Revolution Underway

Updated Date  21.07.2019

Over the past couple of years, Israel's public transit system has often been under the public spotlight. We've arranged a brief look for you at our journey and development to date along with our plans. Spoiler – better days are on the rise...

Public transit is a burning public agenda in Israel. Today, more than ever, Israelis are starting to internalize the fact that it's time to let go of the private car and evolve to public transit. Why? Ask anyone who has tried to reach Israel's central conurbation in the morning, and they'll tell you about the heavy traffic jams.
The 2018 OECD Report was even required to address the issue, stating that Israel's roads are the most crowded among OECD countries and that modern public transit is a necessity for Israel's continued national and economical development.
In recent years, the Israeli government is channeling enormous amounts of money to the sector, with the purpose in mind to dramatically improve the current state. The results of comprehensive work plans for big-budget projects that address core issues in the transit industry, are already visible on the ground. This review reveals how it all started, where we are now and what the future probably holds in store for us.

A little background

Public transit was first introduced to the Hebrew settlements in Israel when the British received the Mandate for Palestine, nearly one hundred years ago. The complex situation in the region included some complicated geographical and social challenges, such as: unpaved roads, huge swamps and incessant aggravation from the Arab settlements in the country.
For over a decade, until the early 1930s, people in Israel traveled in old trucks that had benches for passengers installed in the back. This complex situation led the pioneering innovators to the understanding that only by working together will they be able to create an organized and robust mass transit system that will provide quality service to a growing population and its evolving needs.
Between the years 1931 and 1933, two companies, namely Darom and Yehuda, merged in Israel's southern region, and two years later, Egged was established by the merger between four other companies, Hegge, Kadima, Association of Drivers, and Hamahir.

The Jerusalem–Damascus line

The main activity of the new cooperative took place between Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem, while at the same time, permanent lines were opened to neighboring countries, including Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Iraq. Similar cooperations were recorded in the country's North and South regions, with a company called Shahar servicing the Haifa region and the Drom Yehuda Cooperative servicing the near south. The Dan Bus Company also took roots in the central polis as a result of the merger between two companies.
These were rough times for the drivers of these operators, who became fearless heroes of their times, whose names are associated with real heroic acts, as they worked in hostile areas, while exhibiting exceptional persistence and dedication to their task. The local security forces enlisted the armored buses, where they greatly helped maintain the routine. They were also invaluable in daring military operations, like participation in the supply convoys to the besieged Jerusalem during the War of Independence. And this is only the beginning.

Israel travels Egged

Three years after Israel's Declaration of Independence, David Remez, the minister of transportation at the time, pushed to create a single national cooperative that will combine strengths and resources, to ultimately help in the tremendous efforts involved in establishing the economical and social infrastructure of the young State of Israel. After long months of stimulated deliberations, the ESD Cooperative (acronym from the names of the three merged bus companies) was formed, but shortly afterwards, the name was changed to Egged, following the recommendation of the great poet Hayim Nahman Bialik.
Sharing in the efforts of battle before Israel was founded was only a preview to Egged's contribution to the establishment of a well-rooted powerful state. During the Suez Crisis, the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, Egged members had a crucial role in the IDF's logistic plan, making a decisive contribution on all war fronts.
In the early 1980s, Egged replaced its fleet of buses with new and luxurious models from German Mercedes-Benz, giving the Cooperative a fresh new look. The upgrade was no less than amazing. Some remember how the first drivers and passengers of the new buses were amazed by the capabilities and appearance of the new fleet. These vehicles were joined by buses from Volvo and Man, which were adapted for urban transit, thus making Egged a modern company that uses the best automotive technology on a daily basis.

The reform is underway

Sometime in the 1990s, a reform began to take shape aiming to open public transportation to competition, to help improve and optimize the offered services. About ten new operators were added since 2001 following the reform, and they are responsible for dozens of additional new transit lines.
Along with the ingress of these new companies, the Ministry of Transport implemented a dramatic cut in fare prices, reducing them by 20% to 50%.
A state-of-the-art control system for monitoring the public transit system was put to use, and the database that emerged as a result is used for ongoing improvement of the entire system, helping the Ministry of Transport with its extensive strategic planning. Database incorporation and ongoing updates about lines and services through dedicated apps, coupled with a modern system of interactive signage with real time updates, revolutionized the availability of information.

Israel's government is remapping its transit plan

Expanding public transit use is currently a high government priority. Many long years without proper infrastructure development in this sector, contributed to a clear public inclination towards private cars, and added immensely to the heavy congestions currently experienced on Israel's roads.
In recent years, the Ministry of Transport remapped its transit program and is developing five-year plans, the first phases of which are already visible almost everywhere you look. Impressive large-scale and fast-pace infrastructure projects are underway, with construction of new intersections, revamped roads and brand new traffic routes being paved. The transition to light rail transit is among the processes that were initiated to help solve these burdening traffic congestions that take a real toll on Israel's economy, manifested in endless wasted hours sitting in traffic jams, added financial weight to Israeli households, not to mention the extensive harm to the environment.
Parallel to all of this, the Ministry drastically cut the cost of fares by 20 to 50 percent, improved the pricing mechanism for single, daily and monthly fares, introduced advanced clearing methods and accrued payment to most operators under a single card called Rav-Kav (meaning: "multiple fares").
Currently, the Ministry of Transport continues to promote activity on several levels simultaneously, to improve and optimize Israel's public transit system. On the agenda:
  • To continue the massive investment in infrastructure development, such as heavy and light rail transit network construction. Develop infrastructure for lightweight vehicles such as electric bicycles, and linking it to public transit routes.
  • Technological initiatives to increase efficiency and shorten travel times
  • Green travel – the transition to public transportation methods that have improved passenger capacity and are powered by electricity is happening at an accelerated pace, and it is expected to create a much healthier environment for Israeli residents in the coming years
  • Maintain the low cost of fares for all 
  • Encourage employers to promote public transit use among their employees
  • Examine the option of congestion pricing for entering city centers
  • Improve traffic management and give way to public transit vehicles at bottleneck points
  • Taxation policy that takes into account the extent of private car use
  • Provide extensive support to help improve the conditions offered to drivers, to address the low driver employment rate
  • Advanced ridesharing models – models from around the globe are vetted by the Ministry of Transport to provide additional alternatives to the evolving public transit system.
  • Other ridesharing/carpooling models – similar partnerships have proven themselves in projects like Highway 6 (Kvish 6) and the Carmel Tunnels, with respect to costs and speed of implementation.
  • Establish public transit lanes, which are essential for providing reliable and available service to the public.

Israelis call for public transit

Public opinion about using public transit is trending equidistantly to government plans. The soaring gas prices, private car maintenance costs and expanding traffic jams, along with our appreciation of public transit systems in countries overseas, make most of us understand that available qualitative public transit truly contributes to our quality of life. Public transit preference is already evident in practice: in Jerusalem, for example, 15% of private car owners, who live in proximity with the Jerusalem Light Rail Red Line route, prefer using the latter instead of their car on a daily basis.
Egged also presents data that reinforces the evolving change: between 2012 and 2017, a 20% increase in public transit use, against a 2% growth in population. This shows that more Israelis are inclined to take the bus rather than their private car.

Public transit for everyone

Judging by the projects lined up by the Israeli government and Ministry of Transport, it seems obvious that the reality we are currently dealing with will improve dramatically in the upcoming decade.
  • The Tel Aviv Light Rail – most of the road congestion is happening in the Tel Aviv polis area, and it seems the solution is within reach of a few years and construction of a light rail network. We should be able to see three LRT (Light Rail Transit) lines and three metro lines operational within a decade, criss-crossing the the entire metropolis area, ultimately shifting how people travel through Israel's most populated area. The railway system in the Tel Aviv metropolis is under development by NTA (urban transit lines), which entrusted Tevel Metro – a subsidiary of Egged, to operate and provide maintenance to the Tel Aviv Red Line.
  • The Jerusalem LRT – in the near future, two additional LRT lines will join the Red Line in Israel's capital, to provide convenient thoroughfare in the country's most inhabited city. The City Gate Project is designed to connect between national transit lines and the Jerusalem transit system, to create a holistic transportation network that will completely transform reality in the capital.
  • The Haifa LRT project – like its sister Jerusalem, the Haifa metropolis is also programmed to enjoy a LRT network through the city. Additional railway lines and stations will be inaugurated in the near future, like the line to Nof Hagalil (formerly Nazareth Illit) and Tirat Carmel.
  • The Eastern Railway project – connecting the railway line between Lod, Shfela and the Sharon Plane, will become the central ring in the railway network of the State of Israel. The project includes the construction of a double-track railway line from Hadera to the Rosh HaAyin North station and adding a second track to the existing track line, in the section between Rosh HaAyin North and the Lod railway station.
  • Extending Highway 6 – earlier this year, new Highway 6 sections were launched, enabling continuous travel over 190km/118 miles – without a single traffic light – from Kiryat Ata in the north to Beer Sheva in the south. Looking southward, Highway 6 will be extended by another 12km/7.5 miles, going all the way down to Nevatim in the south.
  • Completion of Highway 531 – the new highway will serve as one of the main arteries going through the Sharon Planes, replacing inner-city routes and connecting traffic from Highway 2 to Highway 6, via Highway 20. A new railway line is on the agenda, with three stations alongside intersections, bridges and tunnels, most of which are already in use today, improving the quality of life for the Sharon Plane population.
  • Fast Lanes – an integrated network for mass transit includes implementation of fast lanes at city gateways, “park and go” parking lots, shuttle services, and a platform to apply ridesharing models. Egged is participating in the bid for system establishment and operation.

Egged – Leading Israel's public transit network

Egged is the oldest and largest public transit company in Israel. The company's activity is woven into Israel's past so deeply, its executive directors actively participated in the development of the country's public transportation system prior to its independence.
As of today, Egged's revenue turnover is close to US$ 1.13 billion, with a 35% market share in the industry in Israel. Egged employment docket consists of about 9,000 employees in Israel and overseas. Its fleet includes 4,000 buses and it operates public transit services in The Netherlands and Poland via its subsidiary, Egged Europe.
Egged is also administrating a unique logistics project, which includes 16 garages, a production plant and a distribution center for bus parts in and around Israel.
The group is getting ready for Israel's future public transit map through a business strategy that aims to extend its activity to new business areas, in juxtaposition to its traditional activity, to expand its revenue base and growth engines. This strategy includes:
  1. Ongoing improvement of performance, compliance with the Ministry of Transport targets and services to bus passengers.
  2. Gradual transition to electric buses and preparing to integrate autonomic buses into Egged's fleet.
  3. Increase the bus services activity in Israel and become the preferred operator.
  4. Smart transit integration, such as ridesharing, ride on demand and more.
  5. Blend more significantly in Israel' light rail scene, by operating the Tel Aviv Red Line, and looking into integration in other cities LRT bidding processes.
Through this, Egged wishes to continue to lead Israel's public transit industry and take an active part in shaping its future.

Facts and figures about public transit in Israel in 2018


Budget

•    US$ 2.26 billion invested in public transit systems in 2018
•    The past decade saw a rise of nearly 300% in public transit investment

Buses

•    741 million passengers a year
•    Collectively, the buses in Israel gulp almost 47 million kilometers (29.2 million miles) every month
•    9,700 public transit buses drive across Israel every month
•    16 bus operating companies

Trains

•    Israel's tracks extend over 1,350km (approx. 840 miles)
•    Nearly 65 million Israelis travel by Israel rail every year
•    The Red Line is operating in Jerusalem, on a 14km (8.5 miles) track
•    In 2021, the Tel Aviv Red Line, which will be operated by Tevel Metro (Egged subsidiary) will start running