Opinion

Israel's Electric Bikes Are More a Savior Than a Nuisance

We need them because of our backward mass transit system, but the neo-Bolsheviks in the Knesset might screw things up

An ultra-Orthodox boy riding an electric bicycle in the Mea She'arim neighborhood in Jerusalem.
Gil Cohen-Magen

Going out to a city center in Israel and coming home in one piece is no mean feat. It requires skill and combat fitness. If you’re a pedestrian, you need extraordinary agility to evade the deadly electric weapon speeding toward you. It zigzags on the sidewalk, goes through red lights, and crosses intersections diagonally.

If you’re driving a car, you have to pray not to run over a teenager riding an electric bicycle at 50 kilometers per hour (31 miles per hour), weaving in and out of traffic, not dreaming of stopping at red lights, not using a headlight or helmet. But of course he’s talking on his phone.

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On the other hand, if we accept the proposals by the neo-Bolshevik Knesset members to solve the problem, we’ll get more regulation, more bureaucracy, more rules, more government, more taxes and more clerks – until we totally annihilate the elegant, green, effective and cheap solution the free market has found to overcome the government’s greatest failure: public transport.

No country in the West is as backward as Israel in its public transportation. This is a huge failure of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and his predecessors. It’s also the reason we have a quarter-million electric bicycles, creating the highest percentage in the world. There is simply no choice.

In 2009 the Finance Ministry raised compulsory insurance payments for two-wheeled vehicles. People up to age 40 got screwed the most; the ministry raised their insurance fees by dozens of percentage points, so the annual insurance cost came to about one-third (!) the price of the scooter.

This was a bad mistake because the ministry didn’t take into account the positive effects of driving a motor scooter. The vehicle takes up less road space and less parking space, and it relieves traffic jams and cuts down on fuel consumption, air pollution and the loss of work hours.

Because of the higher insurance rates, the use of two-wheeled vehicles declined considerably. Young people bought cars and worsened the traffic jams.

And that’s exactly what will happen with electric bicycles if the neo-Bolshevik MKs win. At the forefront stands Zionist Union’s Itzik Shmuli, who is demanding compulsory registration, licensing, regulation and inspection, as befits North Korea.

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Another MK demands that teens apply for a driver’s license, as for a motorcycle, which would entail compulsory insurance at an astronomical price, higher than the price of the electric bicycle.

Meanwhile, Emilie Moatti, who will be running in the Labor Party primary, says “this roulette must be taken off the road, damn it.” She must have a large, beautiful car. She doesn’t need a bicycle. I wonder what she’ll say to the adults who go to work on electric scooters because her good, clever, utopian country doesn’t provide the proper mass transit.

There’s a way to prevent deaths on the roads. First, quickly build bicycle lanes in the clogged cities. A high budget must be allotted for this, and the enforcement method must be changed. Instead of fines, turn the offenses into criminal ones and put the offenders in jail. Every merchant who sells an electric bicycle that can exceed the speed limit must go to prison. Every rider under 16, and/or every rider who doesn’t wear a helmet or uses his phone while riding would be taken to criminal court. That would be a deterrent.

The most important thing is not to impose more regulation, bureaucracy, licensing, insurance and central control. We mustn’t eliminate the electric bicycles. It’s enough that we’ve done this with motor scooters.