A year after its launch, the fast lane into Tel Aviv, a toll road running alongside Highway 1 from Jerusalem, can be crowned a success.
This is Israel's second toll road. The first is Highway 6, which runs from the south to the north and is also considered a success.
Buses use the fast lane for free, as do cars carrying at least four people.
From that perspective too, the road has been a success: some 300 cars with at least four people take the road every day gratis.
There are two entrances to the fast lane, at the intersection leading up to Ben-Gurion International Airport or at Shapirim Intersection. From there, drivers can get off only at the parking lot, or at Tel Aviv's Kibbutz Galuyot interchange.
Even though the toll lane can cost as much as NIS 60 during peak morning rush hour, an average of 8,700 drivers a day choose it over the congested Highway 1. Of them, 7,400 drive into Tel Aviv.
The other 1,300 park at the free lot at Shapirim Intersection and take shuttles - also free - to the Kirya in Tel Aviv and the diamond exchange in Ramat Gan.
The average toll, which is set based on the lane's congestion, is NIS 20 to NIS 25.
Another sign of the success is that the companies operating the fast lane have had to replace their leased minibuses with midi-buses and full-length buses in order to meet the demand. Minibuses have 14 seats, midibuses have 35 and full-length buses have 50.
The shuttles leave every five minutes during peak hours and every 15 minutes at other times.
A third line of shuttles is supposed to be inaugurated soon, between the parking lot at Shapirim and Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard. In addition, the parking lot at Shapirim is scheduled to be expanded beyond its current 2,000-car capacity.
A month ago the Egged bus cooperative launched a new line, No. 100, between the Shapirim intersection and the government complex in Jerusalem. That bus is packed during the morning peak hours, Egged reports.
The man behind the fast-lane project is Nitzan Yotzer, head of operations at the government company Trans-Israel Highway, which is also the supervisory authority for Highway 6, the fast lane and the Carmel Tunnel as well (which is Israel's first toll tunnel ). "The infrastructure in the greater Tel Aviv area can't keep up with the growing volume of traffic," he says. The fast lane is primarily meant to serve public transportation, says Yotzer, but it had surplus capacity that could be sold. The income from paying drivers goes to maintaining the parking lot and shuttle service, Yotzer says.
Driving into Tel Aviv during the morning rush hour can take an hour from Ben-Gurion International Airport as cars stand bumper to bumper on Highway 1. During rush hour, says Egged, the fast lane has shortened travel time for buses by 30%. More people are taking the bus as well, it says.
The fast lane's success has encouraged Trans Israel to plan more such ventures that would let drivers park outside the Tel Aviv area and be shuttled in for free. Of course, there are problems. The main engineering company involved in the project, Shapir, is suing the state for NIS 200 million. Also, the volume of traffic at peak hours is lower than Shapir's financial model assumed - yet since the average payment is higher than had been assumed, total income is around what the model predicted.