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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
National environmental student organization Green Course will launch a campaign advocating expanded public transportation on Friday with a massive rally in the capital. Taking advantage of the installation of a new transportation minister, Yisrael Katz (Likud), Green Course will step up the pressure to push public transportation high up on the list of national priorities.
Ahead of the rally, to be held in front of the Mashbir department store in downtown Jerusalem, the organization released a set of demands regarding specific improvements to public transport. They call on Katz to formulate a long-term master plan for sustainable transportation, in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Treasury. They also demand increased planning and budgeting for public transportation infrastructure.
Financially, Green Course asks for lower ticket prices and a set of incentives for the private sector to encourage public transportation instead of private cars. It suggests assistance to employers who advocate for use of mass transit by their employees, and tax breaks for using public transport.
In addition, buses and trains needed to come more frequently and run for more hours each day, and passengers should have more readily available information about routes and times, Green Course said.
In accordance with worldwide trends, it also advocates designated bus lanes, so buses will not be in competition with private cars, but instead have a clear run. Haifa has recently put in place such lanes to encourage public transportation.
Finally, the group calls for the emergence of a national public transportation authority to coordinate efforts and promote public transportation.
While many cities have buses and there is a rail network, Israel lags far behind other places around the world that have taken public transportation to the next level. Here in Israel, the culture still heavily favors private transportation, Itamar Taharlev told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. Taharlev runs Green Course's team of Jerusalem lobbyists.
"There has never been a culture of public transportation here. While government projects are beginning to get a budget, there's still little emphasis put on it both in the government and by the public. The public hasn't yet made the shift to endorsing public transportation," Taharlev said.
"The culture in Israel is very car-oriented. For example, every soldier who finishes his mandatory service still fantasizes about owning a car. Among the Arab population, which is very poor and doesn't have a good public transportation infrastructure, they rely heavily on cars. And maintaining the cars only adds to their heavy economic burden," he said.
Public transportation has three general benefits: It closes social gaps by enabling access to everyone, the country directly profits from ticket sales, and it reduces air pollution by taking more cars off the road, Taharlev said.
"Margaret Thatcher once said that if you don't own a car by the time you are 30, then you are a loser. It's a status symbol in the Western world, it differentiates us from the developing world," Taharlev said.
And yet, "It's a sort of social-economic jail for the weaker populations [having to rely on a car]. They can't escape from poverty," he declared.
There's also a very big lobby that advocates the personal-car culture, he noted.
"There's a bourgeois lobby, aligned with the leasing companies. Even Or Yarok advocates the car culture indirectly. By championing safe driving, they are still advocating the personal-car culture," Taharlev said.
While government ministries are following world trends and putting more budgets behind public transportation projects, it is up to the NGOs to really push the issue up the national agenda, he said.
"How far it goes depends on how much work the NGOs do. It depends how much they know about other models around the world," he asserted. Models that should be examined combine designated lanes, fast stops and smart cards, he said.
Green Course has been running a campaign in Jerusalem for several months already. It formed a forum of local residents called "15 minutes" and has fought for and gotten better lines to the Hebrew University and from Ma'aleh Adumim, among other things. Its goal is access to the city's main sites within 15 minutes. It also want more bus terminals in the city to enhance service.
Taharlev noted that there were many Anglos involved in the campaign.
"Even though they are socioeconomically well off, they come from a culture of public transportation, so it's an important issue for them," he said.