Cut in Bus Fares Between Center and Periphery Delayed for a Year

Despite promises, it seems treasury has not budgeted the transportation reform for 2016.

David Bachar

Fares from the center of the country to rural areas will not be cut for at least a year, despite a Transportation Ministry promise to do so under a reform plan starting this month.

It appears the treasury has not budgeted this aspect of the transportation reform for 2016 due to its cost. The money earmarked for it will be transferred to Interior Minister Arye Dery’s plan to reduce public fares.

On January 1 this year the Transportation Ministry launched a reform to reduce public transportation fares, based on dividing Israel into four metropolitan areas – Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and Be’er Sheva. Each metropolis consists of three “rings” enabling unlimited travel on bus and train in each of them for the same ticket.

However, Haaretz has learned that the plan’s next stage, to reduce fares from the periphery to the center and back, wasn’t included in the 2016 budget. The plan’s estimated cost is some 550 million shekels (nearly $140 million). Consequently, these fares will not be reduced this year.

The reason is that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has approved another reform to reduce public transportation fares by 17 percent nationwide, led by Dery, who conditioned his support for the state budget on the approval of his plan.

A source in the Finance Ministry confirmed to Haaretz that if the ministry hadn’t been compelled to allocate funds for Dery’s plan, which was passed for coalition reasons, there would have been money to finance the Transportation Ministry’s plan.

“This is a very expensive part of the plan and it’s not likely that there will be money to carry it out at least in the coming year,” the source said.

“If Dery’s plan wasn’t on the agenda, the money would probably have been found for it,” he said.

Shlomit, who lives near Moshav Gilat, travels daily on bus routes 353 and 373, operated by the Metropoline bus company, between the Sa’ad station and the Gilat junction. “Both routes are identical between these stops, but the fare is different. On line 373 the fare is 12 shekels, while on line 353 it’s 10.20 shekels,” she says.

Gil Yaakov, who heads the public transportation advocacy group 15 Minutes, said “Finance Minister Kahlon blatantly neglected the periphery in the fare reforms. People from the north and south are still paying a high fare for traveling to the center.”

The Transportation Ministry said in response: “We’re now carrying out the second stage, the third inter-city stage will be planned and carried out afterward. It was not budgeted by the treasury, regardless of the agreement with Dery.”

“Additional railway lines introduced during the year and every additional year will enable further reductions,” the ministry said.