Most public transportation in Israel consists of buses, which account for 87% of public transportation trips. Progress in bus transportation is clearly taking place. The number of bus journeys rose 43% in 2013-2017. Faulty tenders, the absence of serious supervision, and a shortage of drivers and infrastructure result in bus service that is far from satisfactory.
The first problem is infrastructure. There is currently a shortage of 2,700 parking spaces for buses that have finished their routes, dozens of exit stations, fueling facilities, and even bathrooms for drivers. This causes unnecessary journeys, increases overcrowding and air pollution, and disrupts schedules. The public transportation companies, not the Ministry of Transport, are responsible for finding operating facilities, and the State Comptroller recommends that the ministry take responsibility for the situation and deal directly with the local authorities.
The second problem is a shortage of drivers. The public transportation sector in Israel currently lacks 3,000 drivers. Those employed as drivers complain about low pay, long hours, and lack of job security. Every time a new public transportation company enters an area, the drivers have to switch to a new employer. It takes 6-12 months to get a bus driving license in Israel, compared with four months at most in Europe and the US. The State Comptroller says that the Ministry of Transport has not taken strong enough action to redress the situation.
In order to begin providing public transportation in a new geographic area, a bus company needs to invest NIS 300-350 million and to obtain large subsidies every year. It is therefore understandable that financial considerations carry great weight in new tenders. The amount of money bid accounts for 56% of the bidder's mark in a tender, while the operational bid, which determines the quality of service for passengers, accounts for only 9% of the mark. Such tender terms provide an incentive for saving money, not for improving service. Another problem is that most of the subsidy is proportionate to the distance traveled by the buses; only a small part of it is proportionate to the number of passengers, meaning that there is little incentive to increase the number of passengers.
The State Comptroller also states that the number of breaches in the contract terms in the geographic bus areas is larger than necessary; 2.4% of all scheduled bus journeys in Israel in 2017 were canceled, and the proportion of breaches in eight areas was higher than 2.5% for three or more consecutive months, which constitutes grounds for canceling the operating agreement. The Ministry of Transport hires companies for supervision purposes, but does not analyze their data, or even the data stored on its computer systems. As a result, the decision-makers lack a complete picture of the public transportation companies' activity and contract breaches, which does not allow the problems involved in operating buses to be solved.
The Ministry of Transport said in response, "In recent years, the ministry has operated dozens of direct high-speed bus lines to commercial and employment hubs in city centers. The Ministry of Transport is taking consistent action to improve the status of drivers and regularize their employment terms in order to attract excellent personnel to the sector."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on March 13, 2019
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