Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tel Aviv to have transit authority in 2011

Tel Aviv’s opposition party Ir Likulanu (City for All) launched a well-organized assault on Mayor Ron Huldai’s transportation policies, or lack thereof, last night during a meeting of the city council. Huldai, however, came prepared, armed with a well-timed newspaper headline and a motion designed to preempt the opposition’s initiative.

The meeting began with a sharp and impassioned speech by Dr. Noah Efron of Ir Likulanu, who called on the mayor to create a high-level task force charged with identifying concrete and immediate solutions to the city’s transportation problems within 6 months. Efron stressed that he was not calling specifically for implementation of the bus rapid transit (BRT) plan for which his party has been campaigning for several months, but for any solution with the potential to solve the city’s traffic problems in the near future. During his speech, Efron handed Huldai a document containing what he said were signatures of thousands of city residents who support such a system.

The speech drew several rounds of applause from an unusually large audience, many of whom were Ir Likulanu supporters. Following Efron’s speech, Huldai took the podium. “It’s a shame that your speech is based on ignorance and demagoguery,” he began. “You say something needs to be done – why don’t you do something? You say it can be done – why don’t you do it? Don’t lecture me if you don’t know the facts.”

At this point, Huldai’s sarcasm began to draw boos and heckling from the audience. With a nod from the mayor, security guards escorted several of the loudest hecklers out of the hall. Not surprisingly, the mayor suggested that the council remove Efron’s motion from the agenda, which it did. Then Huldai picked up Efron’s petition, and handed it right back to him.

With the opposition’s challenge out of the way, it was time for Huldai to drop his bomb, which was delivered by Deputy Mayor Meital Lehavi (Meretz). (Earlier, with the procedural pettiness typical of city council meetings, Huldai’s coalition had attempted to have Lehavi speak before Efron, a move calculated to preempt his motion. Ir Likulanu protested, however, and Efron was allowed to speak first.)

The big announcement: according to Lehavi, a metropolitan transit authority would be set up in “early 2011.” The authority, she said, would be given the power to plan, administer and supervise public transportation in the metropolis, and had already been agreed to in principle by the Finance and Transportation Ministries. The authority would be staffed by representatives of local authorities and the national government. Accordingly, Huldai had arranged a meeting of the metropolis’ 20 mayors next month to discuss the plan.

Although not stated explicitly, it appeared that Huldai was positioning himself to lead the future authority. Lehavi also proposed the creation of a “lobby” which would advocate for the decentralization of legal powers governing transportation planning from the central government to local authorities, which she invited Efron to join.

The announcement reflected a long-standing demand from Huldai, who has repeatedly claimed that city mayors in Israel do not have the legal power to design transportation systems for their cities. By law, those powers are held by the Transportation Ministry. However, this has not stopped Israel’s other two major cities, Haifa and Jerusalem, from moving forward on their respective mass transit systems, both of which are now nearing completion of their initial phases, while Tel Aviv’s remains stuck.

The reason for this apparently has to do with the respective characters of those cities’ mayors. In the current reality, progress depends on tight coordination between the municipality and the Transportation Ministry, something which Haifa and Jerusalem have evidently achieved, while Huldai’s relationship with the Ministry and its officials has been adversarial and characterized by mutual recriminations.

The move to set up a metropolitan transit authority, which had already been unveiled in that morning’s newspaper, was widely seen as positive. Yet the timing of the move, after a full 12 years of Huldai’s administration doing little or nothing to break through the deadlock, was seen by some city councilors as outrageous.

Source Sustainable City Blog

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