First Came the Carmelit, Then the Metronit - and Now Haifa 'Welcomes' the Cable Car

It takes Yariv Raz more than 90 minutes to get from his Kiryat Motzkin home to the University of Haifa, where he is a third-year law student. When the professors aren't on strike, he leaves the house at 6:30 A.M. in order to make his first class, at 8:30 A.M. The bus takes him through traffic jams in the Haifa Bay and nasty odors from the factories on the city's outskirts. At the Check Post intersection he catches a second bus, which finally brings him to school.

"It's every Krayot student's nightmare," Raz said, referring to the Haifa Bay suburbs. "You start getting nervous about being late to class and get there cranky and tired from the long journey. Your day is ruined before it's begun."

The Haifa Bay area roads linking the Krayot to the major northern city are logjammed in the mornings. An effort to alleviate congestion by increasing public transportation is about to make Haifa and its suburbs a veritable guinea pig for mass-transit systems in Israel. Work is in full swing on the Metronit project - state-of-the-art buses that starting in 2010 will ply the Krayot-Haifa route, using a dedicated lane. The Egged bus company has lowered fares significantly for rides in the area.

Meanwhile, in a few months construction will begin on Israel's first public cable car service, which will link the Check Post intersection to the University of Haifa and Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, shortening travel times substantially.

The planned cable line, also slated to begin operating in 2010, will run 4.4 kilometers and take advantage of the 450-meter difference in altitudes. It will take 10 minutes to get from the Check Post junction at the foot of Mt. Carmel up to the Technion, and 15 minutes to the University of Haifa.

According to Doron Magid, director of the municipal company Yefe Nof, which is partly responsible for planning and operating the cable service, it will work "like an assembly line" - every 11 seconds a car will set out with up to eight passengers.

City officials predict the cable will carry 4.5 to 5 million passengers a year, mostly students and university employees from the Krayot, Acre and the Galilee, as well as residents of nearby neighborhoods. Cable fares will be similar to bus fares.

The project costs, to the tune of NIS 180 million, are being funded by the Transportation Ministry and the Haifa municipality. These include building a transportation hub at the Check Post intersection for train, bus, Metronit and cable service.

"We are in a largely built-up area and cannot widen roads too much," Mayor Yona Yahav said yesterday, "so the solution is to upgrade public transportation and make it more accessible and worthwhile."

Once all these transportation projects are completed, the traffic jams might stop disrupting the daily lives of students like Raz. The next hurdle, he said, is reaching an agreement between the student union and the transportation firms for discount student fares.