'Frustrated by Minister Miri Regev,' Top Israeli Public Transport Official Resigns

Sources say officials in the Transportation Ministry are in despair over Regev's preoccupation with 'visibility and politics instead of the benefit of the public'

Osnat Nir
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Amir Asraf, left, and Miri Regev.
Amir Asraf, left, and Miri Regev. Credit: Ofer Vaknin, Alex Kolomoisky
Osnat Nir

The director of the National Public Transportation Authority, Amir Asraf, announced his resignation Sunday amid rumors of deep frustration over Transportation Minister Miri Regev’s preoccupation with politics at the expense of steps to improve public transit. Asraf had been in the position a year and a half.

“The general feeling is that Regev is preoccupied mainly with visibility and politics, instead of promoting genuine processes for the benefit of the public,” said a source in the ministry.

Ministry sources added that behind Asraf’s decision is the sense of despair and frustration in the transportation authority and among officials in the ministry over Regev’s unwillingness to take steps to improve public transportation.

In recent weeks the Likud minister has been working to prevent the reform in the method of payment on public transportation, a flagship program of the authority that was supposed to lower transportation costs for most of the public.

The central feature of the reform is a transition to payment by apps that retroactively calculate the most worthwhile payment option for the user. The minister froze this reform about a month ago, claiming that it represented a possible danger to the users’ privacy.

Regev also pressured Finance Minister Yisrael Katz to halt the reform, leading him to freeze its implementation for three months – even though it was during Katz’s tenure as transportation minister that the reform was promoted. The reform requires the approval of the finance minister, because it includes a change in the subsidy.

The warnings about a danger to privacy came up now despite the fact that the tender for operating the payment apps, which was won by three groups, ended over half a year ago, and the plan was already in the pilot stage. Those with powerful economic interests worked behind the scenes to stymie the reform, including lobbyists who approached the Transportation Ministry even before Regev assumed the job. One of those behind the effort is the main loser of the tender for public transit “rav-kav” cards – the private company Pcentra, which operates through Gilad Government Relations and Lobbying Ltd.

It’s not only the National Public Transportation Authority that is expressing dissatisfaction with Regev’s conduct. Officials in the ministry and in the government companies described to TheMarker her exaggerated preoccupation with visibility – ceremonies, showcase tours and press conferences – over actual activity and the promotion of long-term steps.

“The road is still long and complex and the tasks remaining are many and challenging, there certainly will be no lack of hurdles,” wrote Asraf to the bus companies on Sunday. “At the same time, I have no doubt that you will be able to overcome all these and that you’ll continue to operate responsibly and devotedly for the benefit of the traveling public in Israel.”

The Transportation Ministry sent the following response in the name of Amir Asraf: “I would like to clarify that there is no connection between the contents of the article and the reason for my departure, and any attempt to invent a connection is baseless and bizarre. I’ve been in the public sector for 20 years and I decided to embark on a new path. I thank Minister Regev for her trust and our joint work. In the short time we’ve worked together I was able to see first hand her devotion and commitment to promoting public transportation in Israel.”

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