A consortium of transportation NGOs organized a national “day of rage” on Sunday morning to demand the Transportation Ministry adopt an emergency plan to alleviate chronic traffic jams that result in tedious commutes.
At 9 a.m., drivers across the country honked their horns in unison for one minute to protest long commutes that they believe are propagated by an outdated transportation infrastructure.
Noting that an additional 500,000 vehicles have been introduced to the nation’s already overcrowded roadways in the past two years alone, Yossi Saidov, founder of “15 Minutes,” a public transportation activist NGO, said it was time for an overhaul.
“We’ve got a traffic jam problem in Israel, and we need better public transportation, including more direct lines for buses and trains in city centers all over Israel,” Saidov said Sunday. “We all suffer from this problem of the amount of time we are forced to spend on the road. It doesn’t matter if you are in a private car or using public transportation, everybody is wasting a lot of hours stuck in traffic jams. And we want the government to take immediate emergency steps to solve the problem, which we have addressed with an action plan.”
The five-page emergency plan devised by several transportation NGOs – including 15 Minutes, Lobby 99 and Green Course – calls for the Transportation Ministry to prioritize 80% of its budget to improve public transportation; add multiple bus lanes and stops across the country; increase the frequency of bus and train routes to major employment centers; create coordination between bus and train stops; increase bike paths; and create a public transportation advisory board to implement the changes.
“Israeli citizens waste every day in traffic jams,” the NGOs said in a joint statement. “The economic damage caused by the loss of work and leisure hours is estimated at NIS 35 billion a year, as well as dramatic damage to the quality of life of many Israelis.”
Deeming driving conditions a national crisis that is “unbearable, and only getting worse,” the consortium said 30 MKs across party lines have approved the action plan they devised, which calls for immediate government mobilization.
“If the solution is not adopted, within a few years, the waiting time in traffic jams as we know it today will double,” they cautioned.
Meanwhile, the NGOs said that 70% of Israelis surveyed across the country said they were willing to use public transportation if it would lessen commutes.
“Immediate investments in public transportation will rescue Israel from the traffic jam,” said 15 Minutes CEO Gil Jacob. “More public transport routes and direct routes to employment areas will clear congested roads and shorten travel times for all passengers.”
Yaya Fink, founder and CEO of Lobby 99, said galvanizing public support for the plan is critical to its success.
“Instead of sitting in traffic jams every day, we propose to the public to be part of a significant battle over the future of transportation in Israel,” said Fink. “If you, too, are tired of the traffic jams, help us implement the emergency plan to remove them. We have reached a point where it is almost impossible to move. The traffic jams paralyze us, taking precious time away from our families, work and lives.”
According to Yael Shemer, leader of Green Course, the government has misdirected billions of shekels toward private transportation while ignoring public solutions, and in the process, increased air pollution.
“The state of transportation in Israel is the result of a long-standing policy, in which the government invests billions of public funds in promoting infrastructure for private vehicles only, and not for public transportation,” she said. “And over 2,000 people are sacrificing their lives each year as a result of pollution. The government of Israel must begin to take care of ‘quality-of-life issues’ and to adopt without delay the emergency plan.”
“The traffic jams are the result of the neglect of public transport systematically. It is time to shout about it,” Shemer said.