Environmentalists slam ministry on public transport

Green course describes Transportation Ministry budgeting priorities as out of touch, says it leaves Israelis "stuck in traffic."

Traffic jam 370 (photo credit: reuters)
Traffic jam 370
(photo credit: reuters)
The environmental activism movement Green Course slammed the Transportation Ministry for allocating the majority of its funds to private transportation projects and leaving Israelis “stuck in traffic.”
Members of the group stood outside the Public Transportation Day Conference at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque Thursday, demonstrating against Transportation Minister Israel Katz and blaming him for giving priority to private over public transportation. The ministry budgets 63 percent of its finances to private transportation and only 37% to public, information from the movement said.
“We must increase the public transportation budget and especially the buses clause, at the expense of private vehicle infrastructure,” said Mor Gilboa, Green Course executive director. “This is the only solution for the traffic congestion in major cities and for air pollution. We must put a clause about public transportation into the Planning and Building Law.”
Green Course members have drafted a proposal demanding such an addition.
First and foremost, the activists complained that the ministry was abandoning public transportation – building more and more roads and only worsening the problem of traffic created by private cars in Israel.
In addition, the group accused the ministry of failing to execute ample public transportation lines connecting the periphery to the center and spreading the buses too thin during rush hour.
“Why are there lines that stop activity during evening hours despite the fact that there is a real need for them during these hours?” the activists asked in a statement.
Many of the public transportation routes promised to the public have not been established, and often, passengers must wait as long as 45 minutes at stations, without the electronic boards that are supposed to display bus times, according to Green Course. Almost every city in Israel suffers from severe public transportation problems, the movement charged.
“Honorable Minister Israel Katz, when is the last time you traveled by public transportation?” they asked.
The total budget of the Transportation Ministry for 2011 to 2012 was NIS 14 billion and of that amount, the total earmarked for buses was NIS 3.3b., or 23% of the budget, said Green Course.
Another NIS 2b., or 14% of the budget, was allocated to Israel Railways for train traffic.
Projects such as the Gush Dan light rail and the rapid transit bus have remained “stuck” for the duration of Katz’s tender, the activists argued. Meanwhile, Katz has promoted the construction of a third lane on Road 4 from Ashdod to the country’s center, but has refused to place a public transportation lane on the road, they added.
“Israel Katz failed in his role as Transportation Minister for the past four years – he has one last opportunity to fix and improve part of the miserable situation in which we find ourselves,” said Racheli El-Shay, Green Course coordinator Ilan University.
“A state considered developed truly is not one in which every poor person has a private car but one in which the rich use public transportation,” she said, paraphrasing Mahatma Gandhi. “It is about time that someone wakes up in the Transportation Ministry and bravely leads a correct and intelligent transportation future.”
In response, the Transportation Ministry said that Green Course’s claims were false and “inconsistent with reality.”
The ministry is currently promoting a three-year revolutionary plan to revamp public transportation across the country and to encourage its use over private cars, the ministry said. Meanwhile, about 60% to 70% of the ministry’s budget of NIS 10b. has been allotted to projects related to public transportation, and in the coming years, the office said it expects to invest billions more.
About a year ago, the steady decline in the usage of public transportation in the Gush Dan region began to slowed down. This trend will be further reversed by a future light rail system and subway that are under construction, according to the ministry.
In Jerusalem, the light rail takes about 100,000 passengers per day around the city, and soon the Haifa region will be home to the rapid transit Metronit bus lines, the ministry said. The Sharon region now also features its own bus rapid transit system.
Thus far, 850 electronic screens have been installed at bus stations around the country, and over the next three years, 3,000 more are to be installed.
The smart Rav-Kav card has allowed passengers to switch modes of transportation due to ease in ticket purchasing, and soon a card-reader will be installed on the outside of buses so that riders can “opt out” of paying the driver and enter through the back door, the ministry added.
As for the location of train stations, all stations now are being built in or near cities, as opposed to in the past, according to the ministry.
On roads, while the Transportation Ministry promotes the creation and operation of public transportation lanes all over the country, the enforcement of these lanes is up to the police, the ministry said.