Tel Aviv: Israel’s answer to New York, the city that never sleeps. There ain’t much sleeping going on in Tel Aviv, and can you blame them? Because after sitting in rush hour traffic in Israel’s biggest metropolis, it takes a guy a few hours to unwind.
If you hadn’t yet picked up on its teeny size from this website’s name, Israel is a tiny country, and even its biggest metropolis of Tel Aviv can be traversed in well under an hour from the Mediterranean Sea to its eastern border. That hasn’t stopped the country’s young people from flocking there, especially those who work in high-tech. However, while the residents of Tel Aviv take great pride in their ability to party, hit the beach, and live life to the fullest, they are the first to complain about the horrible traffic and gridlock that engulfs their city and the surrounding area.
Leave it to the Israelis then to out-innovate their traffic problems with their new “fast lane”, the world’s first dynamic toll road which opened this past January. No, the road itself isn’t dynamic; just the toll.
Starting from just past Ben-Gurion Airport en route to the city and continuing for eleven miles until the entrance to the city, the left lane of the highway becomes a toll road whose price fluctuates depending on the number of cars on the road. Designed to dramatically reduce gridlock, the fast lane works as follows: vehicles with four or more passengers travel for free. Vehicles with fewer will pay anywhere between seven and over seventy shekels.
I know what you’re thinking: “What are the odds that I’m going to find three friends with similar enough schedules to carpool with me into town?” How about the city finds them for you? The park and ride allows you to, get this…..park….and then ride into Tel Aviv on a shuttle bus, even enjoying a cappuccino from the nearby coffee shop Cup O’ Joe along the way. The bus leaves as often as every five minutes and while it may add a whopping three minutes to one’s commute, it drops passengers off in one of two business areas, the Azrieli towers or the suburb of Ramat Gan.
Nitzan Yotzer, head of the head of the High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lane Administration, said when the project opened, “A driver who enters Tel Aviv every morning loses 200 hours a year from traffic jams. Two-hundred hours is five weeks of eight-hour work days. In other words, hundreds of thousands of people waste five weeks every year doing nothing, and they are doing it with the engine running, wasting gas and polluting the environment.” Do you know how many Tel Aviv bars you could frequent in 200 hours? How many attractive Middle Eastern men and women you could strike up conversations with on the beach? Or at the very least, stare at?
So how exactly does the toll change? Cameras along the highway monitor the number of cars traveling at all times with a goal of maintaining a minimum speed of 80 kilometers per hour. When the fast lane is empty, tolls are higher. When the traffic picks up however, the price rises all the way up to a maximum of over seventy shekels, deterring traffic back to the main lanes, maintaining a happy medium of flowing traffic.
Not bad for a system that can chop at least thirty minutes off a commute, huh? Oh…and then of course there’s that whole thing about saving fuel, reducing gases emitted into the atmosphere, and saving the environment. You know…petty stuff.
Users of the fast lane have reported the parking lot gradually getting more full over time, which indicates that it’s fairly safe to say that the world’s first dynamic toll road has been a success. With more countries certain to follow Israel’s lead and Shai Agassi’s Better Place electric car company picking up proverbial steam, the future is bright for a happier and healthier system of transportation and drivers. Road trip, anyone?