Two weeks after the opening of the toll lane leading into Tel Aviv from the Ben
Gurion airport area, the benefits of the initially unpopular project are
beginning to become apparent, its operators say.
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After a disastrous first
day – when commuters saw the customary rush hour traffic jam at the entrance to
the city extend for kilometers longer than usual – regular use and gradual
increases in volume have quieted much of the criticism.
“We’re still not
we’ll reach capacity, and then the real value will come to light,” said Nitzan
Yotzer, head of the High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lane Administration.
HOT-lane represents a curious hybrid of socialist goals, being reached using
The lane stretches for 13 kilometers from east to
west along Highway 1 (from Ben Gurion interchange to the entrance to Tel Aviv),
alongside what is one of the country’s most congested morning rush
The goal of the project is to allow more people to enter the
metropolitan area in fewer vehicles.
HOT-lanes’ designers believe that by
providing incentives to increase use of high occupancy vehicles, fewer smaller
vehicles will enter the city. The desired result will be less pollution, parking
difficulties, accidents and traffic.
The new lane was built and is
operated by Shafir Engineering, a private company given license to operate the
toll road for 30 years before handing it over to the state.
interview with The Jerusalem Post, Harel Hanin, director of operation of the
HOT-lane, explained the various options available to the public.
first and most straightforward method of use is simply registering to use the
service, and driving down the designated lane until you reach the entrance to
the city,” Hanin said.
“The price for this use is currently six shekels,
but as volume increases, the price will go up.”
One of the unique
features of the HOT-lane is its fluctuating fare system.
measures the volume of traffic on the highway, then adjusts fares for the
HOT-lane accordingly: the higher the volume, the higher the price.
reasoning for this is that to ensure a minimum travel speed of 70 kilometers per
hour for users of the HOT-lane, the operators have to make sure that too many
vehicles don’t enter the lane.
Their method of curbing this is increasing
the price, thus reducing the incentive to use the road. It is anticipated that
during morning rush hour, the price may go up to NIS 25 per
“Once registered, the system connects a vehicle’s license plate
to the owners’ credit card, and the bills are sent automatically to the
customer,” Hanin said. “Registration is quick and updated in real-time and can
be done in person, over the phone or on our website. People can also pay for a
single use of the lane, by driving through a toll booth.”
advised of the current rate at any given time by digital signs posted before the
entrance to the lane.
Buses, taxis, and vehicles carrying multiple
passengers are allowed to use the road free of charge.
“Another method of
taking advantage of the HOT-lane is by carpooling” Hanin added. “Vehicles
carrying four passengers [in offpeak hours three passengers] are given free
entrance once the number of people in the car is verified.
In order to
take advantage of this option, drivers are required to drive through our toll
booth, located near the Shafirim interchange, where they are counted by one of
our staff members after which they are free to access the lane.”
explained that while the counting process took two or three minutes, and
extended the overall time it takes to enter the city, it was still faster than
standing in traffic.
A third option is to take advantage of the
HOT-lane’s free shuttle service.
Drivers interested in choosing this
option can leave their car at a park-and-go facility at Shafirim and use
complimentary shuttle services into Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan.
leave every five minutes during rush hour, and every 15 minutes afterwards, and
carry passengers stopping at six major destination in either city,” Hanin
“People are most surprised when they hear that this service is
completely free of charge and does not even require advanced registration,” he
added. “The saving in gas, parking and aggravation is potentially
People can save the hassle of being in Tel Aviv with a vehicle, and
even enjoy a cup of coffee while they wait for the next shuttle to
“Our whole operation here is targeted towards keeping the lane
free to carry vehicles,” he continued. “We monitor the road 24 hours a day with
video cameras to make sure there are no obstructions, we have sensors that tell
us immediately if travel speed decreases, and we make sure the shuttles leave on
time – empty or full – to ensure that people don’t wait for more than the
designated time, either on the way in to the city or on the way out. It seems
bizarre to many Israelis, but we are trying to set a standard for efficient
It’s impossible to determine the precise benefit the new lane
has created because the numbers are not made public. However, according to
Yotzer, who runs the state authority providing oversight for the project, after
two weeks of operations the signs are good.
“Today the lane is operating
at nearly 80 percent of its capacity,” Yotzer said. “Shortly we will start
putting into effect the differential pricing system and then we will really see
the whole picture. I can tell you now that the HOT-lane already carries more
people than any one highway lane, so that in a way it has already justified
Yotzer brushed aside criticism of the lane – such as claims that
it was only created to benefit wealthy drivers, that it creates a bottleneck at
the entrance in the city, or that it was a waste of money whose effects could
have been easily achieved by designating one of the existing highway routes as a
“If we were to turn one of the existing lanes into a lane for
public transportation, it would have created a transportation disaster,” Yotzer
explained. “The traffic jams that today stretch for a single digit number of
kilometers would stretch halfway to Jerusalem.
“By going ahead with this
project, we opened a new lane that didn’t exist before, and paid for it – by
charging those who are willing to pay – a premium for faster travel.
people benefit, some people’s situation remained the same as it was – but nobody
is worse off than they were before.
Regarding critics’ claims that the
new lane produced a bottleneck when it connected to the Ayalon freeway, Yotzer
said the number of lanes remained the same as before, and fewer vehicles now
used the road.
“The criticism that we heard after the first day proved to
be unfounded,” Yotzer said. “Today there were 230 vehicles parked in the Park
and Go in Shafirim – that’s hundreds of cars that didn’t enter the city. Who
knows how many more people used the bus because they could travel into the city
more quickly, saving even more vehicles from coming in? “Our challenge is not
convincing people that it’s better to pay than to stand in traffic – that’s
he continued. “Our challenge is to get people to give up
on entering the city with their cars altogether, and that is where we will focus
Yotzer said that once the concept of the HOT-lane proved
itself, he hoped similar projects would be built in other entrances to Tel
“The interest is there,” Yotzer said.
“The only obstacle is
the bureaucracy and the time it takes for projects like this to be approved,
planned and constructed.”