While drivers seem to be getting used to the express lane, which opened to traffic two weeks ago, it seems they are not taking advantage of its accompanying services. The huge park-and-ride parking lot built at Shapirim Junction, which can accommodate 2,100 vehicles, remains almost empty every day.
The developers' intention was that drivers entering the center of the country would park their cars and use the free shuttle service from the lot to the Kirya defense compound in Tel Aviv and the stock exchange area in Ramat Gan.
In actuality, only about 250 people use this service per day, and the average number of vehicles entering Tel Aviv daily has not declined.
"Growth was expected to be slow, until drivers recognize the advantage of leaving their car [in the parking lot]," says the director of the express lane's toll and control systems, Rudi Almog. "It's difficult for Israelis to separate from their cars. Everyone who travels along the first segment of the express lane, and then takes the shuttle to and from the parking lot, doesn't have to pay a single shekel of the toll. The toll funds this service, but there are people who don't believe that it's free."
The average number of vehicles utilizing the lane during rush hours in recent days was about 1,400 per hour. The company, however, is aiming for at least 1,800 vehicles. The demand, they say, is not sufficient at this stage, but they see it as a good start.
Meanwhile, the 2,100-space parking lot adjacent to Shapirim Junction remains practically empty, with an average of just 250 cars parked there per day, and only a relatively small number of drivers taking advantage of the free shuttle service.
On Sunday morning the toll for the express lane, which usually stands at its minimum rate of NIS 6, went up for the first time.
A driver who got stuck in a traffic jam on Highway 1 decided to cross over into the express lane, passing through an emergency passage and crushing the plastic barrier dividing the lanes. When he entered the fast lane, he slowed down the traffic - which had been traveling at a speed of about 100 kilometers per hour.
According to Almog, the driver caused a slowdown for 20 to 30 minutes, decreasing the speed in that time to 60 kph along a 13-kilometer stretch of the lane.
At that point, the vehicle regulation mechanism - tripped for new vehicles entering the lane when the average car speed falls below 70 kph - kicked in for the first time. The mechanism is set up to decrease the number of new vehicles entering the express lane.
On Sunday, when traffic in the lane slowed down, the toll gradually rose to NIS 22. But within half an hour it started flowing again, at a speed of about 100 kph, and the price dropped to NIS 6 once again.
Shimon Sabbag, 37, director of the Ben advertising agency, says he has been using the new road since it opened and highly recommends it to everyone.
"The traffic flows and you travel very fast," he says. "I am wracking my brain to figure out whether or not this is helping me save money in terms of gas, but in any case I am spending 20 to 30 minutes less on the road each time."
On Sunday, however, he decided not to take the express lane when he saw the toll had gone up to NIS 14.
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