Two ultra-Orthodox soldiers claim that Egged drivers have repeatedly barred them from boarding the company\’s kosher, sex segregated buses lines – simply because they were in IDF uniform.
Haredi soldiers: Kosher buses won´t pick us up
The drivers have cited improbable excuses for refusing to pick them up, but the soldiers believe that the Egged employees were just caving in to pressure from the ultra-religious passengers, who do not want soldiers riding their bus lines.
Egged has denied operating bus lines that cater only to the ultra-Orthodox sector, claiming that its services don\’t discriminate against passengers.
The incidents occurred recently at a station located near Hafetz Haim, a central Israeli kibbuz.
In one case, Egged bus number 550 pulled into the station to pick up six haredi passengers who were waiting for its arrival. But when one of the soldiers began boarding the vehicle, he was stopped by the bus driver on the pretext that the station was not a designated pick up area – even though it is listed as one on the company\’s website.
"I tried to argue with him and prove to him that he is wrong – especially in light of the fact that he picked up other passengers – but he was very insistent so I gave up," the soldier said. "All I wanted was to make my way to the next intersection, where I can catch a bus that would take me home, so I decided against delaying the other passengers. Unfortunately I didn\’t get a chance to take the bus driver\’s name."
The disgruntled soldier filed a complaint with Egged\’s customer service department, and was told it would be taken care of within a week.
\’Haredi officials pull Egged\’s strings\’
Earlier this week, another soldier attempted to board bus number 451, which pulled into the same station. But the bus driver refused to let him in, saying yet again that the roadside area was not a proper station and that he only stopped there because the bus was experiencing some kind of a malfunction. However, instead of turning off the engine to fix the technical difficulty, the bus driver and the passengers were on their way the second the soldier stepped out of the vehicle.
"I was really pissed off," the soldier told Ynet. "I used to take this bus regularly for three years while studying at the yeshiva. So what, regular haredim can board a bus, but a haredi soldier – with a kippah, a beard and tzitziot – can\’t? I don\’t understand what\’s going on here. After all, Egged is operating on behalf of the State."
The soldier, who also filed a complaint with Egged, stressed that influential haredi officials are pulling the strings behind the kosher bus lines and are dictating where the vehicles should stop and which passengers they should pick up. He noted that even though the station is not an official one, "everyone knows that the buses stop there when haredim are waiting for them."
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz has ordered an immediate inquiry into the two incidents.
Egged spokesman Ron Ratner dismissed the discrimination charges.
"These are two separate incidents," he said. "In the first case, the driver refused to pick up the passenger because bus number 550 is an express bus, while the soldier wanted to get off at the next intersection, as though it was a regular bus."
The spokesperson cited a malfunction in the second case, and pointed that the company\’s regulations prohibit drivers to pick up passengers in undesignated locations.
"Egged transports tens of thousands of soldiers every week," he said. "It does not operate kosher buses; its lines are accessible to all, as per a High Court of Justice decision from 2011."