The State of Israel is one of the smallest countries in the world, at around 20,000 sq. km. Israel is also one of the world’s most densely populated countries. Due to its limited space and high population, Israel is highly susceptible to environmental crises. Israel is party to several international agreements regarding air pollution and climate change, including the Kyoto Protocol, Paris Agreement, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Israel’s main mitigation target is to reduce per capita greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve that, the government of Israel wants to produce 17% of electricity from renewables and shift 20% of transportation from cars to public transport by 2030.

Accordingly, Israel’s Ministry of Transport has devised a Smart Transportation Strategic Plan. Smart transportation makes better use of the resources available; it can cut down costs of preventative maintenance, lower energy consumption, and leads to fewer resources spent on accidents. Riders also save money when inexpensive public transit is efficient enough to compete with private vehicle ownership. With better management comes more efficient use. Quality data can help to pinpoint areas where efficiency can be improved. Maybe a slight adjustment in train schedules would provide for better fill rates, or perhaps bus routes would better serve the community if stops were allocated differently. 

Israel’s Ministry of Transport’s Strategic Plan is to electrify all the public transport (trains, light trains, and buses) by 2030. The appeal of electric and fuel cell vehicles lies in the compelling promise the technology holds for lower emissions, more efficient traffic, and the development of new markets. We must, however, make sure that such innovation delivers true benefits to society as a whole. Core requirements are traffic safety and security from cyber-attack. We will seek regulatory approval, standardization, and smart infrastructure for the benefit of our citizens. 

On the one hand, the transportation system must be frequent, fast, and optimally provide the necessary accessibility and mobility needed. On the other hand, it must be sustainable, energy efficient, and pollute as little as possible.  

To achieve these objectives, a transportation system overhaul must include a transition plan to an alternative system in which the vehicles will have a zero-carbon emission level. That includes vehicles that are driven by electricity and fuel substitutes such as biofuels, hydrogen, and synthetic fuels produced using electricity from renewable energies. 

In addition, the transportation system must be integrated with urban planning in a way that it will allow the improvement of connectivity. While sustaining transportation, it is important to reduce the use of vehicles in general and make remote areas accessible to the population by reducing the “door-to-door” travel time. Density and a compact urban structure are conditions necessary for the efficient deployment of public transportation, in addition to optimally using land resources. 

The transition to balanced transportation based on sustainability is a lever for economic growth, increasing productivity, decreasing congestion, saving time, and reducing social gaps by expanding accessibility for vulnerable populations. The future of metropolitans is of dynamic and developing cities that enable an urban quality of life in open urban spaces. An efficient and sustainable transportation system eliminates the current state of thousands of cars in a traffic jam and enables spacious, pleasant streets free of air pollution and noise. 

The main components of the Israel transportation strategy are: 

  • National preference for public transport – promotion of public transport to a national priority as a solution for sustainable transportation in Israel and as a strategic component in social development and growth of the economy in Israel.
  • Strategic plans for the development of public transportation – planning and developing the public transportation network for a period of 20 years in a holistic way, in an integrated network with optimal allocation of transport infrastructure, and a complementary transport policy for restraining the use of private vehicles and the encouragement of public transport.
  • Management and regulation of demand – planning and implementation of policy measures such as positive economic incentives for public transport use, negative incentives for the use of private vehicles, parking pricing, encouraging shared trips in the cities and in the main intercity corridors while encouraging the use of public transportation and non-motorized means, and a reduction of heavy truck traffic in the city centres.
  • Promoting sustainable transportation – developing, promoting, and encouraging the use of means for sustainable mobility with an emphasis on a pleasant urban space for walking and reducing the conflict with other road users, as well as continuity and high coverage levels of bicycle paths and their integration with the public transportation system. 
  • Technological advancement – implementation of existing and future technological developments in the public transportation field. A combination of innovative developments should be encouraged, such as electric buses, collaborative and personal transportation services, travel integration systems, technologies to improve information integration and the level of service, and automatic transportation systems.
  • Reducing the need for mobility – promoting integrated planning of transportation and land uses with an emphasis on density, which encourage the use of public transportation and non-motorized means, and the extension of changes in lifestyles that encourage a reduction in travel: work from home, flexible work and study hours, etc.

Get to know the author

Dr. Shay Soffer (WSL 17) is the Chief Scientist of the Israel Ministry of Transport. He is the senior scientific and professional advisor to the Minister of Transport and to the Director General on transport and sustainability related issues. Shay is the National Coordinator of the Ministry and is its representative at various forums in Israel and abroad, including the United Nations Climate Change Conferences (COP).