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The first test of the transportation reform in greater Tel Aviv ended with bitter disappointment on all sides, especially for people who use the buses. All the hopes that were pinned on a reorganization of this type, which was graced with the title "transportation revolution" and cost millions in advertising, came to naught.

Right of way to buses at traffic lights, dedicated bus lanes, electronic signs announcing the arrival of buses, and machines that free the driver from the job of cashier - all were absent. Instead, passengers found a network of bus lines that had diminished and become more complicated, some 2,500 ushers to explain the change, magnetic bus passes that hardly last for 90 minutes, and a vague promise that "real improvement will be felt in three more years."

Tel Aviv is a shameful place in terms of public transportation compared to cities abroad of similar size and centrality. In all of those cities, travelers pay one subsidized fare for two or three modes of transportation for at least 24 hours, and can do without a car.

Transportation experts who did the precise and expensive feasibility tests in Tel Aviv decided that only a sophisticated mass transit system integrating a subway to a bus system running along dedicated lanes in the city, with efficient connections to a suburban train and beyond, can resolve the transportation problems of metropolitan Tel Aviv.

Although it was mainly the city's residents who suffered this week, it is the economy and all of society that pay the heavy price of incompetent public transport. Since 1994, when the Yitzhak Rabin government pledged to build a subway in Tel Aviv, and a ribbon was even cut, all successive governments have let implementation of this important project slip away, citing budgetary and other excuses.

The sorry "revolution" of the new lines has proved once again that false economizing is scandalously wasteful, and that there is no choice but to make a major national investment in mass transit in the greater Tel Aviv area.

The government still has a chance to correct distortions, make good on previous decisions and pop the cork on the bottleneck in the center of the country.