On Public Transport and Education in Israel

By Adam Smith, ISL/RCIT in Israel/Occupied Palestine, 15.08.2022

For the coming new school year, there has been a new round of negotiations between the Finance Ministry and the School teachers union. While it seems that the Finance Ministry demands for getting rid of tenure will not pass, any pay increase, if any, will be very small. This goes hand in hand with the opening of private schools by parents, which are not unionized and cost a lot more than public ones.

Another issue that is brought up a lot by the parents groups is that there is a large gap between the number of vacation days for the kids, particularly the long summer vacation, and the very few number of vacation days for the parents, one of the lowest in the OECD. But their demand is not to increase the number of vacation days for working parents, rather to reduce the number of vacation days for the kids, treating school as a babysitter(which is why they also support school for 6 days a week).

Even free market economics would suggest that the shortage of teachers could be met by putting Arab teachers, which there is more than needed for the Arab sector, in the Jewish sector, by this is obviously not going to happen in the Zionist State. This is in addition to the regular problems teachers face from students, and school principals. For example, the combination of wanting to start the school year in the 1st of September on one hand, but before the Jewish New Year(which follows the lunar calendar, with leap years), so that the students can be taught about it, means that there might be a just couple days of school in September before going to a break of a couple weeks.

Even before the current caretaker government, the Metro law was voted down. It has many opposers, some official and some not so. Let’s list all the interests against:

1 The government has an interest that more people live in settlements and not in the Tel Aviv Area, which would be more attractive with a metro system.

2 Libertarians and the finance ministry don’t want to improve the lives of the poor. For them, if they can pay the congestion charge(starting in 2025, even if even the light rail is not ready by then) great, if not it is their problem.

3 Rabbis in Bar Ilan and Bnei Brak(ultra-orthdox) don’t want the metro going in their area so as to not be exposed to “immodesty”(aka the outside world), so their followers will have fewer options. Needless to say that the Metro will probably not work on the weekends, just like other public transport today. And if people buy a car for the weekend, they will also use it for the other weekdays. Also, the works on the Metro were delayed by ultra orthodox protests, as well as the fact that there is no progress on Shabbat(Saturdays).

4 Municipalities in Israel operate on a negative margin for council tax on individuals(provide more service than charge for), they make their money off business council tax, they have no interest in making their cities more densely populated. Also, the Tel Aviv Metropolitan is divided into many municipalities, in order to weaken Tel Aviv.

5 Homeowners(and certainly not mortgage takers) do not want to see their home prices go down by increased supply of houses.

6 Metro will reduce the demand for cars, which will impact the bottom line for car companies, as well as energy companies. One of the reasons for the poor quality of the buses in Israel is that they are run by the car importers! Also the government also makes more than 10 billions shekels from various car taxes every year(fuel charge, car import charge of 100%, etc). Despite the relatively low rate of cars per person in Israel(also because of large families), each car is being driven a lot more than other countries.

In order to make the Metro project work, a single, local, transport agency is needed, similar to Transport for London. It also needs to be designed better, to be effective, it needs to go first in the areas with the highest demand, even if it means less lanes for cars. For example, due to fund shortage, the red metro line(the first line) was converted into a light rail, meaning according to projected estimations, it will be at full capacity the moment it opens(which was supposed to already, delayed again and again, now to 2023 spring). Also, there are some duplicate capacities along the lines. Even small things matter, like whether the stations will be open and accessible from the street or require a hasslesome security check(which will also limit metro hours, as the state does not like to budget for security guards).

Right wing populist cynically like to say that this project is at the cost of the poor that live in the periphery, but the reality is that poor people also live in the Tel Aviv area, as well as that this will help poor people in the periphery as well, by keeping housing prices low.

Other right wing alternatives, in addition to congestion charges, are trying to encourage work from home(the issue is bosses worry about lack of control, not workers not wanting to work from home), or incentives for carpooling, or even autonomous cars. There are also many problems with treating the public transport systems as solely designed to get workers to and from work, as a metro will shorten trip times and allow for many more leisure trips, a social benefit. In short, Tel Aviv is one of the largest metropolitan areas, in the richer part of the world, where there is no metro.

For a working metro system!

For increase pay for teachers!

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