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Some time during 2009, expect to start paying a congestion charge if you plan to drive into Tel Aviv. Transportation Ministry director general Gideon Siterman yesterday said that the ministry will finalize plans to levy the charge on private vehicles in Tel Aviv by the end of the year. Sources in the transportation industry don't buy it, arguing that preparing the legal and physical infrastructure for a toll will take at least three years.

A recent public opinion survey conducted by the inter-ministerial panel for the congestion charge examined a charge of between NIS 15 and NIS 25.

The geographic borders of the area in which the congestion charge will be applied are scheduled to be drawn within three months. The team is currently considering three alternatives: The minimalist alternative will include the area delinieated by Rokach Blvd. in the north, Kibbutz Galuyot in the south, and the Ayalon Highway in the east.

The second broadest alternative also includes large swathes of Ramat Gan, Bnei Brak and Petah Tikva, and the third and largest area under consideration includes the area between the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway in the south and Road No. 5 in the north.

A number of options for the type and method of collection are also being weighed. One possibility is that the charge vary based on the time of entry, area, and how much pollution the vehicle emits.

A poll recently conducted by the Transportation Ministry indicated that traffic in the greater Dan area costs the economy 277 million work hours a year, worth NIS 5.5 billion in lost income. The survey also showed that most residents of the metropolitan Tel Aviv area support a congestion charge that would limit the number of vehicles entering their city, and public transportation users support a charge that would improve their commute time by public transportation.

In a meeting of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee that was held yesterday, Siterman said that the treasury has agreed that revenues from the charge would be used to improve and develop transportation infrastructure.

Siterman added that the plan to levy congestion charges is one of a number of plans that the Transportation Ministry is promoting with the aim of encouraging the use of public transportation. These include the establishment of a national transportation authority and metropolitan authorities for public transportation, restructuring of Tel Aviv's public transportation, and creating disincentives for the use of private vehicles.

"The congestion charge will jeopardize equality - the 'haves' will pay, the 'have nots' will have to manage [without driving into Tel Aviv]," warns Interior and Environment Committee chairman Ophir Pines-Paz. "It's a down-side that grates on me."

Pines noted that the idea to implement a congestion charge in Tel Aviv was raised back in 1999. He called on the Transportation Ministry director general to "give a higher priority to a strict time table." It was decided that the Transportation Ministry would submit a government initiated bill on the issue within three months.

The deputy mayor of Tel Aviv presented a feasibility study conducted for the green party, indicating that a NIS 25 congestion charge on entrance to Tel Aviv would generate revenues of about a billion shekels annually for the state.