Haredi bus fares 50% cheaper than "secular" bus fares

Some argue that the fares are cheaper because Egged dare not antagonize ultra-orthodox communities.

Fares on certain bus routes, while no longer officially called "mehadrin" routes (i.e. super-kosher gender segregated routes, which the High Court of Justice has banned), but which almost exclusively serve the haredi (ultra-orthodox) community and on which voluntary segregation of the sexes prevails, are much lower than the fares on corresponding "secular" routes.

Here are some examples from Egged Israel Transport Cooperative Society Ltd.: the fare on route 950 between Petah Tikva and Jerusalem is NIS 24, while the fare on route 426 between the same cities is NIS 18; the fare on route 443 between Jerusalem and Ofakim is NIS 37.50, while the fare on route 494 between the same cities is NIS 24; the fare on route 922 between Netanya and Haifa is NIS 24, and the fare on route 973 between the same cities is NIS 16. The routes are not identical, but they are very similar, and the terminuses of the cheaper routes are in haredi neighborhoods.

In 2011, a class-action lawsuit against Egged was filed, demanding that it should stop the differential fares for different segments of the public, and pay bus passengers hundreds of millions of shekels in compensation. The lawsuit claimed that the fares on "mehadrin" routes were 30-50% cheaper than the fares on corresponding "regular" routes, and these routs saved time. (Paradoxically, the cheaper routes had fewer stops because they picked up and dropped off passengers in residential neighborhoods and skipped central bus stations, saving time and travel costs).

The lawsuit also claimed that data about these lines were "not published at Egged's information centers or on its website," and, "this is, in effect, concealed information, only made available to a consumer 'in the know' who requests details of the specific mehadrin route on Egged's site or who provides details at a call center."

Hiddush - Freedom of Religion for Israel VP Shahar Ilan also notes that not all passengers on the mehadrin lines receive the cheaper fares. "The scandal is even greater in view of Egged's data on haredi fare-evaders, which prompted it to launch a public relations "Thou shalt not steal" campaign in the haredi community. It seems that there are no limits to the bus companies' kowtowing to the haredim and their politicians. We're talking about thousands of trips by lines that exclude women and charge lower fares for haredim on parallel lines."

Ilan scoffs at the Ministry of Transport's argument that the differences in fares is due to "historical reasons", saying, "The real reason for the differences in fares is that there is an organized haredi community, which the bus companies, beginning with Egged, dare not cross, while the non-haredi public is not organized, so the bus companies freely trample them.

"The significance of the differences in fares is clear," says Ilan. "In public transport, as in many other areas, non-haredi passengers pay high prices to finance the discounts for haredi passengers. The Ministry of Transport should require the companies to set uniform fares. For this purpose, it should carry out a comprehensive fares survey and publish the results. If the bus companies can offer the lower fares for everyone - great. If not, a uniform fare should be set that is higher than what the haredim pay and less than what everyone else pays."

Until then, there is no reason to assume that anything will change on the ground. Since the class-action lawsuit was filed, passengers on "haredi" routes continue to pay lower fares than passengers on "ordinary" routes. However, clarification with Egged indicates that, behind the scenes, the parties are close to an agreement.

Egged spokesman Ron Ratner said, "Under the settlement, which is now being drawn up, Egged promises to improve the presentation of information on its website for passengers by expanding the search options to list all the routes and fares between cities.

"This improvement will also present information about all the routes and fares in response to the main contention in the statement of claim. This is on top of the current default option, which lists the departing routes from central bus stations. At the same time, Egged, subject to court approval of the settlement, will allow passengers who were unaware of these routes, and who show appropriate documentation to that effect, to be eligible for one free ride on the relevant route," adds Ilan. In other words, correct the search engine program on Egged's website and give a free ride to a passenger who can show a fare stub.

Sources at Egged requested to add that the instructions about route fares came from the Ministry of Transport. When did this happen? Egged could not answer.

To examine how prevalent fare differentials are between routes that mainly serve the haredi community and those that serve the rest of the population, both at Egged and at other bus companies, "Globes" asked the Ministry of Transport several questions. First, how many routes are included in the discount arrangement, and what are the fares. Second, when did the Ministry of Transport begin instructed the bus companies to charge lower fares on these routes, and why, and does the ministry subsidize from its own budget the difference in fares between "ordinary" tickets and the fares on the discount routes.

For some reason, the Ministry of Transport chose to treat the questions as a general enquiry. "Bus routes nationwide are intended for the general public, and the Ministry of Transport does not designate any bus for the haredi community or any other community," it said in response. "Bus routes are planned solely on the basis of professional considerations, according to two main criteria: the length of the route and the travel time, as well as the destination. The difference in fares in intercity public transport arises from historical circumstances that prevailed many years ago, and is not due to a wish prefer any particular community. For a while, the Ministry of Transport has been seeking to make all public transport fares in Israel uniform and to correct distortions in fares."

This answer evades almost all the questions arising from the fare differentials, but it does contain something interesting: the Ministry of Finance is acting. So we returned to the ministry and asked exactly what measures it was taking to bring about "uniform public transport fares in Israel and to correct distortions in fares".

Ministry of Transport spokesman Avner Ovadia was quick to respond. "Fares will be made uniform after comprehensive work now underway at the ministry, as I said." What about subsidies? "There is no directive to public transport companies to subsidize specific routes that carry haredim," he said, "In addition, the subsidies budget comes from the Ministry of Finance."

Is it possible that the Ministry of Finance, headed by Yair "Equalize the Burden" Lapid, would subsidize this discrimination? The ministry told "Globes", "Public transport operators do not receive any additional subsidies for routes that mainly carry haredi passengers. Since there has never been an extra subsidy from the state, the matter is the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Transport.

"The Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Finance are working on a general reform of public transport fares, with the objective of correcting various distortions created in fares over the years, including fares on routes that mainly serve the haredi community. It should be noted that the Ministry of Finance has reservations about the use of the term "mehadrin routes", since these routes are available to the general public, and public transport operators have been instructed by the Ministry of Transport not to allow segregation between men and women on these routes."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on August 5, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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