Transportation and education funding will be the 2013 budget’s two main priorities, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said Thursday at the fourth annual Israeli Transportation Conference in Ramat Gan.

He spoke at length about the government’s economic achievements, reiterating that it would continue to focus on maintaining strong economic growth and low unemployment.

By investing in transportation infrastructure, Steinitz said, the government not only serves the public but also attracts foreign investment.

“Public transportation is not just there for social justice,” he said. “It is not just there to provide Karmiel, Beit She’ an, Yeroham and Dimona residents with a better connection to the center of the country. It is part of a comprehensive macroeconomic policy that deals not only with the present but also with strengthening the economy.”

Steinitz and Transportation Minister Israel Katz signed an agreement with the Dan bus company on the conference sidelines, committing the public transportation operator to the transferal of 11 percent of its activities to other operators. Following previous similar agreements, Dan has now distributed 25% of its total activity to other operators.

Under the agreement, Dan must increase the number of buses it operates in correlation with increases in passenger demand.

The company will be prohibited from public transportation tenders, although its subsidiaries will be permitted to apply for tenders published anywhere apart from central Israel before the year 2020.

Dan’s bus lines, which operate in the greater Tel Aviv area, will be divided into a number of clusters to make it easier for the Transportation Ministry to monitor performance.

Should Dan fail to comply with service standards outlined under the agreement, the ministry will have the power to allocate bus lines to other operators.

The agreement would ensure fair competition for new bus operators, Katz said in a press statement. This was the first time the government and an operator have agreed on exact service standards, he said, adding that it improved his ministry’s ability to monitor public transportation activity.

Katz gave the opening speech at the conference and was interrupted by a young environmental activist who challenged him to answer when he last traveled on a bus.

“I traveled far more on the bus in my youth than you have in your entire life,” Katz told her. “I was born in a place [Ashkelon] where buses were a luxury. Where were all of you the last 10 years when the Gush Dan area needed public transportation reforms? Today, I have a more important job than traveling on the bus, and that is to make sure that those who use public transportation do so in comfort.”

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger