Missing the Bus / Ministers Won't See Trajtenberg's Proposals to Improve Public Transport

Ministers are expected to approve the sections relating to mass transportation, the cost of living and government oversight today.

The cabinet is scheduled to vote on several more sections of the Trajtenberg committee's recommendations for social and economic reforms today, but the most central and meaningful issues are still being put off.

In addition, when the cabinet votes on the portions touching on mass transportation today, it won't ever see those intended to increase competition and improve life for commuters - they were dropped entirely due to pressure by bus companies Dan and Egged, as well as the Transportation Ministry's objection to funding them.

Buses - Ofer Vaknin - December 2011
Ofer Vaknin

The ministers are expected to approve the sections relating to mass transportation, the cost of living and government oversight today.

The latter two matters were discussed at last week's cabinet meeting, but ministers did not reach a conclusion on them.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been postponing discussions on some of the report's most central matters in favor of more marginal issues. For example, the ministers will not discuss a NIS 3 billion defense budget cut that Netanyahu approved in September, which currently has the Defense Ministry and the treasury at loggerheads. This cut is crucial to fund some of the committee's social measures.

The cabinet also won't be discussing the committee's call to finally implement the law providing for free public education for all children between the ages of 3 and 4. Under the original plan, it was supposed to rule on this matter by November. It also won't be discussing plans for housing, the labor market, Haredi education and employment, Arab employment, social services, and fiscal policy, among others.

However, it will be discussing the plans for mass transportation drafted by Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg's committee. One aspect includes creating a national mass transportation authority, something the government previously approved in both 2007 and 2008.

It also will be discussing more general benchmarks for mass transit. These, too, were previously approved, in 2004 and 2007. It includes projects to improve transit within metropolitan areas by 2025, down to specifics such as bus timetables and budgets. The finance and transportation ministers are scheduled to submit a more specific plan for approval by February.

However, the ministers won't be voting on the Trajtenberg committee's plan to hold open tenders for all bus lines operated by Egged and Dan, due to the argument that this goes against the competition agreement signed with the companies through 2020.

They also won't be voting on plans designed to improve public transportation services due to a dispute between the finance and transportation ministries over where the funding would come from.

The committee had called for lowering bus and train ticket prices for students and people eligible for national insurance support; boosting the number of buses plying local and regional routes by 33%; increasing bus frequency to colleges, assisted living facilities and peripheral towns; increasing enforcement of public transportation lanes; and making more information available electronically at bus stops and online.

This plan would have cost NIS 2.5 billion, but Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz objected to his ministry having to fund half of it.