Tel Aviv, smog, haze
Tel Aviv is barely seen through the smog and haze of a spring day in 2010. Photo by Moti Milrod
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The Environmental Protection Ministry is considering banning polluting vehicles from the centers of big cities as it prepares to enforce the Clean Air Law, which went into effect three months ago.

The ministry is examining various measures to reduce air pollution that were recommended by expert consultants. In addition to barring polluting vehicles from city centers, the proposals include financial incentives for taxis to use hybrid vehicles and restrictions on idling vehicles.

Over the last few months, a panel of experts headed by Prof. Menachem Luria of Hebrew University has conducted a comprehensive study of the steps necessary for compliance with the Clean Air Law. At the same time, the company P.G.L. Transportation and Planning prepared recommendations for local authorities on ways to reduce air pollution.

Ministry professionals have still not completed their discussions of the recommendations. But their implemention will depend to a great extent on further development of public transportation and more effective enforcement of anti-pollution laws.

Most of the recommendations involve vehicle emissions, and several cities, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Petah Tikva and Ramat Gan, are already working on plans to reduce pollution from that source.

According to the Luria committee's interim report, air pollution in Israel continues to exceed levels in most European countries.

The committee thus recommended instituting independent checks of emission levels from new vehicles imported to Israel, so as to ensure that they meet European standards. At present, manufacturers' statements with regard to emission levels are simply accepted as true rather than being independently verified.

It also recommended a move to buses with electric engines and a reduction in taxes on cars with electric engines.

On a different issue, it proposed that the government maintain a national registry of respiratory diseases connected to air pollution.

The report by P.G.L. studied policies on air pollution that have been instituted in various cities worldwide, including Amsterdam, New York and Berlin. It advised defining no-drive zones for polluting vehicles in Israel's major cities. Such a system is already in effect in both Berlin and Amsterdam, under which vehicles are required to post their emission levels on a special sticker.

New powers

Efforts have been made to promote such a plan in Tel Aviv over the past few years, but they failed due to arguments among various agencies as to how it would be carried out. Now, however, the Environmental Protection Ministry will be able to use its new powers under the Clean Air Law to move the plan forward.

Another recommendation is that traffic lights be synchronized to reduce stops and starts, which is when most polluting emissions occur. In addition, drivers who keep their engines idling over a specified time limit should be fined, P.G.L. said.

Speed limits should be set for main and clogged urban thoroughfares, the report continued. But it warned that while identifying the thoroughfares and posting the signs is easy, the measure's success depends on strict enforcement.

P.G.L. also recommended that work places subsidize employee travel on public transportation while at the same time reducing car and parking allowances. According to the report, every 100 employees who trade traveling in their own car for another form of transportation to work means savings of NIS 85,000 a year, among other things in reduced pollution, gas and vehicle operation costs.