By Avirama Golan

The hitch that occurred on Monday with the trains, grave as it may have been, is possible anywhere. Worse problems than that have held up trains for three freezing days of snow in places known longingly here as “Europe” or “properly run countries.” However here the multiplicity of disruptions and hitches is merely a minor part of the ongoing and worsening malfunctioning of public transportation. There is no more salient and more annoying example of this failure than the public transportation in the metropolitan area of Tel Aviv.

This week it transpired that due to vested interests, the many twists and turns that have taken place around the sections of the Trajtenberg Report dealing with transportation have (so far ) led to the same dead end that the planning of public transportation has always arrived at over the years. That is to say that the message (so far ) is that there will be no improvement in public transportation in the very heart of the country’s activities – and, in other words, this heart will become even more blocked until eventually it is totally paralyzed.

No matter how one views the developments – and without relating to the question of which side one chooses to believe – the Finance Ministry, the Transportation Ministry, the Tel Aviv Municipality or all the others involved in the matter – this is, at best, incompetence, and at worst, scandalous neglect. It is difficult at this stage to trace the start of the problem. It consists of historical layers of committees, authorities, planners, advisory bodies and never-ending tenders. But one can find the beginning of the light at the end of the dark tunnel of public transportation in metropolitan Tel Aviv in the middle of the 1990s when then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Transportation Minister Avraham Shochat promised that the state would pay for an underground railway in Tel Aviv.

It has already been stated hundreds of times but it must nevertheless be reiterated: An underground train, or Metro, or a large capacity municipal transport system, is a vital basis for the establishment of an effective and widespread network of national public transportation. It is not a treat for the residents of Tel Aviv – on the contrary, it is the residents who will suffer while the digging is taking place and the system set up. The ones who will benefit will be the residents of the outlying districts who will be able to reach the center quickly in order to work, enjoy themselves or arrange affairs; their workplaces which will benefit from employees who are less harassed and whose standard of living has risen; the environment that will gain open spaces and less pollution; and the entire economy that will save time and huge sums of money.

But already in 1996, during the first government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister and finance minister claimed that an underground railway was too expensive even though all the experts that same government consulted with proved that it would be cost-effective. Whatever the case may be, since then directors were appointed and resigned, planners and advisers, delegations and tours came and went, and the metro became a light railway which grew smaller and smaller and the only thing (so far ) that has come of it is the clumsy and confusing reform of municipal bus lines.

A year and a half ago, another weak light could be seen blinking at the end of the tunnel when the Finance Ministry, the Transportation Ministry and the Tel Aviv municipality and neighboring local authorities decided to set up a metropolitan transport authority which is supposed to coordinate all the plans and activities in the sphere of transportation in the metropolitan area. This system, which is based on budgetary and management cooperation between the state and the local authorities, is similar to the practice in most of the large cities in the world. The director general of the Transportation Ministry, Dan Harel, enthusiastically began setting up the authority but as a result of political and personal power struggles, he was forced to give up and resigned. The treasury – which supported Trajtenberg’s recommendations, which in turn backed the treasury’s recommendation to promote the authority – was angry with the Transportation Minister who instead of being credited with the title of “the minister who set up the metropolitan transport system” preferred, for political and personal reasons, to put pressure on the prime minister to cancel the authority (and succeeded ). Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai ran after the minister for five months until he was able to meet him – and as mentioned, there is no public transportation (so far ).

So what will the outcome be? Nothing. That’s not so terrible. In any case, no metropolitan transport system would have been suddenly set up. All that would have happened would have been that women would be ordered to sit in the back coach. So they may as well not travel.