Israel's First Bus Rapid Transit System Goes for a Test Drive in Haifa

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Haifa’s new bus rapid transit system is set to launch its two-week trial run on August 2. Two weeks later its 90 long, bi-articulated buses and 143 stations with automatic ticketing systems will offer full service in the northern Israeli city. Changes and improvements in the city’s existing bus lines will also be implemented. Service on the Metronit will be free throughout the trial run.

This is Israel’s first BRT - bus rapid transit - system, and includes six hybrid buses. Purchasing the buses and building the stations cost an estimated NIS 300 million. The cost of the project over the next twelve years is estimated at NIS 1 billion.

The Metronit will go into operation on three lines covering some 40 kilometers in total. The first line will go from the northern Krayot, the Haifa Bay towns, via Route 4, the bay area Central Bus Station and the Lower City, to the Hof Hacarmel Central Bus Station, some 25 kilometers in total.

The second line will operate from the bay area suburb of Kiryat Ata to the Bat Galim terminus, via Route 4 and the Lower City (18 kilometers). The third line will link the bay suburbs of Kiryat Yam and Kiryat Haim to the bay area Central Bus Station and the Hadar neighborhood (16 kilometers).

The buses will be a particularly fast mode of transport; they have their own lanes, and priority at lights. On top of that, ticketing and validation will happen at stations rather than on the bus. Passengers will be able to alight or disembark from any door, and the buses will spend less time at stops.

The project, which aims to change the face of transportation in Haifa and is much less costly than building a light rail, such as the one in Jerusalem, has suffered from delays. It was to originally supposed to go into service in 2011, and to have opened its sliding doors on May 20 this year. However, more delays ensued with the laying of infrastructure and the special equipment for ticketing.

The project also overshot its budget by NIS 500 million.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz called the Metronit “a real revolution” and said he hoped that it would “transform transportation in metropolitan Haifa and be a model for other cities in Israel and encourage the use of public transportation.”

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, speaking for the mayors of all the towns in the area, said: “Metropolitan Haifa is constantly developing and the launching of the Metronit is an important part of the development of the city.” Yahav said the various municipalities were full partners in the project and that they would continue to work to improve service to the residents, of which public transportation is an important component. Yahav also thanked the Transportation Ministry for its cooperation.

The deputy director for public transportation in the ministry, Dror Ganon, said: “It is important to remember that we are in the process of implementing the new transportation system. The changes in public transportation will take time and passengers will need to get used to them until the system stabilizes. From the experience of the light rail in Jerusalem .... breaking in the system will take six to eight months. As needed, adjustments will be made until the system is working at its best for the good of all the passengers on public transportation.”

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, right, and Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav launch Haifa's Metronit. Credit: Zvi Roger / Haifa Municipality

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