Tel Aviv's lack of a subway system (or as it is officially known, the Dan Region Mass Transit System ) is one of most grave infrastructure failures Israel has ever known. This country, whose scientists have won Nobel prizes and whose entrepreneurs shine in high-tech markets, has been unable to build a basic public transportation system of the kind that operates in Egypt, Iran and North Korea.
The result is that metropolitan Tel Aviv, where more than three million people live and work, does not offer reasonable public transportation as an alternative to clogged roads. A subway is fast, convenient, non-polluting and unaffected by weather. It is hard to imagine an infrastructure project that would contribute more to the well-being of the population and would reduce the use of cars, which are expensive and cause pollution.
The subway is based on technology more than 100 years old; foot-dragging in its construction is entirely due to failed management. Golda Meir's government decided as far back as 1973 to construct a subway in Tel Aviv, but since then the idea has been put off for various reasons. Either priorities change or authorities disagree; this time around, the developer that won the tender for the project is having difficulty funding it.
The Finance Ministry is now recommending that the project be nationalized and a new tender be issued, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to make a decision on the matter next week. This is Netanyahu's opportunity - with his great fondness for infrastructure and rail projects - to demonstrate leadership and extricate the heart of the country from traffic jams and pollution. Only giving the project top national priority will liberate it from its 37-year freeze.
It is very likely, however, that this will not happen. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz is planning to build a railway to the West Bank settlements, and Netanyahu wants a train to Kiryat Shmona and Eilat. The Dan Region, Israel's social and economic center, does not interest them.
In yesterday's Hebrew edition of TheMarker, Avi Bar-Eli revealed the process by which a new director general of Israel Railways is selected - exposing how, for the politicians who make appointments, political interests as well as promoting the interests of franchisees and prominent businesspeople outweigh the public weal. The Transportation Ministry has for years served its various ministers as a tool for advancing political interests. And it is the general public, waiting in the sun for the bus or in long traffic jams at the entrance to Tel Aviv, that pays the price.
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