Trucks to be barred from Dan-region during morning rush

Transport Minister lambasts Tel Aviv Light Rail failure.

By RON FRIEDMAN
October 7, 2010 05:06
GREEN COURSE activists wear masks

GREEN COURSE activists 311. (photo credit: Yochi Jacobson)

Starting on January 1, heavy trucks will be forbidden from entering metropolitan Tel Aviv between 6 and 9 a.m., Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) announced on Wednesday.

He initiated the experiment in an effort to reduce morning rush hour traffic and air pollution.

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Katz made his announcement in an address before the annual public transportation conference, held at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.

“Following the success of a similar initiative in Jerusalem, which saw travel times into the city reduced substantially, the ministry decided to try it out in Tel Aviv, too. A specially formed steering committee is currently conducting a detailed examination of the routes to determine the present levels of traffic and decide on the placement of the signs. The committee will accompany the pilot project throughout the entire process, collecting data on things like air and noise pollution, to determine the success of the initiative,” he said.

Katz also spoke candidly about the failure of the Tel Aviv Light Rail project, following the collapse of negotiations between the government and the private consortium that won the tender to build and operate the subway line and the nationalization of the project by the government.

“In the spirit of these days of introspection, I must say that the current condition of public transportation in the Dan region is one of the biggest failures of the Israeli government since the formation of the state,” Katz said. “However the government is willing and ready to take up the reigns and see the project through. Next week we will present the cabinet with a decision proposal stating that the governmentowned Metropolitan Mass Transit System company will be charged with completing the Red Line of the light rail project by the end of 2017 and the rest of the lines within 10 years.”

Katz said that in the meantime, his ministry would concentrate on improving the situation in Tel Aviv by focusing on the existing means of public transportation, including completing the reorganization of the metropolitan bus network, creating a national public transportation information center and smart bus stations, and introducing a congestion toll and differentiated parking mechanisms.

While a majority of the speakers at the conference agreed that a light rail system was the best long-term solution for the Dan region, there was a lively debate on what solution could work in the interim years and whether Israel was up to the challenge of completing such a difficult and ambitious project.

Hadash MK Dov Henin said the government’s decision to take the project away from private enterprise and into state hands was the right one, but that the quickest solution would be to switch from light rail to a bus-based system.

“The region needs a solution now, not one that our children and grandchildren will enjoy. A big city like Tel Aviv needs a solution that is like a subway system but without the complexity and expenses of a subway,” Henin said. “The best solution is a system that can take people from place to place in a way that is quick, convenient, cheap and frequent. We need to look at the big picture and construct an entire network of above ground public transportation routes. Today people can make it into the city quickly and easily by train, but they get stuck once they get here. If we want people to stop using cars, we need to provide them with a realistic alternative.”

Meretz MK Nitzan Horovitz’s proposed giving up on the dream of a subway in favor of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.

“For decades we were sold on the idea of a metro in Tel Aviv, but there is no justification for it. The reasoning was never rational and it was always about politics and public relations.

True trains have a better reputation than buses, but the cost of a BRT network is a third of that of a light rail network and takes far less time to build,” Horovitz said. “A properly designed system, like those which exist in countries all over the world, would enjoy all the advantages of an underground system, but without the expenditure.”

The Finance Ministry representative at the conference, outgoing transportation department director Uri Adiri, said that while the ministry believed that light rail was a good solution for the long term, in the short and medium term, other solutions would be necessary. He spoke about installing a temporary BRT system until the light rail project was complete, about reorganizing the existing bus system to better serve the public, and installing and enforcing the use of separate public transportation lanes.

“The Finance Ministry is willing to fund such actions and I know there is a willingness in the Transportation Ministry as well as in the municipality,” Adiri said.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said the major impediment to upgrading public transportation in the Tel Aviv area was a lack of cooperation between the relevant bodies and the lack of a central authority to put in place and oversee the proposed solutions.

“All over the world there are metropolitan authorities that take responsibility for constructing and administrating mass transit systems. Here in the Dan region we have just such a system for administrating water and sewage, and it works great. The problem is that no one is willing to give up their authority. What are needed is bold moves, only no one wants to take them and the transportation ministers who replace each other every year and a half on average don’t have the will,” Huldai said. “If I could, I would immediately establish a central regional transportation authority, create a system of routes exclusively for buses, double the number of buses and make them operate more efficiently.”

Outside the conference, the student-run Green Course environmental group held a protest accusing Katz and Huldai of failing to see through the necessary changes in Tel Aviv’s bus system. Two demonstrators wearing masks with the faces of Katz and Huldai were dressed up as construction workers who had left a job midway.

Passersby joined the protest and complained about long waiting times for buses, crowded buses and lack of enforcement by police against drivers who use designated bus routes.


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