Smotrich Promises Relief ‘Soon’ for Beleaguered Carpool Lane Drivers

Vehicles in a traffic jam on Highway 2. (Flash90, File)

What started out as an attempt to help move traffic along has turned, by nearly all accounts, into a massive traffic boondoggle; ever since carpool lanes were instituted on Road 2, traffic has been backed up for kilometers, and many drivers say their commuting time to and from Tel Aviv has increased significantly. The problem seems especially acute in the Netanya area, with many drivers saying that it takes them an hour to get past the city.

Analysts have been closely studying the situation, but have not reached any conclusions on why traffic should be worse when at least some vehicles, along with buses and taxis, are directed to one lane; it’s not as if the traffic load on the highway doubled overnight, and experts believe that indeed the number of cars traveling the highway before and after implementation of the program on October 4th are the same.

Theories abound, from the difficulty of adjusting to new traffic patterns to confusion as vehicles with different numbers of passengers change lanes and jockey for a position on the highway.

In his first interview discussing the issue, Transportation Minister Betzalel Smotrich told Channel 12 that “there is no question we have a problem, especially in the Netanya area, where there a number of ‘conflicts’ on the road, including several gas stations and two exits close to each other. We are studying the situation on a daily basis to search for ways to improve. The carpool lane program has had some difficult birth pangs, it will run much more smoothly beginning in November when police aggressively enforce the rules,” he added.

While the local traffic problem on Road 2 will be solved sooner than later, Smotrich said, the overall solution to traffic on Road 2 and all other congested Israeli highways was for people to use more public transportation. “That is the only solution, there just isn’t enough highway for the number of vehicles in this country,” he added.

Under the program, one lane on Road 2 (the Coastal Road) is reserved for vehicles with two or more occupants. Buses and taxes can use the lane as well. According to OECD figures, Israelis tend to travel alone in their vehicles more than residents of other countries. The average car trip for Israelis has 1.2 occupants in a vehicle, while the OECD average is between 1.6 and 1.8 occupants per vehicle.