MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and MK Yariv Levin (Likud-Beytenu) launched the Sustainable Transportation Lobby in the Knesset on Tuesday, in the hopes of making public transportation more accessible and enabling comfortable travel via modes other than private cars.

“It’s time that we leave behind the assumption that transportation occurs only by car – transportation is not only on four wheels,” Zandberg said.

“The goal of the lobby is not only ideological, but also practical. We ask, and ask here what it would take to get past the current situation where we rely on the private car, what would it take to turn the tide and create accessible transportation and the option to choose.”

The first meeting of the new lobby was the keynote event at the Knesset’s annual Environment Day, which this year occurred one day before the United Nations-sponsored World Environment Day. In honor of the day, both Zandberg and MK Dov Henin (Hadash) arrived to the Knesset by bus, while MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud-Beytenu) rode his bike.

Emphasizing that the lobby hopes to have both environmental and social ramifications, Zandberg said that an increased use of bicycles and walking will help reduce toxic emissions. Meanwhile, she added, a diverse array of transport options will help achieve accessibility and thereby social equality.

“The issue of public transportation should become a national mission – we must... encourage the government to invest in public transportation,” said Levin, co-founder of the lobby.

“This issue affects employment opportunities, health, accessibility and reaching places of recreation and culture,” Levin argued. “We need to try once again for a breakthrough on this issue.”

The Likud-Beytenu MK stressed that in his previous Knesset term, the first thing he did was try to set up a lobby to promote public transportation, where the members aimed to achieve breakthroughs in policy and practice.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz agreed that much more needs to be done to improve public transportation, acknowledging that public transport in the Gush Dan region particularly, lags behind the rest of the modern world.

While public transportation is critical to society, it is very difficult to set in motion, according to Katz.

“I would welcome an additional NIS 250 billion for development of roads and public transportation in Israel,” he said. Katz did stress, however, that he does not understand “the war against the private car.”

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz, who was also present at the lobby launch, said that his ministry has no intention of being an obstacle to development projects such as those that take place within the transportation sector, only noting that his office’s job is “to take care of the smoke behind the vehicle.” Sometimes, he said, bureaucratic barriers can have values.

“Not every bus that is painted green emits less exhaust – do not be impressed by the use of green that is often deceptive and unfair,” Peretz said.

“I hope that we reach the Transportation Ministry, which is the transportation body that has the right to assign the green tag for real and not in vain,” he added.

The transportation sector would have the opportunity to be more sustainable if the government allocated large amounts of natural gas to the industry, Peretz added. He slammed the Zemach Committee, which submitted natural gas allocations to the government this fall, for failing to allot enough gas to transportation.

At the lobby’s opening session, government officials and representatives of several organizations also presented data from various reports recently compiled about the transportation sector.

One report, prepared by the Knesset’s Center for Research and Information at Zandberg’s request, revealed that Israel’s public transportation level is much lower than that of other developed countries and even of some developing countries. According to the report, the investment in public transportation in Israel is 86 percent lower than the global average: 1,400 euros per resident per year as opposed to 10,000 euros per resident per year.

Dr. Arie Wenger – head of the air and energy department at Adam Teva V’Din- Israel Union for Environmental Defense – presented a report from his organization that explores the correlation between the reduction of greenhouse gases and the promotion of public transportation in Israel. One’s greenhouse gas emissions from travel by private car are 60% higher than travel by public transportation, the report found.

The report demonstrated that shortening travel time on public transportation by 10% will increase the usage of public transportation by 4%, while a 50% improvement in the frequency of public transportation availability would increase the amount of passengers by 25%.

“While modern countries in the world see the promotion of public transportation infrastructure as one of the main ways to cope with air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, in Israel not only has a bold and innovative program not been presented for public transportation, but also the meager plans that did exist are being cut,” said Adam Teva V’Din executive director Amit Bracha ahead of the presentation at the lobby.

Projections commissioned by the Transportation and Finance Ministry have shown that in the coming years Israel needs to spend about NIS 265b. on infrastructure for metropolitan public transportation if it wishes to bridge the gap between it and other developed nations, according to the NGO. Over the span of 25 years, this would amount to about NIS 10.6b. per year.

Tamar Keinan, head of Transportation Today and Tomorrow, likewise presented data about Israel’s low investment in public transportation. She stressed that even if public transport budgets do increase in the coming years, officials must plan very carefully exactly how that budget will be used and create solutions for the entire population.

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