Traffic congestion on Israeli roads is worst in entire OECD

Comptroller castigates minister on dire state of Israel’s public transportation

Report finds increased road congestion a result of dearth of alternatives; Israel Katz defiant, says he’s leading ‘a revolution’ after a century of under-investment

An Israel Railways train (illustrative photo: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
An Israel Railways train (illustrative photo: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

A damning report on the state of Israel’s transportation infrastructure issued by the state comptroller Wednesday has found that lackluster planning over years is the cause for heavy congestion on roads and overcrowding on trains and buses — with the situation only expected to get worse.

“Israelis must on a daily basis deal with the harsh and stifling reality,” State Comptroller Yosef Shapira wrote in his 606-page report.

Increased road traffic congestion has resulted from a lack of viable alternatives in public transportation and because car ownership is relatively affordable for the masses and government disincentives have not been imposed, the report said.

Delays in completing public transport projects have caused a low frequency of bus and train services and “intolerable” overcrowding for passengers, it said. Under-investment in training bus and train drivers and in the rail network are the reason behind the comprehensive malaise that Israeli commuters feel daily, it added.

The report said insufficient consideration has been given to the development of urban transportation needs. The number of cars on the roads has more than tripled in the past 40 years and while train usage has increased greatly, so have delays in services.

“The situation is not just a matter of discomfort, it harms productivity and curtails Israel’s ability to maximize its gross domestic product potential and tax revenue intake, and causes increased air and noise pollution,” Shapira wrote.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The report said traffic volume had increased by almost 25 percent in the past decade and as a result, congestion on the roads is three and a half times above the average of countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Developement (OECD), where Israel trails all others.

In Israel, there are 2,730 vehicles per kilometer of road, compared to the OECD average of 774.

The report also singled out for criticism the Transportation Ministry and Minister Israel Katz, who has been in his job for the past 10 years.

“The findings of the report point to repeated, systematic failures in many instances where the ministry has not taken the lead and is not in control of carrying out the minister’s decisions,” the report said.

Although Shapira conceded that important projects had been initiated in the past 10 years, many faults in public transportation “have not been addressed by the ministry and by Israel Katz” at its head.

Katz responded in media interviews by saying that he had been working to fix century-long failings in planning, investment and implementation.

Transportatoion Minister Israel Katz. (Sebastian Scheiner/Pool/AFP)

“The comptroller is within his right to report and criticize, but his findings are wrong. My job is to act and ensure that projects get carried out,” Katz told Channel 12 news.

“I am doing excellent work,” he said. “I can look the public in the eye and say — I am leading a revolution here.”

Shapira wrote that Katz had failed to consider implementing a government decision for a congestion charge on cars in built-up areas and had stalled on  initiating incentives to reduce car ownership. The comptroller called on the government to act urgently to improve the prospects for better transportation facilities.

The Transportation Ministry said it was implementing projects to the tune of NIS 100 billion (about $28 billion) and that 60%-70% of its budget was allocated towards those projects, but that “even the last decade of unprecedented action, the highest since the founding of the state, cannot make up for a century of under-investment.”

Channel 12 said in its report that drivers, who already spend lengthy periods in their cars on their way to work, could expect within 10 years to add another hour to their journey.

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