State comptroller: Public transport in worsening, costly crisis

Today, traffic crowding on Israel's roads are the worst in the OECD, more than three times the Western average.

Arlozorov Bus Station in Tel Aviv  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Arlozorov Bus Station in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Public transportation is facing a deepening crisis that is not only making daily life hard for commuters but harming the economy to the tune of billions of shekels every year, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira said on Wednesday in a special report.
While the government and the Transportation Ministry have said for decades that an effective public transportation system is key to combating worsening overcrowding on the roads and a primary ingredient in the economy’s success, low investment has led to a veritable public transportation crisis.
According to a 2012 report by the Finance and Transportation ministries, inadequate transportation led to an annual loss of NIS 15 billion ($4.15b.) for the economy, based on Israel’s 2010 GDP. This is expected to soar to NIS 25b. ($6.9b.) annually by 2030, with overcrowding expected to worsen further.
Today, traffic crowding on Israel’s roads are the worst in the OECD, more than three times the Western average. Between 2009 and 2017, the country recorded a 24.9% increase in private cars on the roads.
The growing dependence on private cars, the report detailed, is mainly the result of inadequate public transportation services, leading to “intolerably high” overcrowding for some passengers relying on existing options.
The report lists the low frequency of both buses and trains, lack of adequate integration between various public transportation services and poor access for relatively large parts of the population to stations as some of the issues facing commuters today.
Despite a 2017 government investment of NIS 4.8b. ($1.3b.) in transportation subsidies, the report found significant barriers to the development of bus services, such as a lack of infrastructure, a severe shortage of drivers, and Transportation Ministry failures to monitor bus operators.
Regarding railway infrastructure, failures to accurately forecast the growth in demand in recent years, inadequate planning and inter-ministerial communication led to a shortage of engines, carriages and other equipment. The result was carriage crowding, train delays during peak hours and cancellations.
The construction of essential railway infrastructure was being conducted “sluggishly,” the report added, such as the electrification of the high-speed Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway and the addition of a fourth track along the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, deemed a national infrastructure project.
The extra track is expected to be completed only in another seven years’ time, with the construction of a fifth track already required.
Other projects delayed by years and sometimes even decades include the expansion of the Jerusalem Light Rail, the construction of the Haifa-Nazareth light rail and the addition of express lanes in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and key routes into the region.
Despite efforts to improve public transportation infrastructure and services in non-Jewish communities, the report adds, there remain significant gaps both between Jewish and non-Jewish communities and also between different non-Jewish communities.
Concluding the report, Shapira pointed his finger at the Transportation Ministry, headed by Israel Katz since 2009, for “systemic failures” not resulting from defects in an isolated project but from recurring failures in many situations.
While some important transportation projects have been carried out in recent years, Shapira added, the “failures and deficiencies in public transportation are still very significant.”
He called on the government and the prime minister to act to remove obstacles to the implementation of important transportation projects within reasonable timetables, and to bring all parties to urgently work together to correct the deficiencies behind the growing public transportation crisis.