A stunning new report shows that bus fares on Egged public buses that serve haredi areas – many of which used to be illegal so-called “kosher” or “mehadrin” lines – are 30% to 50% cheaper than regular Egged bus fares on parallel inter-city routes.
Report: Haredim Get Illegally Discounted Public Bus Fares Up To 50% Cheaper Than Non-Haredim Pay
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
The Israeli business daily Globes has a stunning report that shows that bus fares on Egged public buses that serve haredi areas – many of which used to be illegal so-called “kosher” or “mehadrin” lines – are 30% to 50% cheaper than regular Egged bus fares on parallel inter-city routes.
The cheaper haredi fares are not advertised by Egged and, while well-known in the haredi community – and apparently by the government – rank and file Israelis who use public buses do not know about the cheaper fares and pay full price.
This is a clear violation of law.
• Route 950 between Petah Tikva and Jerusalem costs NIS 24 to ride, while the fare on the predominantly haredi-used route Route 426 between the same cities costs NIS 18
• Route 443 between Jerusalem and Ofakim costs NIS 37.50 to ride, but the fare on the predominantly haredi Route 494 between the same two cities is NIS 24.
• Route 922 between Netanya and Haifa costs NIS 24, while the fare on theh predominantly haredi Route 973 between the same two cities is NIS NIS 16.
All those cheaper routes end in haredi neighborhoods. The more expensive routes end in nearby non-haredi neighborhoods.
In 2011, a class-action lawsuit against Egged claiming that haredi routes were 30-50% cheaper than the fares on corresponding non-haredi routes was filed. It demanding that Egged cease the two-tiered fare system and compensate bus passengers to the tune of hundreds of millions of shekels.
The lawsuit also claims that information about the cheaper fares is "not published at Egged's information centers or on its website.”
The Ministry of Transport claims the differences in fares between the “haredi” routes and the “non-haredi” routes is due to unnamed “historical reasons" – historical reasons many observers suspect are a political payoff by successive governments to haredi politicians in return for haredi support.
Shar Ilan of the religious freedom group Hiddush is blunt.
"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. 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,” Ilan told Globes.
Egged spokesman Ron Ratner avoided the idea of fare equality entirely. Worse than that, his company’s plan to compensate non-haredi bus riders is to compensate those who still have ticket stubs, and no matter how many stubs one has, there will only be one free ride given as compensation.
"Under the [lawsuit’s] 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,” Ratner reportedly said.
Egged also claimed that instructions about route fares came directly from the Ministry of Transport and those fares were therefore not Egged’s fault.
When asked by Globes to pinpoint when the ministry had done this Egged could not answer.
Globes asked the Ministry of Transport how many routes are included in the haredi discount and what the fares are on those routes. It also asked when the ministry began the discounted fares for haredim, why the ministry did it, and clarification of whether the ministry pays bus companies for those discounts from government funds.
"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. 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 [to show preference to] 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,” the ministry responded.
Globes then asked the ministry to specify the measures it was taking to bring about "uniform public transport fares in Israel and to correct distortions in fares.”
"Fares will be made uniform after comprehensive work now underway at the ministry, as I said.…There is no directive to public transport companies to subsidize specific routes that carry haredim. In addition, the subsidies budget comes from the Ministry of Finance,” Ministry of Transport spokesman Avner Ovadia responded.
The Ministry of Finance has headed by senior members of the Likud Party, including current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, from 1996 until March of this year in a string only briefly broken by a short stint on One Israel (Labor) Party control more than a decade ago. Netanyahu twice briefly held the post as Minister of Finance as he was also serving as prime minister. Netanyahu and Likud are close allies of the haredi political parties.
The ministry is now headed by Yesh Atid’s chairman MK Yair Lapid, who is viewed by haredi leaders as the devil incarnate for his push to force haredim to serve in Israel’s military, work, and teach basic secular subjects in their state-funded schools.
The Ministry of Transport was headed by politicians from various parties over the same years, including Likud and the Zionist Orthodox National Religious Party (NRP), which controlled the Ministry of Transport for three years.
The NRP was prone to trading money for haredi yeshivas and other haredi projects in return for haredi political support for West Bank settlements.
The Finance Ministry told Globes that no subsidies for haredi discounted bus travel exist. Instead, there are “distortions created in fares over the years, including fares on routes that mainly serve the haredi community” that the ministry is working to correct.
"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,” the Ministry of Finance reportedly claimed.
Egged has been rocked by scandals related to its illegal gender discrimination and its attempt to ban all ads on its buses that depict women, girls or even female infants and cartoon characters to appease haredim. Egged's CEO said early last month that that Egged functions as a haredi company in heavily haredi areas like Jerusalem.