Israel's Minister of Transport for the past nine years Yisrael Katz has often declared that when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu steps down then he sees himself as the country's next leader.
His many years at the Ministry of Transport have made him a trailblazer in building roads and opening the skies, cutting air fares, finding shipping solutions for the ports and even envisioning building a port in Gaza.
But one main area of transport tarnishes his successful image - building a public transport infrastructure fitting for a 21st century high-tech country. Israelis flock to Europe on low-cost flights (yes thanks to Yisrael Katz) were they use cheap and efficient public transport in Vienna, Berlin, Paris, London and elsewhere.
During their summer vacations, children in Vienna can ride for free on the city's trains to provide some relief for their parents paying for an expensive trip abroad. In London, it is possible to get from place to place on the underground within minutes without having to pay too much money. Berlin's buses are punctual and pleasant.
Only in Greater Tel Aviv and Greater Jerusalem and Israel's other cities is getting around unbearable, expensive and time consuming, often doubling the time needed to travel from place to place.
Katz has been aware of all this in recent years and yet the man who has been so determined when it came to building highway interchanges, and who knows how to scrap with the prime minister on important matters, did not identify soon enough the need to make public transport a priority issue and national project.
Without any doubt, public transport is a highly complex matter. There is a need to coordinate between the different authorities and civil engineering requirements, to issue tenders, cope with bureaucracy. All this makes progress very awkward. There are no immediate solutions when it comes to public transport. However, it is not only that the solutions currently offered don't come near to dealing with the existing mess but even looking ahead many years, the forecast is that Israel is light years away from providing proper public transport services to its citizens.
This topic is likely to be used against him by all Yisrael Katz's opponents and rivals including ministers that moved from ministry to ministry every few years or took time out from political life. If you don't do anything you can't make a mistake, Katz could retort.
There is a further option. Public transport passengers are not a political party but rather belong to all the political parties across the spectrum. They have no pressure group like the Taxi Drivers Association. They have no activist group like the organization to cut insurance premiums for motorcyclists. They are scattered in traffic jams in Kfar Saba and on the inadequate buses in Rishon Lezion and the high cost of train fares from Haifa. Maybe they congregate every morning at the Messubim or Moreshet interchanges just outside Tel Aviv. But to date they have not had the good sense to form a political party that would lead the demand for a profound change.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on March 14, 2018
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