Three months ago, I flew to Brazil for the Carnival. Memories of one of the events came back to me this week as I sat for hours in what was arguably the biggest and most frustrating traffic jam in Tel Aviv's history. It was an unending nightmare. People abandoned their cars in despair and tried to walk. Buses couldn't leave the central bus station. The sick couldn't reach Ichilov Hospital. Out of half a million people who wanted to see the fireworks display, only 200,000 ever got there, and those who did arrived drained and exhausted.
I was reminded of Salvador, not the largest of cities and not the most developed, but famous for its street carnival that wows the crowds. A million people stream in from every corner of town to take part in the festivities. But Salvador has a mayor who loves his citizens. He called in the local bus company and the chief of police, and together they planned public transportation to the carnival.
They closed the two main arteries leading to the venue, and turned them into bus-only zones. Hundreds of buses drove in, one after another, dropping off thousands of revelers. Then they immediately turned around and picked up those who wanted to go home, using the exit road. Traffic police were stationed at every intersection, insuring that everything ran quickly and smoothly. And that was how it done. All night long, this giant fleet of buses transported hundreds of thousands of people back and forth with amazing efficiency.
Everyone gained. The public got there and enjoyed itself; the bus company made a nice profit; and the mayor and the chief of police won praise. Salvador belongs to what they call a third-world country. So where is Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai? In a tenth-world country?
After all, how often do we get to celebrate? The news is full of domestic homicides, suicide bombings, and fatal car accidents. Why can't we have a little joy? Why can't this country do something for its citizens so they can forget about their troubles for one night and have fun?
The exorbitant fees being charged to watch the World Cup - NIS 492 for the game package - are also part of a scheme to deny us a little fun and pleasure. As in the case of the fireworks show, there could be an administrative-economic solution - if only the people involved did their jobs properly. Charlton, a company owned by Eli Azur and Pini Zehavi, acquired the broadcast rights to the World Cup. As the sole concessionaire, the company is utilizing its position to overcharge and rake in huge profits. But this is precisely where the regulator should have stepped in, because we are looking at a clear case of market failure: a monopoly.
The regulator in this case is a special committee made up of director general of the Communications Ministry, Avi Balashnikov, chair of the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, Yoram Mokady, and chair of the Second Authority for Television and Radio, Nurit Dabush. All three have failed miserably. They could have broken up the package. Instead of forcing the public to purchase all the games (ultimately making one service contingent on another, which is unfair), they should have allowed the purchase of a single game, as in the pay-per-view system used for Israeli and English Premier League games. Why force people to pay for a match between South Korea and Togo when all they want to see is Holland vs. Argentina?
The price per game should have been calculated according to the principle of nominal, not monopolistic, profit. In other words, a lot less than Charlton is asking for. If that had been so, Azur and Zehavi would have realized they were in trouble, and lowered the package price on their own to a more reasonable rate.
But Balashnikov, Mokady and Dabush have not done their job. So instead of Israelis switching on the TV in June and enjoying a dazzling show of soccer at its best for a fair price, they will sit there fuming and grumbling. Once again, their joy dampened and their pleasure spoiled. Maybe someone up there on the top can't stand it when we're having a ball.
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