Minister of Transport Bezalel Smotrich was quick to announce an easing of traffic congestion as a result of the introduction of the Nativ Plus carpool lane on the coastal highway and Ayalon Highway. Ministry of Transport director general Keren Terner told "Globes," however, that although the ministry is convinced that the project really does significantly shorten travel times, it has no accurate figures to back this claim. She said that better data substantiating the assessment that turning an ordinary traffic lane into a lane for public transport and cars with more than one person in them was worthwhile would be available only after several days.
"As soon as we presented Smotrich with the project and our vision for the coming years, he realized that there was no alternative to public transport. He asked us to prepare a public information campaign, proper enforcement, and additional services. We spoke mainly about how to give priority to public transport, and he gave the professional staff his support, which is great. Incidentally, we did not present this project to the previous minister, because enforcement through police on motorcycles - not cameras, as we originally wanted - was agreed with Israel Police only in June."
"Globes": Does this mean that the minister will support imposing a congestion charge at the entrances to Tel Aviv?
Terner: "This lane is a measure for improving public transport, so that it will constitute an alternative to a private car. If a congestion charge is imposed, it will not be imposed on those traveling in the lane."
On what evidence did Smotrich rely when he said that the lane made traffic easier?
"We're still processing the data, but from what we see, private transport in the ordinary lane on Road 2 was delayed at peak hours by 20-25 minutes. Those who traveled by public transport or carpool saved many minutes, depending on where they came from. On the Ayalon Highway, we're seeing a shortening of 10 minutes. It's true that being in a carpool is more challenging there, because you need two passengers and not just one, but we opened the public transport lane."
There were complaints that travel in the special lane and the roads leading to it was very slow.
"There is no justification for saying this. We don't measure the traffic on secondary arteries, but in the lane itself, we can see on the cameras that traffic is flowing, and the buses reported that the trip was smooth all along the way in the lane."
Was there no disruption to traffic flow at any stage?
"We saw a delay on the ramp at the Poleg Interchange, which I don't know yet how to fix, and there are, of course, people who try it on, criminals of sorts - the motorcycle policemen immediately got them off the road."
What about those who stayed in the ordinary lane?
"There's no doubt that a private car traveling at peak hours is going to suffer. Those traveling in the ordinary lane suffered more than usual, but if there is a behavioral change as a result of the lane, then the disruption to private vehicles will be more moderate. Incidentally, already today, there are many more people benefiting from the arrangement than suffering from it."
"As a rule of thumb, 2,000 people an hour pass in each lane on the road. So we have 140 buses every hour. Multiply this by 40 or 50 passengers in each bus, because they are almost full, and add to this several dozen vehicles with two or more people in them. It's clear that the number of passengers entitled to the special lane is greater than the number of passengers in the ordinary lane. In any case, they deserve a third of the road. This isn't reverse discrimination; it's distributive justice."
What is your goal?
"We want to see public transport flowing the way it should at all hours of the day and night. We want to see more people choosing to traveling in a carpool and on public transport, and we'd like to see that the cost for a private vehicle is not disastrous. If public transport gains five minutes and the entire public stands still for half an hour - that's not the kind of project that we want."
Are you considering expanding the project to Road 5 and other roads?
"The professional staff hasn't yet taken a position on the right alternative there."
What about the carpool? Are you considering loosening the restrictions slightly?
"The law bans shared travel for profit. It allows only reimbursement for fuel and NIS 2 per kilometer in travel expenses. We see that people are linking up on Waze, Moovit, and WhatsApp. We don't need everyone traveling together. On Road 2, one more person is enough."
What if you succeed too well, and the lane jams up?
"Starting in November, southbound public transport on Road 2 will also be able to travel on the hard shoulder if the Nativ Plus lane is jammed up. Shared transport will not be able to travel on the hard shoulder, but we could raise the requirement from two people in a car to three. We're not there yet, however. We can always take another lane and make that one Two Plus as well."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 7, 2019
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