(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Parking in Tel Aviv, already at a premium, could become more expensive as a bold new plan seeks to reduce the number of cars on the city's streets by increasing the amount residents pay for the privilege of keeping their cars on the narrow, overburdened city-center streets and offering incentives to commuters to leave their vehicles at home.
The initiative, championed by Prof. Itzhak Benenson of Tel Aviv University, calls on the municipality to greatly increase the amount of money residents must pay for a municipal parking sticker, with the price skyrocketing for those who require more than one.
"We are currently faced with a physical limitation and we cannot change it until we do something that will reduce the number of cars that are on the city's streets," Benenson told The Jerusalem Post at a conference Monday sponsored by the Porter School of Environmental Studies at TAU and the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality.
The conference, aimed at attacking the lack of parking in the 350,000-person city, which is estimated to be 15 percent below what is needed, also provided a platform for Benenson to publicize his groundbreaking research, a conference organizer told the Post.
"The city has basically been giving street parking to residents for free and the time has come for them to start charging," Benenson said. "Some of us should give up our cars and those who do should be given a percentage of the money that the municipality collects from the sales of parking stickers."
Benenson's plan calls for a levy of NIS 2 a night for those who purchase one parking permit, with the number jumping considerably for any additional permits.
According to Benenson, his proposal is the first that suggests financial rewards for those who live in the city center and choose to give up their cars.
"If you think about it, it could really add up to a lot of money - if the municipality were to give the NIS 2 to those who relinquish their cars, if one in 10 do so, they could earn more than NIS 6,000 over the course of a year," he said.
Dr. Karel Martens, a transportation planner and lecturer at Radboud University in the Netherlands, said the radical plan was formulated as a type of "carrot and stick" philosophy.
"If we can dangle money in front of residents as a way of getting them to give up their cars, then I think this program can be successful. Plus, we hope that the higher fees that have to be paid for parking stickers will also reduce the number of cars in the center," he said, adding that if you live in the center of the city and you need a car, you are probably living in the wrong place.
However, the plan, while ambitious, will not be implemented until it receives approval from city officials, something Benenson said he is skeptical of achieving.
In addition to the lack of residential parking, another obstacle faced by those who commute into Tel Aviv is the incredible amount of congestion on the roads, most of which is caused by employees traveling around the city center..
A recent report from the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality said that some 500,000 cars enter Tel Aviv each day, squeezing into a space that is not equipped to handle such large numbers.
"To solve this problem, you need a lot of measures, but what is crucial in reducing the number of cars that enter the city is choice," Martens said.
Transport, Today and Tomorrow, an organization aimed at promoting sustainable transport in Israel, is seeking to give commuters this type of choice through the introduction of a law that is patterned after a successful initiative that the state of California began more than 10 years ago.
The California regulation, called the "cash-out law," was introduced in response to the fact that many employers would inadvertently subsidize solo driving to work by offering free spaces to their employees. This encouragement conflicted with air quality management programs whose aim it was to reduce vehicle emissions.
To reduce the number of solo drivers, the cash-out law requires businesses with at least 50 employees to offer a parking cash-out option if they subsidize parking that meets specific criteria. The cash-out option offers employees the choice of receiving the cash value of the "subsidy" if they give up their parking space.
"We have basically been forcing people to use cars by providing them with free parking, by providing cars and by giving them gas," Martens told the Post. "This law is really about giving choices in the work place and we think that it will reduce the number of cars that come into the city on a daily basis by about 10%. If we get 10% of the drivers to stop driving into the city because they choose the money instead, that will really make the difference between having congestion on the road and not having congestion."
The law is set to be presented in the Knesset within the next three weeks, Transport, Today and Tomorrow CEO Tamar Keynon told the Post.