Gridlock in Israel Courtesy of Transportation Minister

Sectorial considerations cannot be allowed to triumph over the public interest, and public transportation solutions must be implemented.

A user scans for an available vehicle using the Uber Technologies Inc.'s app on an  iPhone.
A user scans for an available vehicle using the Uber app on an iPhone. Bloomberg

Over the past five years Israel has been battling to reduce the cost of living. There have been many committees, recommendations and reforms, but despite all the efforts one cannot say there have been any dramatic achievements.

Reducing the cost of living spurs harsh resistance from interested parties that profit from high prices. Importers, local manufacturers, financiers, food producers, farmers, large unions and professional guilds have all managed to erect effective barriers to competition that have brought the cost of living to this point. The Finance Ministry encounters repeated opposition from sectors that know how to harness their political power to protect their livelihoods. One such group is taxi drivers.

A series of articles that appeared recently in TheMarker have pointed to the serious failings in Israel’s public transportation system. Most prominent is the enormous, years-long delay in developing mass transit systems, like trains, but there is also the state’s preference for investing in road infrastructure and encouraging the use of private cars rather than public transportation. The result is inefficient public transportation, heavy traffic and traffic jams, and serious harm to the economy as a result of lost work time, road accidents, wasted land resources and air pollution.

One would expect the government to adopt creative and aggressive solutions to avoid gridlock in the country’s metropolitan areas. Such a solution is now the subject of dispute between the treasury and the Transportation Ministry – the use of ride-sharing applications like Uber, a service being utilized successfully in the United States and Europe. It’s far cheaper than using a regular taxi, increases demand, and because it’s based on advanced technology, allows the more efficient use of existing resources. Of course, it also makes it possible for car owners to leave their vehicles at home more often, thus reducing traffic congestion.

But Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz opposes the service’s entry into Israel for fear it will harm taxi drivers, who have a lot of power in the Likud Central Committee. The Finance Ministry is prepared to compensate the drivers for possible loss of income, but Katz is being stubborn. The courage he demonstrated in opening the nation’s ports to competition has vanished here. He is blocking a progressive solution that would allow millions of Israelis to move along city streets quickly and inexpensively.

This week the ministry asked the public to make suggestions for adding regular routes to the sherut shared taxi system. The announcement gives the impression of a service-oriented approach, but it’s hardly enough. Only a full array of solutions, from shared taxis to all models of ride sharing, will help clear the traffic jams. Sectorial considerations cannot be allowed to triumph over the public interest yet again.