06/11/2010 02:38

Government’s vision would lead to economic and social revolutions over the next decade.

Speaking at the second annual Israel Transportation Conference in Rishon Lezion on Thursday, Transportation Minister Israel Katz presented the government’s vision for a “transportation revolution” that would lead to economic and social revolutions over the next decade.

A new network of highways, train lines and rapid bus routes will drastically change the transportation patterns of the country, dispersing the existing concentration in the center and opening up opportunities in the periphery, the minister said.

Katz characterized the current government’s investment in transportation projects across the board as unprecedented, citing the NIS 27-billion, 10-year “Netivei Israel” plan as the crowning achievement. He also spoke about the contribution of mass transit solutions to protecting the environment.

“In everything we do, we place emphasis on reduced pollution, strict standards and green construction,” he said.

Katz also addressed the long-lingering light rail projects in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, stating that after years of delay the Jerusalem light rail will begin commercial operations in April 2011 and that in the upcoming days, the state would decide on the fate of the Tel Aviv metropolitan light rail.

A group of protesters from the environmental organization the Green Course demonstrated against what they perceive as a misguided preference of the ministry for road projects over public transportation.

The group’s director, Gil Yaakov, said that the emphasis on roads and highways and lack of efficient public transportation promoted the use of private vehicles, a main source of air pollution.

The protesters handed out position papers calling for the rapid promotion of the reorganization plan for Tel Aviv public transport. Yaakov said that the plan, which calls for major re-routing and rescheduling of urban bus lines, is planned to begin implementation in August, but is not receiving the official attention it deserves.

The position paper called on the Transportation Ministry and the Tel Aviv municipality to begin a public campaign notifying the public of the upcoming changes and find solutions to transfer issues that won’t require the passengers to pay extra fees when moving from one bus to another.

Katz replied that the reorganization plan was moving ahead on schedule, and that his ministry was fully in support of public transportation, promoting the use of trains and advancing the light rail project.

Courts Administration head Judge Moshe Gal said that many traffic cases that are tried in criminal procedures do not require such treatment and lead to overburdening of the courts.

Gal said that in many cases, it was preferable that the proceedings be completed quickly and efficiently rather than in long and drawn-out criminal proceedings and that some, non-life endangering offenses should not be tried in court at all.

“The current situation is that Israeli Traffic Court judges have twice the caseload as their counterparts in other countries. This has a price in loss of enforcement and loss of deterrence,” said Gal. “It is a myth that harsh punishment is an effective deterrent. What’s needed is a chain of actions that begins with effective enforcement on the roads, followed by quick rulings and rapid enforcement of them. As it stands, there is very little in the way of post-ruling enforcement – collection of fines and submissions of licenses. We need immediate decisions. There is little point if the process takes three years.”

Gal said that the Courts Administration was looking into the possibility of creating separate courthouses for traffic courts instead of trying traffic cases in regular Magistrates Courts.

“It may mean people will have to travel further to get to the courthouse, but as I hear from the Transportation Minister, we have much improved roads, so it should be bearable,” he quipped.

At the end of the conference, the organizers revealed a new Israeli-developed technological safety feature aimed at reducing accidents among professional drivers. The device, developed by Morag System Management and Consultants and projected to be installed in all buses and trucks, blocks mobile phones from sending and receiving phone calls and text messages, something the developers claim is a major cause of accidents.