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Bus Co-op Balks at Orders to Give Free Rides to Soldiers

The Egged bus cooperative is embroiled with the government over orders that it carry uniformed soldiers free of charge. The free rides went into effect yesterday. Egged said it could not cope with the added traffic. Buses filled with soldiers by-passed regular bus stops, leaving civilian passengers to wait.

Egged is Israel’s inter-city carrier and enjoys a monopoly throughout the country except in Tel Aviv and environs which are served by the Dan bus cooperative. The Knesset economic committee decided recently that Egged buses should carry soldiers free of charge because of the hazards of hitch-hiking. Two soldiers were killed last year, apparently by terrorists who offered them a ride. Other soldiers were involved in highway accidents caused by irresponsible drivers. These incidents prompted numerous complaints from soldiers’ families concerned with their safety.

Egged originally balked at the free rides but agreed when the government promised to compensate it at a rate of 80 percent of the fares normally paid by soldiers. It will receive IL 1.2 million a month until final calculations are made. But the bus co-op, long in financial difficulties, wants a government guarantee of some IL 20 million. The Treasury agrees, if co-op members take a salary cut of IL 300 a month. This was unacceptable to Egged which has appealed to the Supreme Court and in the meantime reversed its agreement to carry soldiers free.

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