Ridesharing, are Israelis ready to not travel solo to save environment

Do they think the new slogan, “Whoever travels alone, arrives later,” will bring about a change in Israelis’ driving habits?

Photo of road in Israel (photo credit: AVSHALOM SHOSHANI)
Photo of road in Israel
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SHOSHANI)
What factors influence Israelis in their decision whether or not to take public transportation?
“We’re actually investigating that exact question right now,” says Dr. Yuval Hadas, of the Department of Management at Bar-Ilan University. “Our aim is to discover which variables influence people’s decisions regarding modes of transport, and specifically what affects people’s desire to give rides to other passengers in their own car. Everyone has a different outlook.”
A couple of months ago, the Ministry of Transport and Road Safety rolled out a new strategy called Netiv Plus, which involves the creation of special lanes for public transportation, and lanes for carpools of two or more people were inaugurated on the Ayalon and other highways to encourage people to take public transportation or drive in a carpool.
On Highway 2, for example, a special 22 km-long lane between Netanya and Glilot Intersections was opened in both directions. This lane is for public transportation and cars with at least two people (a driver plus one passenger). On Highway 20, a special northbound lane was created for public transport and cars with at least two passengers in the section of the road between Mevo Ayalon and Kibbutz Galuyot intersections.
According to Transportation Ministry data, the average number of passengers in private cars driving on Israel’s roads is only 1.2 people per car. By increasing this figure, we could bring about a significant improvement in commute times and average speeds by reducing the number of vehicles on the road.
These lanes, which went into effect in December 2019, garnered a bit of criticism as well from people driving on their own in their cars, and therefore could not take advantage of the new carpool/ public transport lanes. They complained that their commute time actually increased. People who brought passengers with them, and so were able to drive in the new lanes, also did not report any significant improvement. This could be due to the fact that until the end of the initial grace period, no tickets were given to single drivers who used the new lane.
The Transportation Ministry clarified that the new lane has not been in operation very long, “and therefore the initial reports about the lane’s success or lack of success were not very reliable, since they were based on such a limited amount of data, and bus and private drivers were still getting used to the new arrangement.”
SO, ARE Israelis ready to engage in ridesharing? And do they think the new slogan, “Whoever travels alone, arrives later,” will bring about a change in Israelis’ driving habits?
A number of similar initiatives have been introduced in Israel over the years, including apps and incentives aimed at encouraging ridesharing, but apparently, not many of them have had much of an impact on Israelis’ driving behavior. The Environmental Protection Ministry offered incentives, as have private companies like Waze, Uber and Moovit. In addition, a number of private businesses and local authorities initiated their own programs, but it doesn’t appear that the trend has been long lasting.
In 2017, MK Merav Ben-Ari and MK Merav Michaeli submitted a bill in the Knesset that would encourage ridesharing, while maintaining fair competition for taxi drivers.
“Adapting to ridesharing requires that our society make behavioral changes. For example, people need to be willing to travel with someone they don’t know. Sometimes, they might have to go a little bit out of their way to pick up a passenger, or wait somewhere for a potential passenger to arrive. It also means they won’t have privacy for calls or other issues during their ride,” explains Hadas. “There’s also the issue of gender and age differences, although there are solutions for all of these issues.
“However, there are also the positive economic benefits from ridesharing, namely people’s savings in money and time. The purpose of the new lanes is to shorten travel time. For example, the “Fast Lane” from Shapirim Intersection towards Tel Aviv, which is free if you have a certain number of passengers, is a great incentive aimed at getting people to change their behavior.
“It’s not always so straightforward. For example, if I took a passenger with me in the morning on my way to work, that person doesn’t necessarily finish at the same time as me, so it can get complicated. Another issue that comes up with ridesharing is parking. Companies can encourage ridesharing by offering a parking space first to people arriving with at least one passenger.”
The study that’s currently being carried out is looking into which variables have the strongest influence over whether Israelis are willing to engage in ridesharing, and which incentives actually work.
“We’re just beginning our research,” says Hadas. “It will take some time until we reach any conclusions.”
“It comes down to education and awareness,” adds Jonathan Pietra, marketing manager at SC Johnson, which is pushing its employees to share rides with coworkers.
“This is just one part of our overall push to be more vigilant of our environment. We asked what we could do to push this agenda, and one idea was to go completely green in our office. We no longer offer any disposable cups or silverware, and we’ve decreased our traveling to a minimum. For example, we recently held an office event in Jerusalem, and instead of all of us driving alone in our car, we organized carpools for everyone it so that all the cars were full. Or if two of us have a meeting with a client, we go together in one car.”
Is everyone happy to go along with these changes?
“Yeah, everyone’s pretty into it. We all understand where it’s coming from, so that makes us all feel like it’s is important for each of us to do our part to protect the environment.”
“The new Transportation Ministry commercial starring chef Jonathan Rushfeld encouraging people to engage in ridesharing, is wonderful, but it takes time for new trends to really take off,” says Dr. Michal Shapira, Head of the Department of Advertising and Marketing at Ono Academic College.
“Ridesharing is currently a hot topic all over the world, and lots of private companies, like Uber, are jumping on the bandwagon. In most other industries, people who aren’t interested in participating in new ventures are not negatively affected. For example, if you don’t want to rent an Airbnb, you can still rent a hotel room. With ridesharing, however, people who don’t take passengers in their car are blocked from driving in carpool lanes, making their commute longer, since traffic in the rest of the lanes has increased.”
Do you think the increased traffic will encourage everyone to start traveling by carpool?
“Well, it’s a matter of education and changing driving culture in Israel. There will always be people for whom this is not a practical solution, and unfortunately they are ending up having a longer drive to work. There will be serious growing pains before we start seeing the benefits. Luckily, Israelis are pretty open to engaging with strangers, so I believe in the end this trend will last. Having others in your car is obviously not great for people, though, who like making work-related or personal calls during their drive into or home from work.”
“One of the reasons Israel has been such a successful start-up nation is because we’re open to innovations and changes,” says Hila Hadad-Hamalnik, VP of projects at the Transportation Ministry.
“Israelis adapt to new circumstances pretty quickly. Since Europeans in general use more public transportation than Israelis do, this trend picked up relatively quickly. Even in the US, the number of carpools is growing rapidly. There’s a carpool lane on the highway connecting San Francisco to Silicon Valley, as well as in many other American cities. In fact, carpool lanes were introduced in the US up to 20 years ago, but were not overly successful at the time. Apparently, they were ahead of their time. Slowly, everyone is finally reaching the conclusion that if we want to save our planet, we need to change driving behavior, and ridesharing is a good way to accomplish this.”

Translated by Hannah Hochner.