If you will it, it is no dream? An artist's rendition of the future light rail in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
In the latest chapter of a seemingly endless saga, Israel's Finance Minister has announced that he is considering withdrawing funding for Tel Aviv's planned mass transit system and investing the money instead in the country's periphery. According to Israeli news site Ynet, the Finance Minister plans to put the Tel Aviv subway/light rail plan on hold for the next ten years, leaving Tel Aviv residents stuck wallowing in traffic and air pollution.
The announcement is likely just another tactic in the ongoing war between the Transportation and Finance Ministries, which are putting up most of the money for the project, and the Tel Aviv Municipality, which has long been reluctant to implement any kind of solution at the expense of road space for private vehicles. The main bone of contention is the second line of the system — the "Green Line." National government bodies are keen to see the line built above-ground, as a light rail, and have offered to fund the project generously if the city agrees. The city, meanwhile, insists that the Green Line must run underground, as a subway.
The construction of the "Red Line," the city's first transit line, being built as a combination light rail and subway (running underground through the center of the city, at the Municipality's insistence), is just getting underway, and is supposed to proceed as planned. However, the companies that won the Red Line tender never expected to build a system that consists of only one line. If this happens, it would significantly lower ridership and profits, and the companies are not expected to let this happen without a fight.
A demonstration in favor of mass transit in Tel Aviv. The sign says: "If only the Municipality would say yes, a light rail would run here within 5 years." (Image courtesy of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel's Tel Aviv office.)
Green organizations and residents' groups, meanwhile, are mainly interested in getting a mass transit system up and running as soon as possible. A third of the country works and lives in metropolitan Tel Aviv, and heavy traffic on the city's streets, combined with exhaust fumes and the already unbearable heat of the Israeli summer, can make parts of the city quite unpleasant at times.
Prior to the Minister's announcement, sources in the mass transit field admitted that the pioneer Red Line was still at least a decade off. However, if the Finance Minister keeps his word, and withdraws funding for the rest of the system, a decent mass transit system in Tel Aviv could now be over two decades away.