Mayor Ron Huldai must stop holding hostage the residents of south Tel Aviv and approve the plan to move bus operations out of the new central bus station. It will be determined Friday whether the relocation of this bus traffic – a transportation and environmental hazard responsible for air pollution in the area that exceeds legal limits by dozens of percentage points – will be postponed until 2027, at the earliest.
After two decades of protests and criticism by both residents and transportation experts, the Transportation Ministry and the Tel Aviv municipality announced in August that they had reached agreement, including financing, to close the station. Huldai, who has served as city mayor for 23 years, has a reputation as a leader who is not afraid to take courageous steps for his residents, even if they are controversial or lead to disagreements with government ministries. But since that announcement in August, he has demonstrated weakness. The price will be paid, once again, by residents of the Neve Sha’anan and Shapira neighborhoods.
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After the funding issue was settled (in a way that did not require the city to share any of the expenses) with businessman Yosef Maiman’s Nitsba, the company operating the bus terminal, Huldai found a new excuse for reneging on his promises. He began calling the site to which most of the bus operations are slated to be relocated (Beit Panorama) a “municipal nature site” that ought to be preserved. But residents know this site as a trash-filled ruin that the municipality ignored completely until now.
This excuse has been ridiculed by both area residents and the government ministries involved in drafting the relocation plan. It has even embarrassed the municipality’s professional staffers, who are perplexed about Huldai’s hidden motives for delaying the closure.
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The next day is critical because if Nitsba isn’t told otherwise by the end of the month, its contract with the Transportation Ministry will automatically be renewed for an additional four years (starting from its original ending date in 2023).
It’s not too late to reach agreements. Conversations are being held with the Transportation Ministry, and there is no shortage of solutions. Huldai could approve use of the Beit Panorama site or find an alternative location. This weekend, we will know whether Huldai is capable of setting aside his own motivations and ego and truly act on behalf of the welfare of residents, or whether he will instead be responsible for the continuation of one of the city’s worst failures.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.