Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Life in the Fast Lane
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened, now can I identify when it went away. I am referring to the moment I began thinking in blog posts. My experiences in Israel immediately translated in my mind to blog posts. At some point, that went away. I am not sure if it was sudden or gradual. I was looking over my blog’s stats last night and realized that my posting simply fell off. It is possible that I stopped thinking of stories to share as my time to write them shrunk. I have been particularly occupied lately. For the past few weeks, I have put in nearly 40 hour weeks at the office – which of course does not sound like a lot till I remind you my readers that I am currently only working three days a week. I really wanted to put quotations in the sentence, but I couldn’t figure out where they should go to convey optimal sarcasm and irony.
At any rate, this morning during my commute to work, it dawned on me that there have actually been some very story worthy things going on in Israel that I should share. The two that immediately came to mind this morning were on the Fast Lane and Groopbuy. This post is all about the Fast Lane. Groopbuy is so awesome it deserves its own post, which will be published soon.
I have written many a post on my complex commute to work from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, and the brutal traffic entering the Tel Aviv area. For the past year, the highway commission has been working on implementing a plan that would alleviate the congestion. The solution, which just went live a few weeks ago, is the Fast Lane.
The theory goes like this: build an extra lane on the highway for about 17 kilometers outside of Tel Aviv and charge people to drive on it. There will be a pull off on the highway and drivers in the Fast Lane will have their license plate photographed and will be charged a fee for using the lane, which will cut through traffic like an Israeli in a line. But wait, if you are not yet sold on the idea there is more. As more people use the lane, the pricing will change. A large sign will constantly update the pricing to use this lane – as more people enter the lane, the price will increase. “Increase!?! How does that make sense? You are paying more for less – the more cars in the lane the slower it will go!” That was my response at first. It turns out though that the policy is pretty smart – if the point of the lane is to be efficient, people will have to pay more for the convenience as demand rises and eventually market efficiency should reach a demand equilibrium in which drivers will not want to incur the heightened cost to sit in the same traffic and realize no material gain. The pricing starts low – about 6 shekel. I don’t know how high the pricing can get for the Fast lane – I have hears at high as 70 shekel, but that sounds remarkably high.
As you are reading this, you are probably asking how this system will actually improve overall traffic rather than merely create a feudal commuting environment which bifurcates the “Haves” and the “Have Nots”. That is again what I thought when I heard about the lane. There are a few other aspects though that really makes the lane worthwhile. Here they are:
· If you have more than 4 people in your car, the lane is free. You do have to pull off to a checkpoint where a person confirms that here are four people in the car and signals to the system that you can drive on the lane for free. Although I was a bit disappointed to see that a new high tech lane that takes your car’s picture to charge you was not “smart” enough to figure out how many people are in a car, the stop off takes but a few seconds. This incentive to carpool can become a big one as more people use the lane and the price increases. It is frustrating to see each morning that almost all drivers are in their cars alone. This is frustrating because it causes pollution ,congestion and general waste. Many Israeli companies offer employees a benefit of a subsidized car. As a result a lot of people get gas and car subsidized and do not worry about carpooling. This factor was also a concern for the carpool lane – if people have their car paid for or subsidized, they will not care about the cost of using the road. Nonetheless, the lane has not been overly busy or congested as of yet. Even if the person in front of a bunch of cars drives at 80 kmh (~50 mph), that is considerably faster than the 20 kmh the regular common folk drivers are doing… oh yeah I totally feel like commuter royalty as we zip past the non-Fast Lane suckers.
· Buses ride the Fast Lane free. A driver may consider taking the bus knowing that for the low cost of a bus ticket they can get expedience built in to the price. This also takes a bunch of buses off the road, and there are a lot of buses heading to TA each morning.
· The Park and Ride. The Park and Ride is the smartest of all the Fast Lane’s glorious features. About a kilometer after the Fast Lane pull off, there is a large parking lot between the Tel Aviv bound and Jerusalem bound lanes. The Park and Ride offers free parking to drivers and free shuttles that travel to different areas in Tel Aviv every fifteen minutes. These shuttle buses are brand new and efficient. There are several routs that whisk commuters from the parking lot to different areas in the greater Tel Aviv area. Also, cars that park at the Park and Ride are not charged for using the Fast Lane. In essence, the Park and Ride offers the best of so many worlds – the convenience of leaving your home in your car and not needing public transportation, the ability to travel the whole length of the non-congested area quickly, free parking, gas and frustration savings from not sitting in traffic and door to parking lot service. The Park and Ride also makes carpooling a lot more feasible. People who live near each other but work in different places can commute together in the morning and either meet up at the Park and Ride, or the non-drivers can find their own ways back on public transportation in the afternoon/evening, which generally has much less traffic.
Earlier this week, as my carpool and I were heading to our respective shuttle busses, (most of the carpool goes on the Tel Aviv shuttle. I take the Boorsa “market” shuttle – as my office building is in Ramat Gan (on the other side of the highway from Tel Aviv) next to the diamond exchange knows as the Boorsa), we were approached by a television crew looking to interview people about why they were (a) carpooling and (b) using the Park and Ride instead of driving in all the way to Tel Aviv on the Fast Lane – especially since we were more than 4 people (5 that day). So yeah the Fast Lane got me a little news coverage… No big deal – I am not letting my stardom get to my head