Plan approved to cut car commutes by a million a month

NIS 200 million initiative aimed at public sector employees is greenlit as bus drivers strike, seeks to boost public transportation and scrap incentives to own a car

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Traffic on the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv, January 20, 2022.  (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)
Traffic on the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv, January 20, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

The government has approved a NIS 200 million ($58 million) initiative to slash road congestion by cutting the number of private car trips made by public sector employees by one million a month within a year.

The “One Million” project, greenlit on Sunday and detailed in a joint statement by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, includes steps to improve public transportation, cancel incentives for privately owned cars, and allow for more work for home.

Michaeli said that the aim was to “reverse the pyramid” and put public transportation at the top rather than privately owned vehicles

To improve public transportation, the package will create an additional 120 kilometers (75 miles) of bus lanes countrywide, and add more enforcement; expand bus services; improve security for bus drivers and provide them with more rest stops; and improve bus drivers’ work conditions within the framework of ongoing negotiations.

Bus drivers have been staging sporadic strikes for better working conditions in recent months, the latest of which took place earlier this week.

The Organization of Israeli Bus Drivers has said there is a shortage of 5,000 drivers, and that drivers are working double shifts. It also said many drivers suffer attacks and abuse from passengers, and the issue is not being addressed.

Bus drivers block the Azrieli junction in Tel Aviv on September 12, 2021, to protest their working conditions. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

To increase incentives to use public transportation, the new package will extend the current car allowance — an extra sum added to the paycheck of car owners, meant to fund the maintenance of the vehicle — to all public sector workers, regardless of whether they own a car. The idea is that people who choose to forgo owning a car will gain several hundred shekels monthly (depending on rank) to spend as they wish.

Other elements of the plan include encouraging car sharing, introducing car insurance policies that are based on the number of kilometers driven, offering opportunities for public sector employees to work from home, and providing more public transportation to centers of employment.

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli.(Tomer Neuberg/Flash9)

Tech tools such as smart traffic lights are to be integrated into the transportation infrastructure to reduce traffic jams, and public offices are to expand digital services to reduce the need for citizens to visit them in person.

A Transportation Ministry official said that an agreement had been reached with the Finance Ministry to earmark NIS 200 million for the program.

He said that in light of the broad backing for the program within the ministry, he did not believe it would be derailed by impending elections and a change of government.

Clauses needing legislation would require approval by the next government, he noted, but the rest would be implemented now that the present government has given its approval.

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