The traffic jams on Israel's roads lengthen from year to year, but in the past two years the Ministry of Transport has been unable to undertake new projects to deal with the problem. The reason is that from 2019 until the end of last week, Israel did not have a regular state budget. Now, the Ministry of Finance has won the largest increase to its budget of any ministry, and will be able to spend NIS 37 billion, which compares with NIS 21 billion in 2019.
Can an additional NIS 16 billion ease the congestion on the roads? About 80% of the ministry's budget for 2021 and 2022 will be invested in developing public transport and mass transit systems, such as the light rail in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the Metronit in Haifa, and in getting underway with the flagship project, the metro in the Dan region that is still in the initial stages. Only 20% of the budget will be invested in roads.
For several years now, the Ministry of Transport has given priority to investment in public transport, with the aim of removing private cars from the crowded roads. Public transport projects, however, are mostly long-term, and it will take years before their effect is felt on the ground. Meanwhile, Minister of Transport Merav Michaeli has said that she is considering a declaration of a transport emergency. What does that mean in practice? At the moment, it's not clear.
The government is doing the right thing in investing in public transport. Meanwhile, however, until we have public transport that makes it possible to abandon the car, the growth in the number of vehicles continues to be greater than the rate at which roads are developed. The number of private vehicles in Israel shot up from 2.72 million in 2016 to 3.17 million in 2020, which represents growth of 16%. In the same period, total paved road length in Israel grew from 19,355 kilometers 20,239 kilometers, an increase of just 4.5%. The simple consequence is that the traffic jams only get longer, and will continue to do so until there's an alternative to the private car.
In the Ministry of Transport's new budget, its largest ever, there are many items that will help to make public transport more attractive, even before the metro and the light rail networks. The budget includes NIS 7.5 billion for expanding public transport routes, NIS 6 billion for paving public transport lanes and fast lanes, NIS 3.5 billion for bus depots and transport hubs, NIS 2 billion for paving cycle tracks, NIS 400 million for electrifying the bus fleet, NIS 90 million for accessibility on public transport, and more.
In addition, a budget of NIS 46 billion has been approved for Israel Railways' five-year plan, intended to advance electrification of the railways substantially, to develop the Eastern Railway and build the fourth track along the Ayalon, and to double the coastal tracks, among other projects.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on November 9, 2021.
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