BoI calls for public transport overhaul

Report: Israelis have one of the lowest rates of mass transport use in the world.

egged bus 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
egged bus 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Israelis have one of the lowest rates of mass transportation use in the world, according to the Bank of Israel's annual report to be released on Wednesday. Despite the increase in investment in Israel's rail system over the past few years, the use of environmentally sound transport, such as light rail systems and electric buses, is low by international standards, the report says. The standard in European Union countries is to use electric buses and subways within metropolitan areas, which discourage the kind of congestion found on Israel's main highways and roads. The report recommends increased investment in mass transport, to reduce carbon emissions, as well as "further steps to be taken to encourage competition in the existing public transport system, and that distortions in the tax system that encourage the use of private vehicles be corrected." Distortions in the tax system that encourage the purchase of private cars need to be corrected, according to the central bank. For example, many people receive leased vehicles tax free from their employers, discouraging the use of mass transit. Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in the Knesset that would gradually raise the proportion of these leases that is counted as taxable income. "Environmental thinking is not very high on the Israeli agenda," says Dr. Yishayahu Bar-Or, chief scientist at the Environment Ministry. "We have other pressing problems no less severe... their [the government's] agenda is to build cheap, even at the cost of wasting energy in the long run. They do not want to raise costs now." According to the annual report, the last few years have seen a change in government policy; budgets for trains, light rail transit systems and public transport lanes have increased dramatically. The return on investment for the train and light rail system in Tel Aviv will increase as the rail network expands, and therefore it is important to encourage the construction of additional lines, besides the one light rail route that has been approved so far, the bank says. Also, budgets for infrastructure outside of the main commercial hubs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv should be increased, to improve accessibility via mass transportation.