Now more than 11 years have passed since Roni Milo, then the mayor of Tel Aviv, asked me to chair the newly constituted Metropolitan Mass Transit System (NTA), to oversee the planning and construction of a public transportation network for Greater Tel Aviv.
After examining the preliminary plans developed in the Tel Aviv municipality, which included a subway through the metropolis, I accepted the position. I had concluded that the task was of great importance in relieving the growing traffic congestion in the region. I realized that there was no way to accomplish it without adding an underground transportation system.
When I had to resign the post one year later, after being appointed minister of defense, I believed that the basic planning for the system had been accomplished and that the project was on its way to implementation.
Now, 10 years later, as each new minister of transportation appointed a new NTA chairman, not only is there no subway but the entire project seems to be stalled while traffic congestion increases daily, resulting in environmental damage and great losses for the Israeli economy.
The story of the Tel Aviv subway seems like "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
From the very beginning it was clear to me that the Finance Ministry was resolutely opposed to the entire plan. The two representatives of the treasury's budget division on the board of directors engaged in obstructionist tactics at every board meeting. They argued that buses were the best form of transportation for the greater Tel Aviv area and that a subway was a waste of the country's resources that they would not allow. When I managed to obtain a majority on the board for the approval of the first underground line - the Red Line, connecting Petah Tikva, Bnei Brak, Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv and Bat Yam - they let me know in no uncertain words that this was not going to be implemented. For some unknown reason they refused to understand that in one of the most congested areas in the world there simply was not enough room aboveground for all the region's transportation needs and that only an underground line could alleviate the growing traffic problem.
They began demanding additional analyses of the projections for future transportation requirements, the hiring of consultants who would certify that a subway was unnecessary and the examination of alternatives - anything that would prevent progress on the project.
Years after I left the project, with traffic jams becoming intolerable, the Finance Ministry began to relent. It was prepared to consider what it saw as a more modest proposal.
Eager to obtain treasury support, NTA proposed that the first line of the system would be a hybrid light rail system, part underground and part aboveground. What they did not seem to realize was that a light rail system - the same solution adopted by the Jerusalem municipality - is inappropriate for a densely populated area, providing little advantage over buses. Moreover, a line that is partly underground and partly aboveground cannot take advantage of two major benefits of a fully underground system: the unobstructed run of the train through the entire line and the ability to automate the system so that it can operate without a driver.
Now that the plan was drastically reduced and would presumably be less expensive, the treasury was prepared to support it, on condition that most of the financing came from beyond the state budget. BOT - build, operate and transfer - became the magic word. In other words, getting something for nothing. But as everybody knows, you get nothing for nothing. BOT, useful in some circumstances, simply postpones the day of reckoning and ends up costing everyone more - both the government and the commuters.
So began the search for a consortium that was prepared to undertake the project on a BOT basis. Well, they are still searching. Years have gone by, the commuters suffer, the air in the region is increasingly polluted and there seems to be no end in sight. That's no way to build a subway.
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