Last week gasoline prices crossed the NIS 7 per liter mark, making the decision to travel by car even more dependent on economic considerations. Even though the National Infrastructure Ministry's statistics show that Israelis have not begun to drive less, there is no doubt that the cost of gasoline is weighing heavily on the family budget. For this reason, as time goes by, more and more drivers will likely seek cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternatives to their cars.
TheMarker checked out the options for traveling more economically and offers the following survey of readily available modes of travel, apart from public transportation.
Most of us go to and from work in our own cars, but anyone interested in cutting costs and even gaining new friends along the way can join the new carpooling initiatives. Web sites such as tremp.co.il and trempist.co.il provide a platform for connecting people who are seeking rides with those who are offering rides, and enable coordinating carpools to specific destinations. Everyone's goal is the same - to cut gas expenses.
"A friend of mine who gave me the site's address told me people save NIS 300-400 on gas by traveling together," says Ronit, who posted an offer on one of the sites.
Ronit says new people call her every day, but for personal security reasons she only takes women passengers. She also says that since she drives to work early, she has not yet saved much money by offering rides.
Carpooling is far from a new concept; there are variations of it around the world. In some places huge car cooperatives let members borrow communal cars from a huge lot, usually near public transportation. There are 600 such cooperatives worldwide, with 11,700 cars shared by 348,000 people. Not surprisingly, most of these fleets operate in Europe.
The economic models of the cooperatives vary - some charge a monthly or annual fee, while others charge per kilometers traveled. A source at the National Infrastructures Ministry says there should be more government initiatives to encourage carpooling.
"In the United States cars with three or more occupants pay lower tolls," says the source. "I have heard of professors who drive out of the university parking lot and look for students to travel with them, in order to save on the tolls. This is a win-win situation that also allows drivers to use the fast lane reserved for public transportation, making shared travel even more attractive."
If you work not far from your home, perhaps you have no good reason to waste money on gas - ride a bicycle to work instead.
Last week a bill to promote cycling passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset. Israel's climate and topography enable cycling in most places throughout most of the year, and the bill states, "The government must take steps to make bicycle use convenient and efficient for most of the population."
In order to make riding our bicycles pleasant, the bill includes several ideas for improving the cycling experience, such as constructing safe bicycle paths throughout the cities; obliging every local authority with more than 5,000 residents to prepare a master plan for bicycle paths in its jurisdiction; instituting regulations allowing for bicycles to be carried on buses and trains; directives concerning convenient parking arrangements beside bus and train stations; and anchoring economic incentives in the law, for both employers and employees, to encourage cycling to and from work.
The Tel Aviv municipality accepted this challenge a few months ago and issued an international tender for operating and maintaining a 100-station rental bike system throughout the city, for the use of any resident or visitor. The winner of the tender will be announced in the coming weeks and will also be responsible for regulating the presence of the bicycles among the various stations, to prevent a surplus or shortage of bicycles at any station.
Similar bicycle rental systems already exist in Paris and Barcelona, and have tens of thousands of subscribers. Washington, D.C. is expected to launch a shared bicycle system in the coming weeks, with annual membership fees of $40.
In Israel, the bicycle rental service will cost about NIS 120 a year, with the first half hour of each use free of charge. Non-subscribers will pay about NIS 10 for the first hour, and both subscribers and non-subscribers will pay NIS 15 for each additional hour per use.
"Today, most people who rent bicycles do not do so to ride in the cities, but rather to ride around parks or for touring," says Ronen Lanir, CEO of Bike Planet, a chain of bicycle stores that also rents bikes.
Lanir says bikes can be rented for a trial period before deciding to buy.
Bike Planet charges NIS 35 for the first hour and NIS 10 for every additional hour. Full-day rentals cost NIS 90. Lanir stresses that most of the rental bikes are inexpensive models, because the value of an expensive bike depreciates by about 30% the moment it starts being used.
Even so, many people who use bicycles prefer to buy their own. According to data provided by bicycle marketer Matzman-Merutz, there has been an 80% increase in city bicycle sales in the first half of 2008, compared to the parallel period last year.
Non-name brand bicycles at Matzman-Merutz start at NIS 600, but name brand models cost upwards of NIS 2,000 and can cost as much as NIS 20,000-NIS 30,000.
Second-hand brand-name bikes are cheaper, but Adi Frumkin, vice president of business development at Matzman-Merutz, stresses the importance of checking that everything is in working order, that the tires are not worn and the wheels are straight. Frumkin also advises taking a bicycle for a test ride, to make sure the brakes, gears and shock absorbers work properly. Additional costs when buying a bike include a helmet and locks, which can cost a few hundred shekels.
Another way to get around and save on gas costs (and physical effort) is to ride a Segway. These machines are no longer the newest invention, but still turn heads - possibly due to their NIS 30,000 price tag, or perhaps because they are still an unfamiliar sight.
Practically speaking, the Segway can travel at 20 kilometers per hour, but in Israel the speed limit is just 13 kph. One battery charge is good for 30-40 kilometers, and a battery, which costs about NIS 10,000, can be recharged about 800 times.
Children under 16 are not allowed to ride a Segway, nor are people weighing over 118 kilograms (260 pounds). Maintaining stability on a Segway is relatively easy, thanks to the device's design, so unlike a bicycle, little physical effort is required to ride one. This means that apart from in July and August, you should be able to reach your destination full of energy.
After you reach your work place, economic wisdom claims that you should stay at your office until the end of the day and not leave for meetings that involve car travel. For this reason, many companies have begun holding video conferences with partners both in Israel and abroad, without leaving the office.
"[Video-conferencing] technology has been around for more than a decade, but in the past it was much more expensive and transmission quality was not good," says Olivier Schiffman, CEO of Naotech Group Communication, which specializes in audio and video solutions.
Today the picture quality has improved significantly and equipment prices have come down to an affordable $5,000-$10,000.
"The system now permits video conferencing between several locations, high-quality pictures and integrated presentations," says Fishman. "The equipment also works on international standards and is compatible with devices made by other manufacturers."
Another advantage of the newer video-conferencing systems is that they use the Internet infrastructure, which most offices have, such that there are no additional costs beyond the equipment itself."
Working from home
This may be the simplest option for saving on gas, but it is not particularly favored by Israeli office managers. A survey conducted by IDC, a research and consulting firm, found that only 18% of the workforce works from home at least some of the time in Israel, compared to 68% in the U.S., 53% in Japan and 48% in western Europe. IDC researchers forecast that the number of people worldwide who work from home will rise by an average of 5.8% annually, to 1 billion by 2011. Accordingly, in Israel "mobile workers" will account for 26% of the work force.
Working from home has other advantages, such as balancing work and family life and flexible work hours.
On the other hand, IDC analyst Oren Raviv warns of the danger in bringing work home.
"The devices mobile workers use can get lost, and classified information could fall into the competition's hands," he noted.
Michal Ramati helped prepare this article.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now