Israel's roads and highways are international award winners, but for all the wrong reasons.
According to the OECD and International Monetary Fund (IMF), Israel is home to the worst traffic in the Western world. The lack of adequate investment in public transportation infrastructure and sharp increases in private cars on the road are not just a matter of rush hour commuter frustration, but have also proved to be a significant hindrance to economic growth.
According to the Finance Ministry, congestion costs the state an estimated NIS 35 billion ($9.67bn.) per year. This could double by 2040 if significant reforms are not put in place, the ministry predicts.
Yet one ambitious Tel Aviv-based NGO believes it can provide the plan to "unjam" Israel's roads, and quickly. The plan is based on principles of Mobility-as-a-Service, shifting people away from private modes of transportation to mobility solutions consumed as a service.
Founded in 2018 by former senior government official and experienced businessman Ori Yogev together with serial entrepreneur Assaf Harlap, Future Mobility aims to work with key decision-makers to implement eight immediate steps to solve Israel's traffic congestion problems.
The NGO is headed by former treasury official CEO Michal Gelbart and backed by 20 partner organizations, ranging from academic institutions to the automotive industry.
"We aren’t just coming with ideas, but working with government ministries to make them happen," Gelbart told The Jerusalem Post. "Our experience means that we can speak both the languages of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There's the Tel Aviv language of innovation, which wants to improve the country but is blinded by bureaucracy, and the Jerusalem language of government, which wants to attract the companies but doesn't have the know-how."
As the new government is formed, Gelbart said, the time is now ripe for significant reform and for Israel to join the smart mobility revolution, increasingly embraced by Western countries.
All of the NGO's recommended steps and actions, Gelbart added, are monetarily viable and executable in only one to two years, and should be implemented alongside longer term transit investments and projects.
"In order to reduce congestion by 50%, you don’t need to reduce 50% of the people. We need to reduce the number of private cars by 20% during peak hours in order to create a much larger effect," said Gelbart.
"By adopting this vision, we’re joining the views of no shortage of places in Europe, including London, Helsinki and Oslo. These are places where we see the government is very active and acts to reduce congestion," she added. "And while it's a problem, it's also a large opportunity. The first countries to promote these solutions and be the most advanced in the field will benefit from economic growth and improved welfare."
The first step of Future Mobility's plan is the promotion of shared transportation. This includes opening the market to paid ride-sharing such as Via and Lyft, promoting carpooling for intercity commuting and operating shuttle services to and from train stations.
The second step focuses on road pricing and parking pricing. While expanding the road network is not expected to alleviate congestion as it is soon matched by the increasing population and number of vehicles, road pricing should be introduced, whether by levying congestion charges instead of high vehicle taxation, or by offering incentives to drivers avoiding use of the road capacity that is lacking and implementing daily vehicle insurance models, rather than annual models.
As demand for road capacity requires management, parking management is also necessary. Measures include taxing employee parking benefits, increasing street parking rates and incentivizing municipalities to turn parking lanes into public transportation.
The third step, and key to the standard of living of all individuals, is the promotion of public transportation. In Israel, only 26% of commuters opt to use public transportation.
Recommendations include turning a portion of existing intercity highway lanes and inner-city roads into public transportation and high-occupancy vehicle lanes, closing main roads in cities to private vehicles and urgently changing the current subsidy mechanism for public transportation operators.
The fourth step, and already seen across Israeli cities, is encouraging the use of two-wheel electric vehicles, including bicycles and scooters. Measures include accelerated allocation of two-wheeler lanes, effective enforcement of safe riding, avoiding setting up a bureaucratic system of licensing and incentivizing municipalities to set up public charging stations in central locations.
The fifth step is the promotion of electric transportation. According to a 2018 study by BDO Consulting Group, switching to electric vehicles by 2035 could contribute between NIS 12bn. - NIS 28bn.
While Future Mobility praises the Energy Ministry's decision to prevent the import of gasoline or diesel-powered vehicles from 2030, it is also necessary to promote electric buses and electric trucks, and set targets for the short and medium term to ensure that the long-term 2030 target is met.
In addition, the NGO suggests locking in existing purchase tax benefits until 2022 for electric and hybrid vehicles, taxation incentives for electric cars provided by employers, promoting the installation of charging infrastructure and increased information campaigns among vehicle importers, fleet managers and the public.
The sixth step requires incentivizing municipalities to integrate smart transportation and congestion reduction. Actions include calling on large municipalities to utilize annual grants to assist integration, with priority given to municipalities of lower socioeconomic ranking.
Supported by the grant, plans for reducing traffic congestion may include measures such as public transportation lane allocation; closing off city centers to private vehicles; canceling curbside parking and joint ventures with shared vehicle and hi-tech companies.
The seventh step focuses on creating suitable regulatory environments for the promotion of technologies, especially autonomous vehicles.
Such an environment can be fostered by creating partnerships with entities promoting regulation and companies developing autonomous vehicles, and encouraging them to perform pilot tests in Israel. As the smart transportation revolution leans heavily on data, Future Mobility calls on the establishment of a vehicle data center to disseminate raw, anonymous data freely to innovators.
The final step concerns increasing the flexibility of working hours, to spread out rush hours and organizational benefits, such as raising employee productivity and satisfaction. In Israel, the Work Hour Law does not permit flexible work arrangements.
Future Mobility therefore calls for the creation of a mechanism enabling flexible work condition arrangements (hours, location and nature of work), extending the reference period for work and rest hours to a month, and performing a regional flexible employment model, including incentives for employers.
"With a new government coming in, there is a new budget to build. Our task is to include as many of our initiatives in the new economic program," said Gelbart. "The subject also has a lot of influence on reducing gaps in society and fostering distributive justice. Transportation can represent a significant barrier to integration and mobility."
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