Tel Aviv Central Bus Station closure delayed to 2026

Tel Aviv Central Bus Station Photo: Shutterstock

Due to rezoning problems for land at the Panorama Center, it is not even certain that the bus station will close in four years time.

Israel’s Ministry of Transport and Tel Aviv - Yafo Municipality announced last Friday that they have reached new agreements, regarding the plan to vacate bus services from the new central bus station, in the south of the city. In contradiction to previous declarations several months ago by Minister of Transport Merav Michaeli that the bus station would be vacated "within two years," the latest plan includes two stages, which extends the final date.

The first stage is due to be completed at the start of 2024. By then half of the bus services are due to be taken out of the bus station, reducing the number of daily journeys from 5,000 to 2,500. Only two years after that, at the start of 2026, will all services cease to operate from the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. At the press briefing on the matter given by Michaeli, she found it difficult to fully explain the entire plan, which still seems to be full of holes and unanswered questions.

The winners and losers

The biggest winner from the postponement is the Nitsba Group real estate company, controlled by businessman Kobi Maimon, which has a contract to lease the bus station, worth an estimated NIS 17 million annually to the company.

Over the past few months, Nitsba has worked resolutely to get the plan to vacate the bus station postponed. However, sources tell "Globes" that the bus operations on the fourth floor of the central bus station will soon be closed down and switched to other terminals in the city, leaving two other floors operating bus services. This will start reducing Nitsba’s rental income, which will be cut further, when the first half of the plan is implemented in 2024.

The delay in vacating the bus station also gives Nitsba more time to reach agreements with about 500 stores, which are still privately owned. Nitsba has been buying up stores over the years from owners unable to make a profit due to the high municipal rates and management fees. Nitsba will also have more time to reach an agreement with the municipality over the future of the land. The main losers are the neighborhood’s residents, who have for years suffered from an environmental hazard, in terms of pollution and the need to rehabilitate the entire area.

"Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai invents excuses. He is not interested in moving the central bus station," Tel Aviv - Yafo municipal council member Shula Keshet told "Globes." Keshet heads the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood council. She said, "The Minister of Transport has been shown up as a small politician and has retreated. Instead of telling Nitsba that its contract ends in 2023, she has come up with an especially bad plan. They are going to disperse the bus terminals around south Tel Aviv. The minister has proven that she is not interested in the residents of south Tel Aviv."

The timetable is not binding

In the press briefing held by Michaeli, she was asked why she had pulled back from the first timetable. She admitted that they had made a mistake in their statutory assessments about the Panorama area of land in south Tel Aviv, which had been supposed to become the terminal, picking up most of the bus traffic from the vacated central bus station. She said that some of the Panorama land could become a bus terminal but another part by the Panorama’s limestone cliff needed to be rezoned and it was not even certain that it could be.

Michaeli added that in attempts to reach agreement with the courts, it was decided that part of the plan involving the Panorama site would be completed within two years, with 20 departure and arrival platforms for about 100 buses, and the rest within four years. But reading the Ministry of Transport and Tel Aviv - Yafo Municipality announcement carefully reveals that it only "estimates" that all this will be completed within four years.

Taking bus services out of Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station will have an immediate and positive effect on the air quality. On the other hand, the plans for electric charging points at the bus terminal at the Panorama site don’t seem to be fully formed, so that electric buses can operate from there. Anyway moving the terminal to other areas of South Tel Aviv will simply harm the environment elsewhere, like the limestone cliff at the Panorama site. Michaeli is quick to talk about holistic decisions that balance between "values" but it looks like problems at the central bus station are being solved at the expense of other locations.

The future is shrouded in mist

Amid all the talk about taking the buses out of the central bus station, the biggest question of all remains. What will happen after the last bus leaves? The Ministry of Transport insists that from that moment, the building is no longer its responsibility, and it becomes a municipal matter with complicated issues involving privately-owned land.

In addition to the disputes between Nitsba and the storeowners, the question is what can be achieved in an area that desperately needs a facelift. One option is to demolition the existing building and replace it with a new project that will include residential units, office and commercial space. But demolishing the central bus station would be a complex civil engineering task, which could create environmental hazards of its own. Another option, would be to build for various uses above the existing building, which would change the nature of the project. One way or the other, to transform the neglected edifice into an asset, the municipality must begin negotiations with Nitsba, otherwise in another decade nothing would have changed.

Tel Aviv - Yafo Municipality said, "The Ministry of Transport and Tel Aviv - Yafo Municipality have reached agreement on vacating transport services from the central bus station, ahead of closing it down. The plan, which is led by the Ministry of Transport, includes planning that fits the national public transport network, so that in the coming years, bus routes will be redirected from the central bus station to alternative terminals."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 3, 2022.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2022.

Tel Aviv Central Bus Station Photo: Shutterstock
Tel Aviv Central Bus Station Photo: Shutterstock
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