Tel Aviv under construction

Transit to connect the White City with surrounding cities encounters roadblocks en route to completion

Tel Aviv light rail impacts status quo. (Yocheved Laufer)
Everywhere you go in Tel Aviv you can see continuous construction in the works: new housing complexes, street leveling, soon-to-be erected fashion malls – and until 2024, Tel Aviv’s Light Rail Transit.
The Tel Aviv light rail is a “mega project,” Sharon Volfer, the VP for Resources at NTA, the company heading the construction of the up and coming transport system, told In Jerusalem. The light rail’s Red Line is expected to span across a total of 24 kilometers and will connect Tel Aviv to Bat Yam, Petah Tikva, Ramat Gan and Bnei Brak, he said.
There are currently 10 light rail stations under construction for the Red Line: five in Tel Aviv, two in Ramat Gan, another two in Bnei Brak and one in Petah Tikva.
“Two hundred thousand people are expected to use the Red Line per day, which will hopefully change the lives of many people in Tel Aviv and the surrounding metropolis,” said Volfer. The Red Line is expected to be ready for use in October 2021, and is the first of the four routes in the project slated to be completed.
Over the Sukkot holiday in October, NTA featured an interactive sample car display in central Tel Aviv of how the Red Line train car is expected to look. The display was prominently located on the corner of Rothschild Street, across from Habima Theater so that “the public can come see the vehicle and give feedback to help in the design stage,” explained Volfer.
Carl Yonker, a resident of Tel Aviv who visited the light rail display with his wife and baby, told IJ that he is “excited to see the whole project in its completion.”
Yonker is currently a student at Tel Aviv University in Ramat Aviv, where the Red Line won’t reach, and therefore it will not be affecting his daily routine. Nevertheless, Yonker and his wife are affected by the noise of the construction throughout the Tel Aviv area and suffer a longer commute to work as they pass the future stations of the Red Line. Even so, Yonker believes that the Red Line “brings Israel, and Tel Aviv in particular, forward in regard to public transportation.”
While the construction for the light rail started in 2015, the final project is expected to be realized in 2024, in the hope of eventually serving more than a half million people a day in the Gush Dan area with the addition of the three other lines. These additional lines, the Purple, Green and Brown lines are contracted to have light rail stations in Herzliya, Yehud-Monosson, Givatayim, Givat Shmuel Or Yehuda, Holon, Rishon Lezion, Lod, Ramle and Be’er Ya’acov.
According to Volfer, the light rail will “greatly affect all businesses near the lines and all the cities in the metropolitan area” by making them more accessible.
However, until the light rail is up and running, businesses have been hurt due to the ongoing construction in the vicinity of their shops.
Boss Mode, an upscale men’s clothing store located on the corner of Rothschild Boulevard and Herzl Street suffered from a decline in sales for almost a year when the light rail project was announced.
“The media warned the public not to come to Tel Aviv because of the construction,” Orna Daniel, owner of Boss Mode, said. “It was a catastrophe. People were scared of the traffic and called the store asking for deliveries, when in reality the situation hasn’t changed much.” Daniel had to explain to her customers that the media reports were exaggerating the situation and that construction was not so bad near her store. She added that her daily commute from Ramat Gan to the store in central Tel Aviv has been lengthened by only about 10 minutes due to the construction.
In spite of the decline in sales due to the lack of customers outside the city wanting to travel to Tel Aviv while the light rail construction is taking place, Daniel is hopeful that the completion of the project will bring about new customers.
“I am sure that the light rail will skyrocket the sales once it is completed,” Daniel said, explaining that a station on Herzl Street is slated to be built in very close proximity to Boss Mode. However, she added that the construction for that station has not started yet, and she is concerned about new roadblocks arising from the construction of a station so close to her business.
While the owners of Boss Mode have yet to be directly affected by the construction of the light rail station near the store, Rachamim Aviv, the owner of the well-known hummus shop in central Tel Aviv, Hummus Rachmu, located next to where the Yehudit station of the Red Line is to being built, has suffered tremendously from the light rail construction.
Dubbed Rachmu Hagadol (Rachmu the Great), the shop has been a haven for delicious food for 55 years, as underscored by the wall of pictures in his restaurant featuring Rachmu and various celebrity guests that visited the restaurant throughout the years.
“The place is empty,” Aviv said. “The workload has decreased by 80% since the construction started and I had to fire my employees. I’m not young and nobody cares,” Aviv added, frustrated. He said that the shops along the construction of the light rail were promised benefits, but “even on the phone, no one will listen to us.”
He explained that because it is his own place, he is holding on and not closing. “I’m alone on the strip now,” Aviv said, referring to the string of recently closed shops on both sides of the hummus joint.
Contrary to what Aviv told IJ, Volfer said, “We are trying our best to help the businesses. We have special public relations guys stationed at each station and all the business can go to them.” The spokesperson for NTA also said, “NTA’s community relations team is in contact with all businesses and residents near the construction sites and [are] available to help as much as we can.”
The Transportation and Road Safety Ministry also took strides to help ease the chaos of the construction that is set to take almost a decade to complete by adding buses and trains throughout the day, as well as additional bus lines in areas of construction.
The Finance Ministry told IJ that a NIS 10 million fund for small businesses will be established to help the businesses along the route of the light rail. The support, however, will only be given to businesses that were renting their shops for over a year before the light rail construction started. Businesses that own the property of their shops are not qualified for government assistance because they are expected to earn a lot once the construction is finalized and the light rail is implemented “due to the improvement of the property.”
The signs along the construction sites read “Difficult now, a relief later,” using a play on words (the Hebrew word for “relief” is the same word as “light” in light rail). Will the end justify the means and the property of shops near the light rail earn a lot more once completed? Or will the shops near the light rail construction sites close or go bankrupt before they are able to see their businesses booming from the ease of the transit system? We may have to wait until 2021 to see.