 13, 2018. (Twitter screenshot)

The Kavim bus company, which operates in Modiin Illit, then announced that a group of its drivers in the ultra-Orthodox settlement would be striking to protest the violence they have endured at the hands of “a small minority of extremists” in the town. Hundreds of buses exited together from the neighboring city of Modiin in a convoy to Jerusalem with banners hung below their dashboard windows that read, “Enough with the violence against drivers.” The drivers were not protesting violence against Palestinians specifically.

The Organization of Israeli Bus Drivers says its members endure more than 50 incidents of violence at the hands of passengers each month.

Slow train, no train

Meanwhile, public transportation woes are set to continue as infrastructure work to electrify the train line between Ben Gurion Airport and Tel Aviv will lead to delays and cancellations.

There will be no trains running in Tel Aviv on Fridays until further notice, the Ynet news site reported.

View of the new Tel Aviv-Jerusalem fast train seen over the Ha’Arazim valley just outside of Jerusalem, September 25, 2018 (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Plans were for a high-speed train to run directly from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, but due to delays in electrifying the line from Ben Gurion Airport to Tel Aviv, passengers can only travel between Jerusalem and the airport at present.

In the coming months the line will be extended, first to Tel Aviv’s stations and eventually to Herzliya. Depending on the time of day, up to four trains will run each hour in both directions, traveling at up to 160 kilometers (100 miles) per hour.

Passengers have suffered through numerous hiccups and delays since the new electric line opened in September, as well as warnings of numerous safety failures.

The project was conceived in 2001, at an estimated cost of around NIS 3.5 billion ($978 million). Work began in 2005, only to be halted by environmentalist opposition until 2009. Tunneling recommenced in 2012. The final cost amounts to around NIS 6.5 billion ($1.8 billion).

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