The Transportation Ministry intends to establish a unified public transport authority to better manage and regulate public transportation in cities and encourage the use of buses and trains. "Our aim is to ensure that public transportation becomes a real alternative for car owners," Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said Monday at a press conference in Tel Aviv upon the release of the Sadan Report on public transportation. "One of the main reasons for the decline in recent years in the use of public transportation is the quality of services. We believe that the integration of all public services into one authority, to be in place by the end of 2009, will make the system more efficient and public means of transport more attractive to citizens." Prof. Ezra Sadan headed a committee charged with finding a mechanism to supervise the quantity and quality of services provided by bus companies. Mofaz said the Transportation Ministry, using the recommendations of the Sadan Report, would attempt to to increase the use of public transportation from 20 percent to 30% over the next five to 10 years. "There is a serious problem of congestion and pollution in major cities of the country, and in particular in Tel Aviv," he said. "The public transportation overhaul is seeking to improve the accessibility of public transport and the service it provides. The unified transport authority will put greater emphasis on shortening journey time, increasing bus frequencies and ensuring bus and train time schedules are reliable." Tel Aviv, with a population of 370,000, has about 500,000 commuter cars daily. In 2007, there were 191,000 new cars on the roads, a 28% increase compared to 2006. To ease traffic jams and encourage use of public transport, the Sadan Report, which based its conclusions on London's transportation model, recommended the introduction of a congestion charge in central areas of cities. "We have not yet made a decision on whether to introduce a congestion charge," Transportation Ministry director-general Gideon Siterman told The Jerusalem Post Monday. "We will be debating the issue over the course of the year." Other recommendations of the Sadan Report include the development an integrated fee structure for all types of public transportation (trains, buses, shared taxis) and the introduction of "smart cards" that can be used to buy tickets. "If we compare our transportation system to those in Western countries, we are lagging about 30 years behind," Mofaz said. In a report last year comparing the local transportation system to Western standards, the Bank of Israel found that local travel by train, subway and electric bus was among the lowest in the world. "The use of public transportation in Israel was high relative to EU countries in the 1990s, but has declined dramatically in recent years - from 25% of all passenger-kilometers in 1996 to some 20% in 2005 - and its composition is problematic," the central bank said in its report. "While in EU countries it is standard to use electric buses and subways within metropolitan areas - means of mass transit that are hardly affected by road congestion - and the proportion of bus usage in total passenger-kilometers has even dropped as the standard of living has increased, in Israel it is still common to use buses only, and the use of trains is quite limited." As part of the overhaul of public transportation, Mofaz said the plan also included the continued privatization of bus routes. Until very recently there was no competition in the transportation system, because the two giants, Dan and Egged, still control parts of public transportation. Without real competition, there has been little incentive to provide better services. As a result, Israelis rely on private transportation, which increases traffic congestion, pollutes the air and undermines quality of life.