Israel weighs introducing congestion charges to ease city center traffic

Israel weighs introducing congestion charges to ease city center traffic

New tariffs proposed to try to reduce cars on roads by taxing drivers who want to head downtown in peak hours

Heavy traffic on the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv. June 28, 2012. (Uri Lenz/FLASH90)
Heavy traffic on the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv. June 28, 2012. (Uri Lenz/FLASH90)

In a bid to unravel some of Israel’s nightmare traffic jams, the Finance Ministry is reportedly considering new taxes to hit the wallets of drivers who clog roads during rush hours and drive their cars into city centers.

The new proposals are expected to be presented to the new government after it is formed, Channel 13 news reported Wednesday. The plan includes the introduction of a special tax on cars to try and reduce the number of vehicles that crowd city centers, especially Tel Aviv, during the regular workday.

London, Singapore and Stockholm have all introduced similar systems, known as “congestion pricing,” which led to initial reductions in traffic and improvements in air quality, while creating a steady stream of revenue to support public transit and other infrastructure. However, critics charge that the systems effectively mean that driving in city centers becomes the preserve of the rich.

The change in Israel’s transportation tax structure is also aimed to make drivers pay more for putting additional stress on the road system.

Route 6, the trans-Israel highway (photo credit: Chen Leopold/Flash90)

In an early attempt to raise money and resolve the Tel Aviv congestion, the Transportation Ministry built a 13-kilometer long “fast lane” on the the busy Route 1 highway bringing workers into the city from the east.

Using the toll lane, drivers can opt to pay an additional fee to bypass part of the daily traffic jam that plagues this main artery. The project included a free park-and-ride lot for 2,000 vehicles and special free shuttle buses.

However, the project failed to put a dent in the massive daily backup nor did it cut enough cars to keep Tel Aviv’s central streets from clogging.

Transportation Minister Israel Katz, left, and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, inaugurate the model of the new Tel Aviv Light Rail in Tel Aviv on September 13, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The government is investing heavily in Israel’s railways and building a new light-rail system for Tel Aviv, but that investment has yet to pay off in reduced volumes on the roads and critics say that public transportation in Israel remains subpar.

New York is planning to become the first American city to use congestion pricing to decrease vehicle traffic and fund mass transit improvements, following in the footsteps of London, Singapore and Stockholm. Those cities experienced an initial reduction in traffic and gained a steady revenue stream for public transit.

The New York tolls won’t begin until late 2020 at the earliest and although there are doubts the fees will get people to stop using their cars, the tolls are expected to generate additional funding to upgrade public transportation.

A conference bringing together experts to try and solve Israel’s traffic jam headaches is scheduled for June in Tel Aviv. The “Unjam” event will bring together vested interests from Israel’s transportation sector to consider different solutions ranging from increased taxes to upgrading public transportation.

AP contributed to this report

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