Joshua Davidovich

Gas is going up. Good

Traffic in Israel is bad and it’s not getting any better. But if fuel prices go down, or taxes on car imports decrease, it could get a lot worse

Gas prices are creeping toward NIS 8 for a liter (NIS 8.05 if you opt for full service) and people are justifiably reaching candy bar and cottage cheese levels of unhappiness. Families are spending NIS 1,000 or more a month, just to fill up at the local Yellow. (That’s about $8 a gallon.)

But gas is only a small part of the cost of being a driver. There’s also the yearly licensing fee, which can be a couple thousand shekels, the yearly test (a measly hundred or two), insurance and crazy high fines for driving and picking up the phone to turn it off while a cop is watching (okay, okay I was talking on the stupid thing).

And that’s after you already have some wheels. Buying a car in Israel costs double what it does in most other civilized countries, mostly because of taxes. For the price of a Hyundai in the Jewish State, you could be cruising in an Infinity in exile.

Yes, the costs of being a driver are ridiculously high, and that’s just how they should stay.

No, I don’t have a rich uncle Tshuva or a slush fund at the tax authority making me money off all the cars and fees. But I do appreciate that the fact that most families can’t afford more than one car in Israel has saved the country considerable problems, and with only a fraction of the inconvenience for most.

The Ayalon highway (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
The Ayalon highway (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

One doesn’t need to make the mistake of trying to get into Tel Aviv while the sun is still out to know that Israel’s roads are overloaded, and the solution is not more lanes, or roads only for those who can afford it (I’m looking at you, Route 6).

Traffic in Israel is bad and it’s not getting any better. But if gas prices go down, or taxes on car imports decrease, it could get a lot worse.

There are a number of major road projects planned across the country for the coming few years, including widening Route 1 into Jerusalem, the creation of Route 9 between Hadera and Route 6, a new road into Jerusalem from the southwest, which unsurprisingly has drawn the ire of green groups, and the East Ayalon project, which will attempt to relieve Ramat Gan’s over-congested Jabotinsky Boulevard.

That’s a lot on the menu, and it will cost a few billion shekels to build all those lanes. But imagine if there were double the amount of cars. Imagine if we also had to pay for a few dozen more lanes or roads, to facilitate all the traffic moving all around the country.

Imagine if everyone who could drive did.

Israel has about 7.2 million residents, and about 2.2 million cars. That means one car for about every 3.5 people, or about one per household. In the United States, a country of some 310 million people, there are over 250 million registered cars, according to an official 2009 study. That’s right. There are almost as many cars as people.

Sure, it’s nice to be able to drive wherever you want, to cruise around for fun, and not even know that your city has a local bus system, let alone even use it (guilty). And maybe that’s what makes the Great Satan so great.

But in Israel, where land is scarce, where there is already more than enough asphalt, where the country needs another soulless strip mall Power Center like it needs another political party, anything that keeps cars to a manageable number is something that should be praised, not demonized.

A Greyhound station. Good for scoring crack. (photo credit: CC-BY tvol, Flickr)
A Greyhound station. Good for scoring crack. (photo credit: CC-BY tvol, Flickr)

Beyond helping the environment and keeping our traffic tie-ups to merely horrible levels and not weeks-long Chinese traffic jam levels, reducing the amount of cars on the road helps keep Israel humble. In the US, bus stations are a good place to score some crack. In Israel, they are the hub of every major city, and many smaller ones, and riding buses is a simple way of life, not above most people.

Hitching a ride. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Hitching a ride. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

In the US, hitchhikers are people who slit your throat. In Israel, every town (well, maybe not Tel Aviv) has a trempiada (hitching post). Sticking your thumb out is just another way to commute, and not a sign that you are an escaped asylum inmate

An Israel without buses and hitchers would be no Israel at all, and we have high taxes and high gas prices largely to thank.

I don’t know if there are such altruistic motives behind the high cost of owning a car here, but that doesn’t matter. The only thing keeping many households from owning a second car is the cost. Keeping those costs high is keeping our country in check. We already have to worry about Iran, but at least we don’t have to worry about Iranian oil.

About the Author
Joshua Davidovich is a news editor at The Times of Israel