Interview with New CityPass CEO – Yaron Ravid
13, March 2014
Asset: CityPass

A special survey commissioned by CityPass reveals an improvement in the satisfaction of light-rail passengers. However, the overcrowding on the trains and access to the automatic ticket machines, are receiving low ratings • The incoming CityPass CEO – Yaron Ravid on the shortage of trains and automatic ticket machines – “We cannot make the smallest improvement without the government’s authorization”  The restriction limiting competition with the buses: “Agreements cannot be changed”  Future plans: “To bring the light rail to Kiryat Yovel and Givat Shaul”  And for certain – “The problems primarily stemmed from teething troubles”

By Roi Yanovksy – Yediot Yerushalayim – 14.3.2014

A new survey conducted by CityPass reveals that in the past year, an improvement has been registered in the general satisfaction of the light rail’s passengers. However, with regard to the overcrowded and congested conditions on the trains and the access to the ticketing machines, the ratings given by Jerusalemites are very low.

The results of the survey conducted among 802 passengers reveals that the light rail received an average score of 7.4 out of 10 on the general satisfaction indicator – a significant increase as compared to 6.6 in the previous survey conducted in August 2012. In the section regarding the attitude of the inspectors toward the interviewee, the light rail received a score of 8.5 (as compared with 7.5 in the previous survey), and the inspector’s attitude toward the other passengers, it received a score of 8 (as compared to 6 in the previous survey).

An improvement in satisfaction was also reported regarding travel frequency and adherence to the train schedule. However, with regard to overcrowding and congestion on the Jerusalem trains, passengers are not at all satisfied. The average score given to the train was 4.5 – similar to that of the previous survey. Another category in need of improvement, based on the survey, was user friendliness of the automatic ticket machines, which received a score of 5.9.

“The problems we observed in the first survey primarily stemmed from teething troubles,” the new CityPass CEO, Yaron Ravid, 44, explained this week in the first interview since his appointment. “It is rare for any public transportation operator to receive scores such as those that were given here. Generally, scores range from 50 to 60. Scores of 70 and above on many parameters are considered to be very good.”

According to the initial surveys, the image of the light rail and CityPass was not a positive one. In your opinion, what mistakes were made at the beginning?

“I am not at all certain that mistakes were made. Both the passengers and the operators learned how to operate the light rail correctly.”

Searching for a Balance

It appears that since the start of the light railway’s operation two and a half years ago, a love-hate relationship between the city’s residents and the light rail has ensued. Major criticism has been lodged against the project that has changed the face of the city’s transportation. Public consumer organizations were angry with the attitude of the inspectors towards passengers and the frequent changes in the bus routes. Dozens of claims were filed in court for unjustified tickets and thousands joined the Facebook page which dubbed the project ‘Rakevet Takala’ – (a play on words in Hebrew – meaning ‘Faulty Train’).

However, despite the initial problems, it appears that at the end of the day, the Jerusalem population is fairly satisfied with the new mode of transportation. The new survey, conducted two months ago, which relates to the period in which the former CityPass CEO Yehuda Shoshani was still at the helm, indicates that with the exception of the overcrowded conditions, the light rail has overcome its teething troubles and is making progress.
“I think the light rail is a success story,” says Ravid, married and a father of two, a native Jerusalemite who currently lives in Mevaseret. In the past, Ravid served as CEO of Israel Railways and worked at the Jerusalem Development Authority. “I have come onboard to continue to push the project forward, and to expand it.”

At the beginning of its journey, CityPass tried to ‘educate the public’ on how to use the train, by issuing tickets and fines – and the passengers were furious. Many claimed that the inspectors were terrorizing the public, issuing unjustified tickets and acting violently.

I don’t think that using the inspectors was a mistake. It is related to the teething troubles. The Jerusalem passengers learned the system: how to purchase a ticket, how to validate it and how to use the Rav-Kav / Hofshi Hodshi passes and any other travel options available to them. We found the right balance between enforcement on the one hand, and a good attitude toward the passengers on the other. At the end of the day, one must remember that this is the first time that an open ticketing system has been operated in Israel.”

On the other hand, one of the elements most commonly associated with CityPass is the inspectors and the claims regarding their tough treatment of the passengers.

“The survey did not indicate this. It is possible that in the beginning, the image was poor – there is no argument here. Jerusalemites have become accustomed to the inspector and in addition, we have learned how to communicate better with the passengers. You are talking about a preliminary system. The survey reflects the balance that we have created between the right enforcement and the positive treatment of the passenger.”

So why have you launched an ad campaign for the public to pay the fines? Are the collection rates low?

“We launched this campaign because this is the stage before we begin to take the steps that have been set down by law: a lawyer’s letter, a warning before the fine is increased, etc. We wanted to offer people one last chance. It is super-service oriented and super-fair to be given a chance to pay the fine. Don’t forget that we are supervised by the government’s appeals committee, which oversees us. I must tell you that we don’t have a crazy number of appeals. We are talking about just a few dozen. Even if the people who did not pay receive a fine, it will be done in a very balanced and reasonable manner.”

You received a low score on the overcrowded conditions and congestion category.

During the morning hours, we operate all of our trains – we operate 21 of the 23 trains and leave one on stand-by, while the other is sent for servicing. I stretch all of my resources to the maximum capacity. The problem is that there is a shortage of trains and we need more of them. We have submitted a proposal to the government, and we have received authorization to proceed with negotiations. In my opinion, the issue of ordering additional trains is critical and urgent. We have done all that can be done and the ball is in the Government’s court. Until now, the negotiations have been at a standstill, due to all sorts of reasons. I’d like to make one thing clear: there is no reason to build new extensions, if we do not receive more trains tomorrow morning. The survey speaks for itself.”

And what of the complaints about the unwieldy ticketing machines?

“The system was designed at the beginning of 2000, when the tender papers were prepared (13-14 years ago). Currently, there are machines that are much more user friendly and much faster in use around the world. We have done all we can in the framework of the existing improvements. We have submitted a proposal to the government to install user friendly screens, improve the change return mechanism and accessibility, etc. At present, we are waiting for authorization. We have also begun a pilot project that features ticket purchases by cell phone and using credit cards, which is also designed to reduce the burden.”

Can’t CityPass buy ticketing machines without government authorization?

“No. That’s how a B.O.T. project is run – in the end, I return the project to the government. I cannot make the smallest change without government authorization.”

There are claims that the deliberations between CityPass and the Ministry of Transportation and the Jerusalem Municipality are conducted through lawyers. Why?

The deliberations are much better today and I have work meetings with the Mayor and the Director General of the Transportation Ministry. I try not to talk through the lawyers – this is part of the change I have been trying to implement since taking up the position, and I think there is a willingness on our part to talk without lawyers. I hope the other side will take the same approach.”

As part of the Framework Agreement signed between CityPass and the government during the previous decade, restrictions were placed on the competition between the buses and the light rail, so their routes would not overlap. According to the vision, the bus lines are supposed to serve as transportation to and from the train stations, in what is called the ‘feeder method’. 15 Minutes – the public transportation consumer organization claims that the agreement places the concessionaire’s profit before the public’s best interest.

If satisfaction with the light rail is at such a high level, why not allow competition between the buses and the light rail and let the public decide?

The idea of feeder lines to the train was an idea developed in the Transportation Master Plan and by the Transportation Team. I personally think that this is the right idea.”
Is it right for people who previously reached their destination by taking just one bus, now having to travel by bus, train and then by bus again – as a consequence of this new method?
“The changes made by the Ministry of Transportation in the past years were designed to address the places with problems related to the overlap of bus and the train. Our vision is for the train to reach these places as well.”

But why does CityPass care if there is a bus route that is parallel to the train route?

It’s not a matter of caring or not – the Transportation Master Plan, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Ministry of Transportation designed the agreement, and they did so intentionally. This is the model they wanted to create. They wanted a main transportation axis fed by bus lines. Beyond this, after the stages were completed at the end of February, competition with bus lines still exists. On a practical level, there are lines that overlap with the route, based on the Transportation Ministry’s considerations.”

Is one of the agreement’s considerations to protect CityPass’ profit, at the expense of transportation considerations?

“The central idea is to create a longitudinal axis fed by buses. We did not originate this idea – it exists around the world, a public transportation system that feeds the main line and transports people to the center; and from there, buses take them to the neighborhoods. There is nothing here that is disconnected from reality. I know that the Transportation Ministry is making changes to this, adapting it to specific needs. In the last stage, the change was adapted for Pisgat Zeev. Despite all the allegations, most of the lines compete with the light rail. The claim that we often hear with regard to the agreement is that it was done for the money – i.e. they wanted CityPass to profit so they created feeder lines and prevented other options.”

We assert that there is no connection. The Ministry of Transportation had this vision before it announced the tender. It set the prices according to this vision. They built a transportation feeder model that is used globally and then went to tender. We took this method as a given in the tender and made passenger forecasts based on the method of feeding to the buses. The entire transportation model is built on this.”

So why are there residents who say that the situation has become worse with the introduction of the light rail due to the bus feeder model?

“I am not aware of many such residents.”

What about the residents of Kiryat Yovel, Ir Ganim, Rasco, Old Katamon, Gonenim?

“The residents of Kiryat Yovel need a station near their house – at the Ora or the Mifletzet Junctions.”

So the people negatively affected by the light rail are those people it doesn’t reach?

“Yes. I don’t even know if they are negatively affected by the light rail – eventually the light rail will reach them. The survey reported a very high score given by light rail users. Residents of Kiryat Yovel also use the light rail.”

How do you explain the thousands of petitions filed against the extension of the line to Givat Shaul and Har Nof by residents and community administrations?

“As someone who has lived in the world of City Building Plans for the past 16 years, there are no easy City Building Plans and definitely not in Jerusalem. I worked for many years in the National Infrastructure Committee and I saw ‘national infrastructure’ projects that also encountered opposition. In a city like Jerusalem, with all of its complexities and interests, it is natural to encounter opposition to establishing public infrastructure. If a community administration analyzes the advantages and disadvantages and reaches the conclusion that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages, it is right to file an appeal on behalf of the public.

“I don’t think that there exists a city building plan proposed by the government that would sail through. There is no such animal and I think that public discussion is appropriate and important. Urban planning is a balance between interests. I am not aware of any urban infrastructure for establishing a light rail, where everyone would just stand on the side and applaud.”

Security – Not our Responsibility

Several claims have been raised regarding the problem of security on the light rail. Most of the passengers’ complaints refer to their sense of a lack of security, especially in the eastern section of the city. “This issue is not our responsibility, but we are handling it and are aware of it,” explains Ravid. “We have a good relationship with the municipality, the security division and the district police which instructs the security agencies. We are not responsible for the security guards and our inspectors have no authority at all.”

If an inspector notices something suspicious, he can’t do anything?

“He does not have the authority to. He can request help from security personnel and they report to the Jerusalem Municipality’s security division. I have approached the District Operations Officer and I know that they are dealing with this matter. In my opinion, they have changed the instructions for the security arrangements. We are cognizant of the matter and are handling it to the best of our ability, but it’s not in our jurisdiction.”

The largest event handled by Ravid in the past six months as CEO of CityPass was the snow storm that shut down the city and even grounded the light rail – a means of transportation that was originally supposed to operate even under extreme weather conditions.

“Let’s just clarify matters: We worked the longest, long after other public transportation operators had given up,” explains Ravid. “On Thursday, we operated until ten at night; and on Monday morning, we resumed a shorter service between French Hill and the Central Bus Station. The next morning, we added Pisgat Zeev. On Monday afternoon, we were fully operational; however, since the buses were still not working, there was a problem of feeding the lines and the light rail was not full. In a storm of this magnitude, light rails are also taken out of service in Europe and no one complains. The system was not designed to deal with situations such as these. We are in the process of briefing the authorities about the implications and costs of such an option; and the government will decide if there is a budget for it or not. This includes the heating of railway switches, which transfer a train from track to track. Overseas, heaters are generally purchased, and when the plans were drawn up, a decision was made not to order such a system, but rather to order a system to suit the Jerusalem climate. The country must decide whether or not it is worth it.”

The Ministry of Transportation: “For months, the Ministries of Transportation and Finance have been promoting the purchase of new trains, on their own initiative, and the upgrading of the light rail’s ticketing system.”

The survey was ordered by CityPass and conducted on a sample of 802 passengers.

Only passengers who reported that they had traveled on the light rail in the past 1-2 weeks participated in the survey.

The telephone interviews were conducted in December 2013.

The maximal sampling error (approx.) is 3.9 percent, with statistical significance of 95%.

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