Opinion

Traffic Congestion Is Choking Israel

What is the use of making large investments in a system that clearly is not capable of meeting present and future passenger demand?

The construction site of the Tel Aviv light rail, which will run partly above ground and partly below ground.
Eyal Toueg

The bureaucrats in the Finance Ministry should calculate what the daily traffic congestion around the country is costing the Israeli economy. That is a relatively simple calculation. The average time wasted daily in traffic jams by each driver, multiplied by the number of cars stuck inching their way forward each day, multiplied by the number of working days during the year. Add the wasted fuel and the atmospheric pollution, and it will come to a substantial sum. It is a growing net loss to the Israeli economy year by year.

The bureaucrats in the Transportation Ministry should do this calculation as well. It is they and their colleagues in the Finance Ministry who are responsible for the sorry state of Israels transportation system. Years of denying funds to modernize the system, plus years of mismanagement have left us stuck in traffic jams. Israel is a twenty-first century, rapidly growing, high-tech nation with a twentieth century traffic system.

Attracting people using private cars to the use of public transportation is the challenge facing the planners of a country-wide traffic system. That takes efficient and reliable intercity railways and mass public transportation systems in the large metropolitan areas. Those travelling to the large metropolitan areas should do so by railway and use mass public transportation on arrival to go on to their destination. There should be parking places at the entrance to the city for those arriving by private vehicle and public transportation so they can reach their destination in the city. The most important building block of such a system is an efficient mass transportation system in the metropolitan area.

A mass transportation system in the greater Tel Aviv area is the key to bringing substantial relief from the current plague of traffic congestion. Is the Tel Aviv light rail currently under construction the answer?

In terms of the magnitude of investment in the project, it may very well be the largest engineering project undertaken in Israel to date. It should be run by managers with years of experience managing large projects involving many sub-contractors. There is no reason not to employ foreign experts who have experience in managing the construction of metropolitan subway systems.

No less important is the concept itself. The metropolitan Tel Aviv area is in need of an underground railway, a Metro, and not a light rail. An estimate of existing passenger demand and a projection of future demand makes that clear. What is the use of making large investments in a system that clearly is not capable of meeting present and future passenger demand? An inadequate metropolitan transportation system will leave many on the road still using private vehicles.

The present situation is the result of years of procrastination by the bureaucrats in the Finance Ministry who for years insisted that buses were the solution to all of Tel Avivs traffic problems. When the absurdity of their position became clear even to them, they were finally prepared to agree to a compromise – a light rail to run partially underground and partially above ground. Thinking they were saving money they ended up wasting money on an inadequate system.

Throwing good money after bad money is hardly the best strategy. It may be hard to admit a mistake, but better late than later.