Society – Traffic jaaams

Traffic jam  credit: Gil Gibli

Relief is still a very long way off.

Let's start with the bottom line: things will get worse. Even the most optimistic among us know that, in the coming years, the amount of time we will spend on Israel’s roads will be longer and more tedious. Because there will be many more private cars on every meter of road. Because public transportation will still be far from a practical alternative for most Israelis. Because insane apartment prices will push more and more Israelis to bedroom communities, which offer almost nothing beyond a housing solution, which means even more traffic congestion to and from work.

The main problem, the original sin of the State of Israel’s founders, is planning. We scattered ourselves across the country - 1,300 cities, towns, villages, and settlements - and now we complain about how it takes so long for the unfortunate residents to get to work each day.

This country succeeded in forming one strong metropolis (Gush Dan), with one genuine city (Tel Aviv) at its center, and managed to produce an urban mix that really works; combining housing, commerce and employment. Except that Tel Aviv was planned long before the establishment of the State.

The good news is that the State of Israel has realized, long after the eleventh hour, that we are in trouble. The last government budget diverted most of the monies towards public transportation (in fact, this trend had begun even earlier; in 2019, the public transportation development budget exceeded the roadways development budget, at NIS 7 billion versus NIS 6.2 billion), but there is still no end to the problem in sight. Of course, at the same time, Minister of the Interior Ayelet Shaked has dreams of establishing more settlements in the Land of Israel (see under "Zionism"), and the planning institutions continue to approve construction of far-flung neighborhoods that require us get to work or shop by private vehicle.

How big is the problem? The Ministry of Finance wrote in the section covering the planned Tel Aviv area Metro in the latest Economic Arrangements Law: "The population growth rate in the Gush Dan metropolitan area is about 2% per year - 10 times the average in Western countries. By 2040, over 1 million people are expected to be added to the metropolis. There are 6 million journeys per day in the metropolitan area, which constitutes about half the total number of journeys made in the country, of which only about one million are made using public transport. In 2040, the number of daily journeys in the metropolis is expected to be 9 million."

The problem is that, for a long time now, paving more roads has not been the solution. Each new road built encourages more travel and car purchases, so it eventually becomes as jammed as every previous road. Between 2018 and 2010, the volume of roads in Israel increased by 16% (thanks to former Minister of Transport Israel Katz), but our kilometers travelled increased by 23%, and the number of vehicles increased by 36%. On the other hand, the Ministry of Finance admits, "Israel’s public transportation is based on bus lines and is characterized by low efficiency, lack of capacity, and slow travel time."

The result is also clear: "The rapid growth rate in travel (the number of kilometers traveled by motor vehicles) and the number of private vehicles, along with low use of public transportation, leads to congestion and long-term economic losses estimated at NIS 10 billion per year in the Gush Dan metropolitan area alone. If a mass transit system is not developed, the cost to the economy of traffic congestion is expected to reach NIS 25 billion in 2040."

And yet, most of the chapters dealing with the Metro, which must be constructed as soon as possible for the cities of the Gush Dan-Tel Aviv Metropolitan area, were left out of the Economic Arrangements Law as approved by the government and the Knesset. Although the establishment of a Metro Authority stayed in and the matter of its financing - at least NIS 150 billion - was stated explicitly, still, no one really has any idea how and when this money will arrive. And most importantly, how exactly will they collect 50% of these huge costs from local authorities and Metro-adjacent property owners, who will be in no hurry to open their wallets.

Even before the Metro dream comes true, our thinking must change: create more highway lanes for public transport, internalize the idea that not just trains but buses, too, are an alternative form of transport, and, in particular, understand we will have to give up private cars and parking spots, simply to enable us to move from point to point. Things just can’t stay the way they are, and the best proof of this was in the latest government budget, where a "congestion charge" for entering the Gush Dan area was approved. However, the Ministries of Transport and Finance inserted a clause stipulating that this would go into effect no earlier than March 2025. Our politicians like to bandy about solutions, but none of them wants to annoy the people who may vote for him or her tomorrow.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 30, 2021.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2021.

Traffic jam  credit: Gil Gibli
Traffic jam credit: Gil Gibli
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