Bus lanes - few and far between and rarely enforced
28 January 2020 - globes
Only Tel Aviv has been levying fines against car drivers who travel in bus lanes.
Bus lanes play an important role in urban mass transit systems. With cars jamming up the roads, in order to persuade passengers to switch to buses and ease congestion in Israel, it has become necessary to create public transportation lanes to clear the way for buses, instead of having them stand still in traffic jams alongside the cars.
The State Comptroller devoted a large section of his report in March 2019 to the creation of public transportation lanes and fast lanes in metropolitan Tel Aviv-Jaffa. There is a wide gap, however, between the importance of addressing the problem of traffic jams and what is actually being done. 23 of Israel's 28 largest cities (the ones with populations of 50,000 or more) have no public transportation lanes at all. In cities that do have lanes reserved for buses, the ban on their use by private vehicles is not always enforced, according to the responses to a petition filed by the Or Yarok Association for Safer Driving in Israel under the Freedom of Information Law.
Of the cities contacted by Or Yarok, bus lanes exist only in Haifa, Jerusalem, Rishon Lezion, Ramat Gan, and Tel Aviv.
Cities with cameras, but no enforcement
The enforcement situation is slightly more complicated. The Haifa municipality's surprising response was, "The Haifa municipality does not enforce rules governing the use of public transportation lanes."
The answer by the Jerusalem municipality was also interesting. The municipality confirmed that despite the existence of public transportation lanes in the city, the rules for traveling on them had not been enforced until new Mayor Moshe Lion took office. Lion changed the municipality's policy by giving the right of way at traffic lights to public transportation lanes, and ordered the deployment of fiber-optic infrastructure in preparation for installing enforcement cameras, which is scheduled to begin next month. According to the Jerusalem municipality, starting in June 2020, all of the public transportation lanes in the city will be covered by enforcement cameras.
Like Jerusalem, the Ramat Gan municipality did not station enforcement cameras for public transportation lanes in 2017-2019, and no fines were imposed on drivers for traveling on them in private cars. The Ramat Gan municipality said that it had begun installing enforcement cameras in the past month, and that enforcement of the rules for these lanes would begin in March.
The only city to use bus lanes as a means of raising money is Tel Aviv. An enquiry by "Globes" revealed that the municipality had levied fines in 188,553 cases in 2019 for illegal travel in public transportation lanes, slightly fewer than in 2018. The fine for this offense is NIS 500, meaning that law-breaking drivers paid the Tel Aviv municipality NIS 94.2 million in fines in 2019 for illegal travel in public transportation lanes.
A Ministry of Transport source told "Globes," "Unfortunately, there is almost no enforcement of the rules governing public transportation lanes, and public transportation lanes are meaningless if everyone travels in them. The object is to give public transportation an advantage, with an emphasis on buses. We would have expected cities that are already investing in public transportation lanes to crack down on illegal use of them as much as they do on illegal parking."
In order to improve the situation and enable public transportation to benefit from this advantage, the Knesset passed the Law for Enhancing Enforcement of Public Transportation Lanes. This law assigns authority for enforcing the rules governing public transportation lanes to the local authorities. The purpose of the law was to ease the movement of buses in traffic jam-plagued cities and give priority to passengers on public transportation over cars, which add to the congestion on Israel's roads.
At the same time, there are bus lanes in only a few cities. Reserving a special lane for public transportation ran into local resistance and protests by residents complaining about their cars being excluded from a traffic lane. In 2016, not long after the law was passed, agreements were signed with 17 local authorities in the greater Tel Aviv area for the promotion of fast lanes (the Mahir La'Ir - Fast to the City - plan). Many more bus lanes are to be established under this plan. Unless sanctions are imposed on offenders, however, these lanes will have no effect and will not achieve their objective.
As of now, the major cities in Israel are lagging way behind cities in other countries in both use of public transportation and the number of paved public transportation lanes. According to a Bank of Israel presentation at the Knesset in July 2018, the proportion of all passengers using public transportation in Jerusalem is only 24%, far behind other large capital cities such as Madrid (50%), Budapest (49%), London (47%), Berlin (46%), and Brussels (43%). The situation elsewhere is even worse - only 22% of passengers in Haifa use public transportation, and only 20% in Tel Aviv.
The gap in bus lanes is even wider. According to Or Yarok, there are 14 meters per capita of public transportation lanes in Tel Aviv, one tenth of the average in developed countries. For example, there are 500 meters per capita of public transportation lanes in Oslo, 350 meters per capita in Zurich, and 250 meters in Munich. Tel Aviv is ranked below Cairo in per capita public transportation lane meters.
"Municipalities have the option of stationing cameras and enforcing the rules against cars using bus lanes. It is time to give public transportation priority over private transportation, so that people will prefer using public transportation. Many more public transportation lanes must be paved - this is the advantage of buses over a private vehicle," says Or Yarok director of strategy Oz Dror.
Dror adds, "Every bus keeps 50 cars off the road. The switch to public transportation is essential. In surveys that we conduct, the public emphasizes that it wants to use public transportation if it is available and convenient. The state has to make sure that municipalities have the authority to enforce the rules do so. Cameras and inspectors must be demanded from the municipalities and continuous travel by buses in lanes set aside for them must be ensured."
The Bank of Israel estimated the economic damage of the time wasted in traffic jams at NIS 15 billion annually.
Bus lanes are likely to improve the situation dramatically, especially when they are paved in a continuous network in and between cities. Bus lanes are cheaper and easier to build than underground or elevated railway tracks.